Saturday, April 19, 2008

Forget the food miles argument

Can we just lay the whole food miles argument to rest? Food miles is not a primary reason to eat locally.

A new study, Food-Miles and the Relative Climate Impacts of Food Choices in the United States, published this past Wednesday by the journal Environmental Science & Technology reports that the type of food you eat and the manner in which it is produced are more important components of its contribution to your carbon footprint than the distance that food travelled to get to you:

The [greenhouse gas] emissions associated with food are dominated by the production phase, contributing 83% of the average U.S. household’s footprint for food consumption.

Transportation as a whole represents only 11% of life-cycle GHG emissions, and final delivery from producer to retail contributes only 4%. Different food groups exhibit a large range in GHG-intensity; on average, red meat is around 150% more GHG-intensive than chicken or fish. Thus, we suggest that dietary shift can be a more effective means of lowering an average household’s food-related climate footprint than “buying local.” Shifting less than one day per week’s worth of calories from red meat and dairy products to chicken, fish, eggs, or a vegetable-based diet achieves more GHG reduction than buying all locally sourced food.
Buy local because it's fresher and tastes better. Buy local to support farmers in your area. Buy local because you want to know how your food was produced. But to lower your food's impact on the environment, shift to sustainably-produced foods and to a diet focussed more heavily on plants than animal products.


Maggie said...

"Buy local because it's fresher and tastes better. Buy local to support farmers in your area. Buy local because you want to know how your food was produced."
I agree. These were the reasons I was going to farmer's markets and was always on the lookout for local items for years now. We need to stop thinking about planning a meal around the protein (IE what should I have with my meatloaf, chicken breasts, steak, etc) and start planning around what veggies are the best that day. Once I started thinking, "that spinach looks good what small accent of meat would taste good with it?" I started really increasing my vegetables and appreciated the meat more. And, more than half the time I end up planning a meal with no meat at all.

valereee said...

Maggie, yes! When I think of the veggies first, the meat just sort of naturally takes a backseat. I think, "Wow, look at that spinach!" and my idea on how to cook it is often something like, "How about I dice and saute a couple strips of bacon with some garlic, then toss the spinach in that?" And then I remember I have a couple of cups of chili sauce leftover in the fridge, and if I sppon that over some baked polenta, I've got a meal.

Debs said...

Nice post. It's a shame we have to explain why mileage isn't the only reason to buy local, sustainably-produced food, but I think more and more people are realizing the benefits.

valereee said...

Thanks, Debs! That is a rather stunning observation, actually -- it really is a shame that anyone should think we have to come up with a better reason to eat locally than that it tastes good, is fresher, and supports your local economy.