There has been a renewed focus on sourcing food locally in recent years. And with good reason: By shopping at a farmers' market, for example, you're cutting down on the distance traveled by your food, and therefore cutting down on emissions released; you're eating what's fresh and in season; and you're supporting local farmers and your local economy.
An article in the New York Times illustrates how accustomed we have become to having whatever foods we want whenever we want them whether they or in season or not. And most consumers don't realize the journey their food has taken.
The article states, "Cod caught off Norway is shipped to China to be turned into filets, then shipped back to Norway for sale. Argentine lemons fill supermarket shelves on the Citrus Coast of Spain, as local lemons rot on the ground. Half of Europes peas are grown and packaged in Kenya."
The frequent flier miles racked up by food have been garnering more attention as people worldwide learn more about greenhouse gases. Carbon dioxide is released during transportation, and this has some wondering if it's worth having that kiwi New Zealand's national fruit shipped from Italy during winter in NZ.
The article says that under long-standing trade agreements, fuel for international freight carried by sea and air is not taxed. Some experts, according to the article, are suggesting its time to impose a tax to pay for that pollution.
However, recent research suggests that it's not the miles traveled that matter, it's the manner in which food is produced.
An Oxford economist in the Times article says that though it's estimated that as little as 3 percent of emissions from the food sector come from transportation, that number was growing rapidly. Also, transporting food long distances requires layers of packaging and sometimes energy-consuming refrigeration.
An article in the academic journal Environmental Science and Technology suggests food production is most certainly a greater contributor to global warming, and small changes such as eating less red meat and dairy can lower the average U.S. household's food-related climate footprint more effectively than buying local food, according to research conducted by Christopher Weber of Carnegie Mellon University.
The average U.S. household generates about 8.1 metric tons of greenhouse gases annually as a result of food consumption. The researchers found that only 11% that was due to transportation, compared to the 83% that was due to agricultural and industrial practices.
In the article Weber says that switching to a totally local diet is equivalent to driving about 1000 miles less per year.
But a relatively small dietary shift can accomplish about the same greenhouse gas reduction as eating locally, he added. According to the article, replacing red meat and dairy with chicken, fish, or eggs for one day per week reduces emissions equal to 760 miles per year of driving. And switching to vegetables one day per week cuts the equivalent of driving 1160 miles per year.
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