Food. Lets face it, who doesn’t love good food? We love to eat it, grill it, serve it and share it with love ones. Every thing from the famed Thanksgiving meal where the table is sagging with the weight of hot delicious foods, to summer picnics with cold salads and sandwiches, food in many ways defines our lives. But its not as simple as we would like it to be, once just a story about land and a farmer, it is now an epic tale dripping all along the way with oil. It is a huge dilemma, Food and Fuel.
Not so long ago, food was grown just outside of town, often organically, picked by hand and delivered at the peak of freshness to small grocery stores. Today its a much different process for most of our foods. Did you know average food item travels well over 1,500 miles, and that’s just the final leg of its fuel filled life. Lets take a closer look at our food footprint.
The love affair between food and fuel
- Tilling– the turning over of the soil to prepare for planting as well as disrupting of any weeds that may have sprouted. This is most often done with a tractor.
- Planting– A HUGE machine goes up and down the rows dropping seeds, burning five gallons of fuel for every acre planted.
- Spraying– Pesticide or Herbicide both are applied multiple times in a growing season by the same machine.
- Harvesting– Once again the HUGE machine makes its ways up and down the rows grabbing produce a week or so before its fully ripe.
- Processing– This step involves every thing from sorting, washing and packaging produce, to converting it from a whole food to a “food like substance” as Michael Pollon would say. It is a highly material and energy intensive process on both the food and packaging side of the equation.
- Shipping– Two to three separate journeys mostly semi trucks but also planes, boats, or trains
- Retail– Here along with its jet setting friends you food awaits you.
After looking closer at that journey the food doesn’t look nearly so appetizing..
There is a better way. There are a few easy ways to cut down your food miles, and start living green solutions.
- Farmers markets are a great place to meet your farmer and learn about where you food comes from. More and more are popping up all the time across the country.
- Community Supported Agriculture (CSA), which are available in many cities, where you buy a share of the farms harvest in the spring and receive a weekly box over flowing with seasonal bounty.
- Support small farms, they tend to use more hand labor for planting, picking and weeding which keeps food footprint incredibly low, as well as employing more people.
- Minimizing the amount of processed food is also cuts back on the fuel required.
- Avoid packaging to the best of your ability, always check for items in the bulk isle before going to the packaged products.
Here are some great links and websites to learn more about food, food production and other related items to our food system.
- Google Image Search (this is a Google image search and has many graphs and charts)
Some foods can’t be grown locally and that’s okay, pomegranates to Wisconsin, pineapples to Oregon, and oranges to Maine. Its okay to ship those foods, if they are in the minority. If most of our food came from a local grower, and was seasonally appropriate, having those rare special treats shipped in to us isn’t such a big deal. Its just a matter of small steps to arrive at big solutions. There’s a few ideas today!