How Eating Local Can Reduce Your Carbon Footprint
In 2008, the Farm Act defined “local food” as a product that travels less than 400 miles from its origin or stays within the state it is produced. This type of food is often sold at farmers markets, “farm to school” programs, vegetable stands, food distribution companies, or local Bountiful Baskets collections.
In theory, one would believe that local food means there is a smaller output of emissions related to transportation; however that is not entirely true. Sometimes eating local food that is out of season can have a larger footprint than eating imported food grown within the same time frame. This is because storing food uses electricity, creating more emissions in the storing and transportation process.
The majority of carbon output actually comes from the production of food. With that said, there are still ways that eating local can help reduce your food’s overall carbon footprint. Here’s how:
The Carbon Footprint of Your Food
It’s important to understand the basis that makes up what scientists call “the carbon footprint of food.” Researchers at Carnegie Mellon University studied the miles food traveled as well as the emissions that resulted from producing and transporting it to and within the U.S. They took into account not just the delivery of food from farm to table but also what it takes to deliver fertilizer, farm equipment, etc to produce the food effectively.
The results of their study showed that transportation is only responsible for 11 percent of the total carbon emissions caused by food. The truth is, 83 percent of the total carbon emissions come directly from the production process. The study included the emissions from growing, fertilizing, and storing food once it is picked.
The total production emissions from producing food depends on variables like: how much plowing had to be done, how many pesticides were used in the food production, and how much water was used to grow the food. The majority of the emissions released during food production are actually from nitrous oxide and methane gas emissions.
These chemicals are released as a result of fertilizer or from raising cattle. Raising Raising livestock produces 18 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions. Since large areas of land are cleared to make way for cows, meat eaters have higher carbon food footprints than vegetarians. This doesn’t mean you have to adopt a vegan or vegetarian lifestyle, but keep in mind that small changes in a person’s diet can make a huge impact.
Eating Locally and Seasonally
Sometimes eating local food that is out of season can have a larger footprint than eating imported food grown within the same time frame. Growing food in a climate that it is not native to may require a variable climate, which often uses power to obtain. Another reason this happens is because when you grow food that originates in warmer areas in a cold climate, it requires more fertilizer, which produces dangerous emissions. The best way to avoid this is to know where your food is coming from and the season it was grown in.
On average in the United States, food often travels around 1,500 miles from farm to consumers. Rich Pirog, a director at C.S. Mott Group for Sustainable Food Systems, found that normal food distribution was responsible for 5-17 times more CO2 emissions than locally grown and produced food. Local food helps to keep money circulating in a community and often costs less than conventionally produced and shipped food.
The Slow Food Manifesto was created by Folco Portinari in 1989, which quickly gave way to an international movement. Fifteen countries have participated in the manifesto, taking a stand by saying that the model of mass food production and consumption we have evolved into is harmful. The manifesto calls for consumers to choose “regional cooking” instead of “fast food.” The manifesto agrees to stop consuming foods that threaten the environment and our landscapes.
For the most part, smaller local farms are more accepting of adopting environmentally friendly practice. They often work to build up insect diversity, use fewer pesticides and enrich the soil after growing with beneficial cover crops. This helps produce healthier and better tasting food. In retrospect, industrial food is created to withstand the mechanics of industrial harvesting as well as traveling long distance.
Choose Food Wisely
There are many ways to pick green food choices. One is to ensure the time you are eating foods is in season. Summer is typically the best time to take advantage of local produce to reduce the impact of emissions that your food ultimately has. Eating seasonal food that is grown in your area can help to reduce the overall carbon footprint of the food you consumer by at least 10 percent.
It may not be at the forefront of your mind, but if you are planning a move, consider the neighborhoods you are looking at and their proximity to the farms or farmers market in the area. Sustainable food practices take into account the social, ecological, and economic factors that allows us to continue to benefit from the resources Earth provides.
By decreasing your meat intake from 100 grams to 50 grams a day, you can reduce your food-related carbon footprint by as much as 30 percent. By taking the action to reduce your overall consumption of red meat, you can make a huge difference in your overall carbon footprint.
Ultimately, eating locally reduces your overall food carbon emissions, even if just by a little. By purchasing food that was grown and sourced on a local level, you maintain a lower carbon output while supporting your community.