It is estimated that the typical plate of food has travelled 2250 kilometres before consumption.
The implications for the production of greenhouse gases in the provision of our food supply are immense, and the possibilities for reduction are considerable.
Some people are doing something about it.
Counting Food Miles
(reprinted with permission from Ontario Farmer, 27 Dec 2005)
As we push ourselves away from the Christmas feast, few folks give much thought about how the food got to the plate, beyond thanking the cook in the kitchen.
Chances are, in the country, folks may know the farm where their turkey grew up — may even have raised it themselves. But get much beyond potatoes and veg, and Christmas dinner takes on the logistics of a vacation around the world.
Even the simple green salad may combine mesclun from “the U.S. or Mexico” with olive oil and wine vinegar from Italy. If you dress it up with a bit of cheese, it may contain milk ingredients from Ireland or New Zealand.
The cranberries may have been grown in Maryland, but the source of the sugar for the sauce is anybody’s guess, as it’s only “packaged in Canada.”
The International Society for Ecology and Culture now estimates that a typical plate of food consumed in the United States, has traveled 2250 kilometres —and each hundred kilometres traveled produced 25 kilograms of carbon dioxide, one of the greenhouse gases contributing to global warming.
The impact of greenhouse gases created by transporting food around the world is called the “carbon price tag.” And according to the Society, the food system has the highest carbon price tag of any sector of the economy.
Starting to get indigestion?
Don’t feel guilty, make a resolution to reduce your food miles in 2006!
You won’t be alone. A year ago in September, the Greater City of Sudbury took on “a sustainable eating initiative” called The Foodshed Project. It’s promoting two community challenges among the citizens of Sudbury and Manitoulin Districts: reduce your food miles by 50 kilometres a year, and purchase (or grow) ten per cent of your food from local sources.
The project manager, Doreen Ojala, told Ontario Farmer that 50 kilometres is an arbitrary number, but “it’s a way to get people to think about how they drive.”
And, she adds, 100,000 families eliminating 50 kilometres of driving a year amounts to a big reduction in greenhouse gases (1250 tonnes of CO2 a year.)
Ojala suggests consumers follow “four easy steps to be more sustainable, to support local and improve their health at the same time.”
“People have to get in touch with what’s going on in their local community about food,” says Ojala. “When you purchase, buy the most local (food) that you can. At least support your own country.”
“Be more food self-reliant.”
This can mean growing your own garden or buying local produce in bulk during the summer months, and canning or freezing it. “Then you’ve bought cheap, healthy food.”
“Do some heavy duty meal planning. Try to think about where your grocery store is and how many trips you make. If you’re not meal planning, you’re running out to the local convenience store. If you’re not meal planning, you’re not thinking about your diet.”
Finally, in addition to reducing your food miles, reduce your car’s transportation impact by tuning up the engine, checking tire inflation, avoiding idling for than ten seconds, and slowing down. Each 10 kilometres you increase your speed will increase fuel consumption and greenhouse gas emissions by 10 per cent.
Sudbury may seem like an unlikely place to begin a revolution in local food production. Most of the processing infrastructure is done in Southern Ontario. There is no abattoir, canning or cheese factory, said Ojala.
But the flip side of the equation is “There’s so much economic potential. Why can’t we have a cheese factory here?” she asks. “We’ve got dairy farmers!”
Ideally, once people start looking for local produce, and demand increases, farmers can respond by increasing production, maybe even adding value. It not only supports the local economy, it makes the entire community more “food secure”.
So we can cut the carbon price tag on that Christmas dinner by making one list, checking it twice, and starting the car once. We might shift fresh green beans to Ontario grown frozen, or locally grown brussel sprouts still on the stem.
The leafy salad might have to be replaced with a coleslaw, and dressing made from Canadian corn oil, locally pressed cider vinegar, farm fresh eggs and milk. And as for cranberries, they do grow in Ontario —in two Muskoka bogs — and can be sweetened with local honey.
Now that you’re eating your way toward climate control, you should have your appetite back, and be able to breath easier too, knowing that by making food choices that reduce food miles, you’re helping reduce global warming.
Whispering Meadows is a family beef farm in Ontario. You can buy our naturally raised, grass-fed Black Angus beef direct from our farm, for a price that’s much lower than you expect. We think it’s the best-tasting, most tender beef you can find anywhere!
To learn more about Whispering Meadows natural family farm beef,
visit our home page….