It’s not just miles that count.

Posted on September 22nd, 2009 by

Wouldn’t it be nice if all our food were locally grown? Wouldn’t the world be a better place?

Well, not necessarily. As a study at the University of Wales showed, the energy used in transporting food to market represents just a tiny fraction of the energy used to grow food. Conventionally raised foods (i.e. raised using petroleum based fertilizers) and  transported by a local grower in an energy-inefficient minivan (or laid by for six months in cold storage) might, in point of fact, slap down a much larger carbon footprint than would, say, vegetables and fruit raised organically and freighted from eleven thousand miles away. It just depends. It really does. Reducing your demand for fossil fuel takes more than just finding out whether the grower lives in your area code.

That’s the bad news. The good news is that it’s really worth doing some thinking about this, because it’s possible to make enormous reductions in your carbon footprint through your dietary choices. That’s the “smiley face” way of saying that food production is currently a tremendous source of environmental pollution and a huge burner of fossil fuels; the industrialized food system presently uses close to 16 percent of the total energy used nationally.

How can you shrink your footprint? By choosing foods lower on the food chain, for starters, and by choosing less-processed foods as well. Steel cut oats will trim your shoe size more than Cheerios, for instance. A chicken breast will allow you to slip into something smaller than will, say, a serving of chicken strips.  Skip the chicken altogether and go for beans and rice and you’ll find your footprint so small you’ll be surprised you can stay upright!

This study from the Worldwatch Institute suggests that “Replacing red meat and dairy with chicken, fish, or eggs for one day per week would save the equivalent of driving 760 miles per year.” That’s not so hard, is it? And the good thing is, the choice is entirely within your control!

Wanna learn more? The folks at Bon Appetit (the big company that owns lots of other schools’ dining services) have created a handy-dandy calculator that allows you to see how much carbon your food choices are responsible for. Fiddle around with it; you’ll see that you can accomplish a lot, carbonically speaking, simply by the choices you make in the servery….

Why not go meatless one day a week, the way the city of Ghent, in Belgium, has?


One Comment

  1. Steve Kjellgren says:

    Thank you, Thank you Dr. Heldke! What a great responsibility and what a tremendous opportunity for us all. Turns out our daily habits and personal choices extend much further than ‘ME’, doesn’t it.