Food Miles: How Far Does Your Food Travel Before You See It?

Food mileage is something that very few people consider when doing their normal grocery shopping. It’s a controversial issue among environmentalists and the green lobby since food miles are the distances that your food has to travel from source to you, the consumer. Whether you’re in the North America buying poultry from South East Asia, or in the Europe buying fruit from Africa, it’s extremely likely that the distance your food has travelled does not figure highly on your agenda when shopping despite the impact of food transportation on the environment and your grocery bill.

So are food miles important? If your food is being shipped over long distances, it’s highly likely that it’s being flown, driven or sea-freighted from one place to another. Every time you transport foodstuffs a carbon footprint is generated as a result of the CO2 produced by the transportation method. Consider also that the further food has to be transported, the more pollution is created, you can see very quickly why food miles become an important consideration, especially on a continental scale. Something must be done to control them.

The transportation of food is wholly driven by consumer demand. The demand for seasonal, locally grown and produced foods has diminished in favour of all-year-round availability of many staple foods, especially fruit and vegetables transported from countries that can grow traditionally seasonal produce all year round. Tackling the issue of food miles is no small task and will only happen through increasing awareness in consumers to achieve a long term change in the way people buy food and their attitude towards seasonal produce.

If consumers in the western world reconsider the use of produce within the season it is available, food mileage could be significantly reduced around the world, giving corresponding reductions in pollution and CO2 output.

So what can you as an individual do to reduce the food miles of your weekly shopping? When buying fresh produce, look the country of origin. This is usually marked on each pack. Consider whether you want or need to buy items that have come from the other side of the world, or whether there an alternative that might have come from closer to home is available. Getting a better view of what produce is seasonal produce and what is not, will allow you to choose more wisely what produce you buy at various times of the year to reduce the food mileage that you are responsible for.

You will have noticed that some foodstuffs become more expensive at different times of the year, a classic example being strawberries in winter time. What you are seeing when this happens is the effect of consumer demand for ut of season produce and the increased pricing premium that is caused by long distance transportation. Only by reducing global demand for food that has been transported across continents can there ever be hope of reducing the carbon footprint of our unreasonable appetite for well-travelled food.