10 ways to reduce food miles

by Tracy Stokes on May 22, 2007

in EcoFood, Sustainable Lifestyle


What on earth are food miles?

They are the distance that your food travels from the grower to your plate, including travel to and from processor and retailer.

Why should I want to reduce them?

Because transporting your food long distances involves lorries and aeroplanes. And lorries and aeroplanes use lots of fuel and emit tons of CO2 emissions, contributing to global warming. But that’s just the starting point. Other reasons why we should be reducing food miles wherever possible include wanting to eat fresher food, in season; supporting local and regional producers and the economy; and preventing 3rd world countries from cutting down forests and losing their own food, because big companies see food as a commodity, rather as a way to feed the people of that country.

How to reduce food miles:

1. When shopping in supermarkets, check the labels. Buy food that is grown or produced locally. Failing that, look at the options and buy the product that comes from the nearest source, i.e. if you live in the UK, choose French rather than South African apricots. Carry a small world map in your handbag or pocket for these occasions.

2. Eat what’s in season. It won’t have travelled as far as out-of-season fruit and vegetables. To find out what’s in season, have a look at the Eat The Seasons website.

3. Visit your local Farmers’ Market. Most towns have one, and they are a great source of truly local produce, not to mention a fun outing. Click here to find your local Farmers’ Market or take a look at Markets in the EcoStreet Directory.

4. Find your local farm shops, producers and pick-your-own farms at Big Barn or in the EcoStreet Directory.

5. Get a veg box delivered to your door. Big Barn can help you find your local supplier.

6. Grow your own. Get an allotment, or start a veggie patch in your back garden. If you have leftover seeds, swap them at Seedy People.

7. Support your local greengrocer, butcher and fishmonger, and ask them to stock more local produce.

8. Visit your local Country Market (used to be WI Market) for really local produce.

9. Some rare breeds farm parks and city farms offer their local, non-intensively reared meat for sale. If you have one near you, ask them.

10. Walk or take the bus to your local shops. This way you won’t add to the food miles already accrued.

{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

Mary May 22, 2007 at 9:25 pm

We’re so focused on food miles, which is important, but also another important way to make your diet more climate friendly is to significantly reduce meat and dairy consumption. That’s why I was disappointed that this list mentioned the butcher and fishmonger.

A 2005 study by University of Chicago researchers found that eating vegetarian fare is more effective in reducing harmful greenhouse gas emissions than replacing a gas-guzzler with a hybrid car. (Source:
http://geosci.uchicago.edu/~gidon/papers/nutri/nutriEI.pdf ) According to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization, the livestock industry emmits more greenhouse gases, mostly methane and nitrous oxide from when the cows “break wind”, than the entire transportation sector. So I think encouraging eating lower on the food chain has more of an impact on climate change than does the whole “Food Miles” effort, which I do think is worthy, I’m just pointing out that we should be focusing resources on the actions that have the biggest impact and eating meat is one of the most climate-unfriendly practices there is, even if it is local. A cow still emmits methane, whether she is from your county or another country.

For more information getting started on a humane and climate friendly plant-based diet, I recommend http://www.HumaneEating.org

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ecopixel May 23, 2007 at 12:04 pm

I agree with Mary that we can all consume less meat, and I am appalled at the living conditions of so many animals who have fallen victim to the commoditisation of industrialised farming.

The fact that livestock emissions contribute significantly to greenhouse gases is scary, when you consider the scale of it. However, I am encouraged by the development and use of simple processes such as Anaerobic Digestion that convert CH4 (methane) and CO2 (carbon dioxide) into Biogas. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anaerobic_digestion

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Aurélien May 28, 2007 at 3:02 pm

Hey there

Interesting tips but there is something that worries me when I read some of them.

I agree on the facts that buying food at your local grocery store or cultivated in a nearby region is less negative for the environment. But the problem is then that those agricultural workers in less-developped countries suffer from it as exporting their goods constitutes the main part of their revenues.

So the problem lies in this question: should the environmental benefits of local supplying overcome the social benefits of export?

A difficult trade-off

Aurélien
http://senseup.wordpress.com

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Potato June 25, 2007 at 1:16 pm

I like those ideas, but they might only apply to a small group of people.

The first thing concerns me is the cost of reducing food miles. If the food that comes from the UK is prohibitively high, what the normal consumers should do? (Source: http://www.reportbuyer.com/blog/local-and-fresh-foods-just-a-priviledge-for-the-middles-classes/). Just be fair, people on a lower income might not be willing to pay extra cash just to eat something that is grown closer.

Secondly, having own back garden requires a lot of knowledge, time, energy and certain financial capability, especially with the ever-increasing mortgage rate. I am renting a house with a back garden, but the weather condition doesn’t seem allow me to plant anything on it.

Thirdly, travelling to local country market might used up extra energy or emit more carbon dioxide as they are usually not really “Local" if you live outside the city and the travel cost is also something tapping people’s mind slowly.

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Tracy June 28, 2007 at 2:24 pm

While I agree with you Potato that these ideas may not work for everyone, I also believe that we have a responsibility to the planet and our children to make an effort.

In my opinion, good food should be more expensive. It has been reduced to a commodity rather than being seen as the life-giving gift that it is. Farmers are getting a bum deal because supermarkets force the prices down. People are happy to spend lots of money on Nike trainers, etc. but aren’t prepared to pay for good food. I just don’t get it.

Yes, it takes some effort to grow your own food, but again, we have a responsibility to make the effort to change the world, one little action at a time. I have lots of food growing in my back garden, and don’t spend all day tending it. Nature has a way of working with you, if you are prepared to try to work with nature.

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Potato June 29, 2007 at 11:55 am

I understand your concern Travy and I agree with you. However, take everything into account: I think the reality might far more complex than it appears.

Food miles is one of the ideal systems while we are trying to go green. But meanwhile, it is suggested by many people that food miles are not sufficient to measure environmental impact. Things like land efficiency, use of pesticides, irrigation requirements need t be looked up as well.

Many supermarkets are branding their schemes or products as “Green", even though there is no discernable reason for doing so. With a premium attached to the label, companies are making profits easily. This is why I argue for the food mile approach because the cost is the major determinate for most people.

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Aaron January 15, 2009 at 7:11 pm

I definitely agree with @Potato, food miles often aren’t enough to measure our grocery shopping’s environmental impact.

some analysis has definitely shown that, for example, because of the resources used in production, New Zealand Lamb & Apples imported into the UK actually have a smaller carbon footprint than those farmed locally.

further details in my blog post here: http://tinyurl.com/89smzj

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