In the late 90’s and early 00’s after the release of a couple well publicised UK and US studies, food miles, the distance food travels from farm to shop, became the standard for measuring our food related footprint. And although food miles drew our attention to the environmental impact of our food choices the problem with using food miles is that it is only one piece of the food system puzzle. Unfortunately more holistic but also more complex ways to measure food system sustainability such as Life-Cycle Analysis (LCA) that could give us a much better picture of our food footprint haven’t received the same kind of publicity as food miles (apart from a much quoted Lincoln University study that concluded imported New Zealand lamb had a carbon footprint ¼ of its local British counterpart. For a little debunking of this study see http://www.ethicurean.com/2007/08/10/shuman-on-lamb/ ).
Adding to the food miles picture is recent thinking suggesting that all of our driving to and from the supermarket is an even larger energy user than transporting food from the farm. Which tells us that to really reduce our food miles as well as buying local, we should be walking, riding & taking public transport to the shops. We can also get home delivery, join food co-ops or carpool and shop by car less frequently rather than multiple times per week. But this is still just focussing on food miles, below are some suggestions for ways to lower the overall energy foodprint of our food choices:
- Eat less meat & dairy and eat it free range and grass fed. Meat and dairy farming produces the most agricultural green house gas emissions not only from methane but also because feeding animals on grains consumes significantly more land, water, fuel and chemicals. (for more see www.foodfirst.org › Hunger )
- Know your farmers and buy from low input farms that protect biodiversity and build soils – these tend to be organic and biodynamic but more and more farmers of all stripes are rediscovering the importance of rebuilding soil life to lock up carbon, hold water and minerals. (Read more from Australia’s own Dr Christine Jones http://www.amazingcarbon.com/)
- Eat local: not only because it reduces transport but because it supports resilient local economies and builds local food security, important as we pass peak oil and the world demand for food grows. (For great reading on building local economies see Michael Shuman’s Smallmart Revolution http://small-mart.org/home )
- Eat seasonally: in season, local food is more likely to have been ripened naturally, have retained more nutrients and needed less packaging and cool storage.
- Reduce food waste and compost scraps – every year Australian’s throw out $5 billion worth of food– simply buying what we need has a huge impact on the amount of food that needs to be grown, transported, stored and dumped into landfill.
- Buy food with no or the least amount of packaging and buy unprocessed or minimally processed: simply buying less of both significantly reduces the energy footprint of our food.
- Grow your own food – it connects us to the land and the seasons, even if it’s just a pot on a balcony it’s a start and when times get tough having a home garden could be the difference between eating or going without. (If you haven’t seen it already check out The Power of Community: How Cuba Survived Peak Oil DVD 2006)