Food Miles

Every Friday, I make a big produce order from Veritable Vegetable, an organic produce company out of California that shares our values for social change and sustainability.  We buy mostly from them when we can’t find something locally.  (And our seasonal shift to locally grown produce is already underway.)   The semi-truck arrives here on Sundays after it loops through Arizona and Albuquerque.  As our 2,000-pound palate of carrots, apples, citrus, and spinach was unloaded this week, I got to thinking about food miles.

The average American meal contains foods from at least 5 different countries around the world, according to the Natural Resources Defense Council.  We often hear from the media that the average food travels “1500 miles” to get to us, but this number was calculated from a limited study done by the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture, and is really only true if you live in Chicago.

Of course buying bananas that were grown in Ecuador seems like an unsustainable way to eat, but it turns out that what you eat is more important than where it came from.  If you’re hoping to lower the greenhouse gas emissions associated with your dinner, you should absolutely be buying locally produced foods, but not for the reason you think.  Transportation only accounts for 10% of the emissions associated with our food.  The vast majority of the emissions come from the farm itself, according to this article from

Meat and dairy, for example, are energy intensive products that require much more water, fossil fuels, and emit more greenhouse gases compared to their plant-based counterparts.   In fact, this Carnegie Mellon report claims that shifting to a plant-based diet would be equivalent to eliminating 8,000 miles driven per year, regardless of how far the vegetables are traveling.  Meatless Mondays sound more appealing?

Of course, taking advantage of local produce is a clear way to reduce food miles.  Squash Blossom (formerly the nonprofit Farm to Restaurant) debuted their online ordering system this week, helping to grow the wholesale market for locally grown foods.  Nearly 75% of our ingredients can be found locally at some point during the year, and that means we’ll be buying around 13 tons of fruit and vegetables from local farmers this summer.

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