How to Measure a Food’s Eco-Friendliness
Sales of locally grown foods are expected to reach $7 billion this year, up from $4 billion in 2002, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. One driver is the well-publicized average 1,500 miles it took for 28 fruits and vegetables to reach the upper Midwest by truck in a 2001-2003 study by Iowa State University’s Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture.
“The average distance we calculated was often cited incorrectly as the average distance food traveled in the United States,” explains Rich Pirog, who led the research. “Local food really isn’t about mileage or distance. It’s about the relationships that are built in the food chain. It’s about farmers and local communities getting a higher percentage of the food dollar.”
Local food sourcing builds community, poses a smaller risk for food-borne contaminants and tastes better, especially when it’s organic. It doesn’t require the refrigeration needed for long-distance hauling and often comes without wasteful packaging.
A Carnegie Mellon University study further calculated that transportation now accounts for 11 percent of the greenhouse gas emissions of fruits and vegetables and only 1 percent of red meat’s emissions, while how the food is produced contributes 83 percent; so it’s good to be familiar with local providers. The researchers also reported that switching from red meat and dairy products to chicken, fish, eggs or a vegetable-based diet one day a week yields at least the equivalent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions of buying all locally sourced food.