Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Eating local is more complicated than it seems

The 100-mile diet is a trendy idea that has caught the imagination of many, and the concept of the locavore has become popular among those who care about the future of the planet. The problem is that it's not all that simple.

In a Now magazine article, Wayne Roberts has examined the way the food system works, and finds that calculating the true impact of our food purchasing decisions is difficult, perhaps impossible.

For example, "we think about miles travelled from farms to us and our forks," but that doesn't factor in "the distance from producer to retailer, ... from the fertilizer and pesticide factory to the farm, from the package factory to the food processor, and the miles travelled by empty trucks on their return trips after making these deliveries of fertilizer, pesticides, packaging and produce."

Get the idea? Wayne says there's more: "Add to this the miles travelled by the kitchen scraps to the landfill or green box composter, from the package recycling box to the recycling factory (often in Asia), and – usually the biggest energy load of all – the miles travelled by electricity to keep perishable food from spoiling in large freezers and refrigerators, many of them in supermarkets with doors open to warm air."

There are other issues too, such as the wellbeing of poor farmers in the southern hemisphere, and the impact of various means of transportation --- ships and trains are much more environmentally friendly than trucks and planes.

In fact, getting the actual food from farm to fork constitutes just 10-15% of the total food system's ecological impact.

Unless it comes from your own garden, of course.

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