Thursday, January 11, 2007

Can we think for ourselves?

Here is a comment from an article that I would like all of you to read:

The term “food mile” is itself misleading, as a report published by DEFRA, Britain's environment and farming ministry, pointed out last year. A mile travelled by a large truck full of groceries is not the same as a mile travelled by a sport-utility vehicle carrying a bag of salad. Instead, says Paul Watkiss, one of the authors of the DEFRA report, it is more helpful to think about food-vehicle miles (ie, the number of miles travelled by vehicles carrying food) and food-tonne miles (which take the tonnage being carried into account).

The DEFRA report, which analysed the supply of food in Britain, contained several counter intuitive findings. It turns out to be better for the environment to truck in tomatoes from Spain during the winter, for example, than to grow them in heated greenhouses in Britain. And it transpires that half the food-vehicle miles associated with British food are travelled by cars driving to and from the shops. Each trip is short, but there are millions of them every day. Another surprising finding was that a shift towards a local food system, and away from a supermarket-based food system, with its central distribution depots, lean supply chains and big, full trucks, might actually increase the number of food-vehicle miles being travelled locally, because things would move around in a larger number of smaller, less efficiently packed vehicles.

Research carried out at Lincoln University in New Zealand found that producing dairy products, lamb, apples and onions in that country and shipping them to Britain used less energy overall than producing them in Britain. (Farming and processing in New Zealand is much less energy intensive.) And even if flying food in from the developing world produces more emissions, that needs to be weighed against the boost to trade and development.

This is excerpted from: The Economist and originally linked from Pocket Farm

Now I just have a couple of comments.

1: why the he?? do people need to eat tomatoes in the dead of winter? I think that goes back to the whole sacrifice area that is starting to show up in articles. We want to whine about global warming but we still want to heat greenhouses to grow tomatoes in the winter time.?!?! Add zucchinis to that too. I love squash casserole but I don't eat it in the winter unless it came out of my fridge frozen as a leftover from summer (and then it's a bit watery) and we don't eat fresh tomatoes in the winter (as much because they just don't taste as good as summer grown tomatoes from yours or your neighbors/local farmers garden)

2: In regards to the comment about driving miles: It seems to me that if you buy from a local farmer you may be buying more in bulk. A whole or half a cow, a weeks worth of veggies at one time etc etc. This to me goes to the "sacrifice" of having a more city type environment also. Why do people in subdivisions have to drive 15 miles one way to the grocery? And if there were more local farmers markets that would help. Our only market is pretty far away AND only open from May until September. It misses part of the season.
Lastly I always thought food miles were the miles from farm to MARKET not store to home. I understand the issue of many many people driving a low number of miles but that still doesn't take into account things like wasted food (not sold/rotted/ruined in transport) and food brought in to compete with the same local grown food.

3: It's cheaper to ship apples in than to buy them local. Bologna! When we lived in another part of Georgia KNOWN for it's apple climate, apple festivals and apples---they shipped the majority of their apples to Washington state. Either for consumption there OR some of the apples were re labeled/bagged and sent else where as a product of Washington. I know you read that and think "she's mistaken that couldn't happen" but that is no exaggeration: We lived there and it is common common knowledge. Nobody thinks about it though. No big deal---I mean we have all the energy we could ever want to waste and waste right? I am not totally against food from other climates---I'll be the first to admit that some of the fruit I love is from somewhere other than local, but do we have to do what I described above? O.K---maybe I shouldn't eat the exotic fruit anymore yet on the other hand if we have to sacrifice can I at least ask that STUPIDITY be canceled out first???

I am starting to realize that even though I have talked and to a certain extent walked organic and environmental for almost 2 decades that I am not sacrificing enough. I will have to work on that quite a bit more. But as I stated above---as I sacrifice can I also hope/expect/ask/anticipate that stupid actions will also be stopped???


Cheryl said...

I've been feeling the same way, like I'm not doing nearly enough and need to make some more drastic changes.
It's frustrating when waste is built right into the system. I read recently that the US ships something like 70% of their tomato crop to Canada, and Canada ships 70% of its tomatoes to the US (and then we turn around and buy them back as canned tomatoes). How stupid is that?

patti @ strollerderby said...

Thank you so much for the food for thought. We're trying hard to raise our children with the concept of sustainability and it's hard to do in a city context when you can't grow much, and the most local food still comes, by necessity, from fifty or more miles away.

farmer, vet and feeder of all animals said...

Cheryl---It is surprising how much waste is built into the system. It is really going to take some creative thinking to figure out what to do. I think that is why sometimes we do nothing---because we aren't sure so we procrastinate (human nature). Unfortunately we are going to have to work harder if only from the standpoint of the fact that there are more and more consumers in the world.

Patti--keep working at it, kids are a great sponge. The will be our savors I do believe since they will have lived through it and bring new/different ideas to the table. Though it seems as if someone with land has it best, the city also offers advantages (though different one's) to living sustainable. I think we all just need to work a bit more on how to make it all mesh together more effectively :-)

Phelan said...

This is questionable. Who paid for this study? If DEFRA is anything like the USDA, then they are getting handouts from large food companies. Always be careful about what you think is the truth when coming from people that will benifit from falsehoods.

I do realize that this can make sense. The easiest solution if to have the trucks stop at the end of a block and have the customers walk to it once a week. This will eliminate the driving to the local store.

Trying to change peoples minds about their habit is almost impossible. The first step, the best step, is to take on your community. Make it a point to grow more food then you really need, and then take it to a nieghbor and ask if you could "borrow" some sugar, then give them your excess in trade. This starts the idea of bartering in peoples minds that would never have thought to do so. This takes a lot less energy and wastefulness than anything else.

The smallest steps can lead to the largest leaps.

~I'm taking the soap box with me.