How far does your food travel before it reaches your mouth?

I don’t mean the path from your plate over your fork to your mouth. I mean the road from where it was planted, grown and harvested to where you cook it in your home.

Do you know where the food you buy comes from?

When the average North American sits down to eat, each ingredient has typically travelled at least 1,500 miles. The French consume ingredients that have travelled an average of 2000 km.

In 2005 Alisa Smith and James MacKinnon started the 100 mile diet. For one year, they would buy or gather their food and drink from within 100 miles of their apartment in Vancouver, British Columbia. A 100-mile radius (or 160 kilometres) is large enough to reach beyond a big city and small enough to feel truly local.

A strawberry yoghurt equals about 9000 km
if one takes into account the road travelled
by each of the ingredients necessary to produce it.

A similar experience was done by a journalist from the French Psychologies magazine (the article – in French – can be found here). She lives in Paris and thought that would make it easy. She received her vegetable basket every week from local producers via the French Amap organisation (the international network can be found here).

But besides those products for which the production circuit was well identified, she found she had to become a detective to find a few local producers able to fill her fridge. The supermarket was banned as most products come from far away. When asking her local shopkeepers where a product was coming from the answer ‘France’ was not precise enough. She had to give up fish but her partner warned her that he would not give up his hummus from Israel or his Green Tea.
Transport by plane has an impact
on the environment of 100 times
superior to boat transporation.
She found that such a diet radically changes our relation to food. It becomes difficult to invite people for dinner if they insist on chocolate mousse or to go out to a restaurant. And it is even harder to identify the origin of all the ingredients in ready to use products such as tomato sauce or fresh ravioli pasta. The easiest way, and the best in terms of ecology, would be to plant everything you eat yourself. Not easy if you, like the journalist, live in Paris. But if you start by eating fruits and vegetables only when it’s their season (i.e. no strawberries in the winter), you’ve already made a first step.
1 kg of apples from South Africa
correspond to 5 liters of fuel.
0,25 liters for the same
quantity cultivated locally.
Our household has recently made some changes in that direction as well. We have replaced the Italian mineral water San Pellegrino (how come you can find this about anywhere in the world? WHY?) with our local mineral water. We go shopping with our own bags. We mainly buy organic fruit and vegetables. We plan on setting up a small vegetable garden this year.
Not necessarily ecological, but better for your health: we try to buy products that do NOT contain trans fats as they are not essential nor provide any benefit to the human health but instead increase the risk of coronary heart disease, cancer, diabetes, obesity, liver dysfunction and infertility. In most countries, these fats must be listed on food, so you better look out for and reduce them in the future!
[The] food chain we have now is not
designed to feed people…. it is designed
to produce the maximum amount of cash
in the shortest time. … The global free market
might be good for some things (perhaps we get
better computers and warships that way)
but for farming, and hence for humanity
as a whole, it is disastrous.
Complete quote from Colin Tudge at
Treehugger can be found here.

Sources and links:
100 mile diet
Local Food Economy Game
How to green your meals
Eat local (NRCD)
Simple Steps: a healthier you, a healthier home, a healthier earth.
Climate Action Network
Centre de recherche et d’information des organisations de consommateurs, Bruxelles
Réseau action climat France
Article January 2008
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3 Responses to How far does your food travel before it reaches your mouth?

  1. grace says:

    I live in Dubai and our food here (fruits and veggies) are from all over the world. No choice – here is a desert. But the government has started to make environmentally controlled green houses to produce locally.

  2. Mewie says:

    I never once pondered having a ’100 mile diet.’ I’m speechless.

    Living in America, we already acknowledge that our food market is mostly globalized – and even it was all within our nation, our nation is huge. Considering produce from California to New York… it just seems naturally home. :)

    But yes, I can see the health benefits of eating things more local – I just don’t see that being largely practiced here in the states.

    Very interesting post. Thanks!

  3. erinn says:

    Excellent post. Great ideas to think about. We have been considering participating in our local CSA (community supported agriculture) and the more I read the more I am convinced it is a good idea. thanks.


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