Monday, May 27, 2013

Food miles: A simple way to decrease your ecological footprint

This article of mine was originally published on the Examiner website.  I'm re-posting an updated version of it here as a followup to my previous blog and the challenge of decreasing one's ecological footprint.

Walking through the produce section of the supermarket has become an experience in globalization: apples from  Chile or New Zealand, avocados from Chile, bananas from Central America, strawberries from Mexico… it often seems as though much of our produce comes from far-flung areas. 

Have I been to Peru? Nope, but these bananas have!

Although an apple from Chile may sound exotic and special, it is also absurd—Washington State is known for growing delicious apples, so why must we import them from thousands of miles away? The distance from Yakima to Seattle (locally grown apples) is about 145 miles. The distance from Chile to Seattle (“conventionally sourced” apples) is approximately 6,400 miles. That is a huge difference in carbon footprints! This is the growing issue of “food miles”: the distance food travels from producer to consumer. In our current era of globalization, it is not unusual for food to travel thousands of miles from field to table. I'm not sure about you, dear reader, but I don't like the thought that my food is more well-traveled than myself!

This long-distance transportation of food comes at a steep environmental cost, using significant amounts of fossil fuels and producing greenhouse gases that contribute to global climate change.  This is the tradeoff for having the ability to purchase fresh strawberries in the dead of winter-- they can't be grown locally, but they can be imported at the expense of our environment.

One simple way to make your diet green is to eat locally. The fewer miles food has to travel, the less fossil fuels used and greenhouse gas emissions produced. As a bonus, buying locally grown produce supports the farmers and economy in our area, and your produce will be fresher due to decreased transit time. There are a few different options for finding local food:
  • Look for local foods in your supermarket. Many supermarkets have a local/organic food section. Read the labels and choose products that are produced here in Washington. As a bonus, organic produce is grown without the use of chemical fertilizers, which require heavy amounts of fossil fuels to produce.  Food grown locally and organically will have a much lower fossil fuel footprint than conventionally grown food.
  • Sign up to receive produce from a Community-Supported Agriculture (CSA) program. These are programs where individuals sign up to receive boxes of fresh produce from local growers. Boxes of food are pre-paid for the season, and are usually picked up weekly at the farm, or other designated pick-up location. Click here for a list of Seattle-area CSA’s.
  • Check out farmers’ markets. Now that spring has arrived, local farmers’ markets are in full swing. These markets are usually held weekly, although venues such as Pike Place Market in Seattle and the Yakima Fruit Market in Bothell are open for business and supplying local produce daily. Check with your city to see if there is a weekly farmers’ market.

Buying food grown locally is one of the easiest ways to make your diet and lifestyle greener. Not only are you decreasing your ecological footprint, but you are directly supporting our local hardworking farmers and local economy.

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