I’ve written previously on the ecological impacts of our food choices, which dance in a close and complicated relationship with health, variety, and the sheer wonderful enjoyment of food in all its forms. Lately, I took Barbara Kingsolver’s book Animal, Vegetable, Miracle with me on vacation, which continued my learning process. One thing I’m becoming more aware of is that distance matters, and processing matters – from a petroleum and energy usage point of view.
The concept of buying organic and buying local is becoming more integrated into our awareness. But it’s about more than just avoiding pesticides, and more than supporting our local farmers and community. Buying organic isn’t great if that raspberry in December is from Chile – the amount of oil used to get it here and the amount of CO2 emissions released into the atmosphere by that plane far offset any possible benefit from organic farming.
Forget about organic farming for a minute – with the ever increasing globalization of corporations and food supplies, most of the food we buy comes from great distances. Here are the astonishing figures which may bring it home – if every American ate only ONE meal per week – that’s ANY meal – from local sources, it would save 1.1 MILLION BARRELS of oil PER WEEK in transportation, storage, and refrigeration costs. Imagine that.
It reminds me of the conservation efforts so prevalent during WWII, when our nation’s government figured out what we needed to ration, and asked each American to contribute. Imagine what could happen if the US government had an education campaign and asked Americans to contribute to US energy independence by eating locally. Not only would we save untold amounts of oil, possibly freeing ourselves from the need to stick our nose in the business of certain parts of the world, but our food would be healthier, fresher, tastier, and we would be supporting local family farms – as opposed to huge conglomerate agribusiness.
As for organics, you can have your cake (well, pear) and eat it too. Local food does tend to be organic, at least far more often than other food. Visit your local farmer’s market or small grocery that stocks it – you’ll find that not only is it local, it’s organic, heirloom, fresh, and tastes far better than the alternative. And contrary to popular belief – not any more expensive than grocery food.