Reducing Your Food Miles
We all know eating organic is better for your health. Pesticides have been linked to all kinds of health problems, even though the companies that produce them have been good at keeping those studies under wraps. Not to mention, when food grows in soil that is rich in nutrients, the food you eat will be rich as well.
So that accounts for the great advice that people all across the country have been getting: Eat organic. But there’s something missing from that equation if you’re also concerned about the environment.
I will use the example of bananas, because at least here in California, it illustrates the point I’m about to make. In fact, bananas pose even more issues when it comes to social justice and the welfare of the communities in which they are grown, but that’s another post.
The issue is nothing new, but it sneaks past a lot of people’s radar when they’re shopping for groceries. I’m taking about the miles food travels to get to you. Bananas are particularly tricky because they don’t grow in the United States (with a few rare exceptions). Due to their need for lots of water, warm weather, wind protection, etc., these plants thrive in South America and other tropic areas. So that means they have to come at least from Mexico, which is already hundreds of miles for most of the country.
Other fruits that often travel far include table grapes, navel oranges and tomatoes.
So how environmentally-friendly are bananas or these other produce, even if they’re “organic”? Some argue that the impact is much less than buying produced foods such as meat and dairy. That argument has some legs*, but buying local certainly helps decrease the amount of energy your meal takes, reduces the amount of production involved, and thus decrease the amount of emissions your meal contributes to.
One more argument against buying these far-travelled and out-of-season produce: When food comes from far away, they have to preserve it somehow so it doesn’t go bad immediately. So even if your food is organic, it could be covered in yucky preservatives.
Here are some tips to help reduce your food miles:
- Shop at farmer’s markets. This is probably the best way to guarantee your produce is coming from somewhere relatively close.
- Learn what produce is in season, and buy that. Produce that is in season is more likely to be grown near to you. This map from Epicurious is incredibly valuable.
- Start your own garden! If you have any land, you can bring your food miles down dramatically by growing it at home.
- Buy foods that are in season and dry, can or jam them. It’s a fun project, produces delish foods whenever you want them, and is better for the environment.
- Spread the word! Talk to your local markets and restaurants about where they get their food. Connect local farms with people in your area. Join a Community-Supported Agriculture (CSA) program. There’s lots you can do.
*This article in the Daily Green states: “The average U.S. household generates about 8.1 metric tons of greenhouse gases annually as a result of food consumption. [Researchers] found that only 11% that was due to transportation, compared to the 83% that was due to agricultural and industrial practices.”