Currently browsing posts about: Food-miles

May 5 2009

Food miles: do they matter?

Thanks to Dick Jackson, chair of environmental sciences at the UCLA School of Public Health, for sending me the latest paper arguing that food miles – the distances foods travel before they get to you – make no difference to climate change.  Eating less meat, say the authors, is what counts.

Never mind the assumptions on which such estimates are based.  I have no idea whether they make sense.  But before jumping to interpret this paper as an argument against the value of local food, Jackson suggests that we think about the other, perhaps less tangible, benefits of local food production.  He is a transportation expert so he particularly emphasizes reductions in air pollution, noise, congestion, paving, heat, and the removal of trees.  On the personal side, the benefits include more physical activity, “social capital” (the conversations and other transactions between consumers and farmers), income that stays in the community, and – not least – food that is fresher and tastes better.

I’ve always thought that the real benefits of local food production were in building and preserving communities.  I like having farms within easy access of where I live and I like knowing the people who produce my food.  If local food doesn’t make climate change worse and maybe even helps a bit, that’s just icing on the cake.  Or am I missing something here?

Nov 16 2008

Food miles: a real issue or a distracter?

The Mercatus Institute has produced a report arguing that food miles – the environmental cost of the distance food travels – is a meaningless concept based on erroneous assumptions, and that the “buy local” movement is focused on the wrong issues.  I don’t know anything about the Mercatus Institute other than what is on its website, and I don’t recognize the names of its members.  Anybody know anything about it?  Here’s what the Wall Street Journal said about this group in 2004.

Apr 19 2008

Fiji Water an eco-choice? And what’s with plastic water bottles?

Thanks to Hugh Joseph for forwarding this Brandweek article about Fiji water with a subject line saying, “You could never make this up.” Fiji Water, it seems, has a new $10 million ad “carbon negative, globally positive” campaign to explain its carbon neutrality. Hmmm. The last I heard, Fiji was about 8,000 food miles away and plastic bottles were causing all kinds of environmental problems.

And now it seems that plastic bottles are also causing health problems, particularly from leaching of the endocrine disrupter, bisphenol A. Canada is all set to ban this chemical in general and has just banned it from baby bottles. The FDA is under pressure to do the same or at least set limits for it. And Nalgene says it won’t use it anymore.

Maybe Fiji Water bottles don’t use polycarbonate plastics (with bisphenol A) but it looks like any bottled water needs some re-thinking, no?

Feb 20 2008

The latest junk food marketing gimmick: food miles

You have to hand it to the British for thinking this one up: locally grown potato chips. If low-fat labels on food products encourage people to eat more calories (as they apparently do), will locally grown have the same effect?

Nov 30 2007

Food Miles from New Zealand

I am back from speaking at New Zealand’s “Primary Industries Summit,” a government-sponsored meeting of agricultural business leaders called to challenge their “conceptions of what the global economic environment will look like in 2020″ and to suggest ideas about how best to position New Zealand’s agriculture to give it a competitive advantage. The short answer: good, fair, clean, and green. The big challenge: Food miles. New Zealand is really, really far to get to (it took consecutive flights of 6, 13, and 3 hours to get me to the meeting venue). For New Zealand business leaders, “eat local” means fighting words. Their mantra: our foods have lower carbon footprints than yours. That’s the perspective from the Antipodes. Antipodes, by the way, is the brand name of their local bottled water–at least the bottles are glass.

It’s good to be back. I will be posting catch-ups in rapid succession.

Jul 11 2007

Where Food Comes From

Today’s USA Today has several terrific stories about how hard it is to know where our food comes from and why it matters that we do. The cover story in the Life section follows Phil Lempert, the supermarket guru, around a store reading package labels to try to figure out the origins of ingredients. A second piece lists where specific foods come from. Dairy, peanut butter, bread, and soda pop are All-American, but Brazil is the number one source of orange juice. And who knew that fresh and frozen fruits and vegetables head the list of imported foods and Mexico is the leading source? A third story, in which I am quoted, discusses Country of Origin Labeling (COOL), a law passed by Congress years ago but endlessly postponed under pressure from food industries. Only supermarket fish are required to list the country that caught or farmed them, and as far as I can tell, this is a law ignored more often than not. If Congress doesn’t get its act together and put COOL into action, we won’t have a clue where our food comes from. Why do we need to know? Safety and miles traveled, for starters. Ever heard of COOL? It’s worth writing your representatives for this one.