The numbers behind food are difficult to tell. Often, we don’t know the exact origins of our food and maybe we don’t think about them every time we are doing our shopping. However, it is important not ignoring the sustainable or unsustainable nature of our food. Are you one of those people that choose to understand better and dig deep, examining the background of the food that they eat to choose the sustainable options? Many are the questions that arise.
One of the questions is about numbers. The carbon footprint of food is created by its production, transport and disposal. Therefore it’s not an easy calculation.
How can we tell what foods are sustainable when we compare them in grocery stores? What’s more sustainable: processed local food or unprocessed imported food? What has the least impact on the earth: products in thin plastic packaging or products in a paper box? The quick answer is trying as much as possible to buy food that is local, seasonal, and organic, and that doesn’t come in packaging. Let’s try with an example:
Locally sourced Sunday lunch
- 1.5Kg of local lamb – 30Km by light van, carbon footprint – 0.072Kg
- 1Kg of local potatoes – 30Km by light van, carbon footprint – 0.048Kg
- 500g of local leeks – 30Km by light van, carbon footprint – 0.024Kg
- 500g of local carrots – 30Km by light van, carbon footprint – 0.024Kg
Total distance to your plate 120Km, and 0.168Kg of carbon dioxide.
Supermarket Sunday lunch
- 1.5Kg of New Zealand lamb – 32000Km by sea and 300Km by truck, carbon footprint – 0.858Kg
- 1Kg of Potatoes – 300Km by HGV, carbon footprint – 0.048Kg
- 200g of green beans from Kenya – 6800Km by air and 300Km by HGV, carbon footprint – 2.186Kg
- 500g of carrots – 300Km by HGV, carbon footprint – 0.024 Kg
Total distance to your plate 40000Km, and 3.12Kg of carbon dioxide.
If you add some fruit from South America and a bottle of Australian wine your food’s carbon footprint could easily exceed 5Kg of carbon dioxide.
5Kg of carbon emissions equates to driving an average (1800cc) petrol car for 25Km. Only for one dinner?!
Here a little infographic on the impact of tea and coffee on the environment. How many cup of coffee do you have in an average day!?
Courteousy of Green Steve
And if you feel really keen to lessen even more the environmental impact of your food you can alwasy grow your own food.
Some more to read about the impact of food on the environment:
- Center for Sustainable Systems, School of Natural Resources and Environment, 2000, Life Cycle-Based Sustainability Indicators for Assessment of the U.S. Food System, University of Michigan
- Weber, C. L., Scott Matthews, H., 2008, Food-Miles and the Relative Climate Impacts of Food Choices in the United States, Environ. Sci. Technol., 42, 3508–3513
- Eat your greens @Guardian