The term food miles has been around for over 15 years now. Initially the very simplicity of the concept attracted support and attention. The methodology basically calculated the cost to the environment in moving the produce from field to consumer. Ultimately however, it was this simplicity that led to questions being raised as to its validity.
The main issue with the system is that it does not take into account the production costs of producing/processing food; possibly because of the implied belief that local is best for the environment. Unfortunately this conviction has also been questioned. There are circumstances, when locally grown produce makes substantial use of fertilisers and equipment which could potentially make it less friendly for the environment than foodstuff shipped in from overseas, if it is produced in a very sustainable manner. Then of course there is the choice of buying something in season rather than year round as holding food in cold storage incurs a cost to the environment. Therefore it is just not possible for sweeping or simple statements to be made.
When we conducted our Citizen Panels in the latter part of 2014 one of the topics that was passionately discussed was enabling people to eat sustainably produced food. Whilst the term food miles was employed discussion encompassed the aspect of the production costs to the environment.
So with food miles a popular concept but not deemed detailed enough to give us real guidance as to the most sustainable produce, a more complex process was introduced. The Life Cycle Analysis; this methodology includes the production, processing, packaging and transport of food. However being so much more complex it is more difficult to calculate.
There are a number of projects and organisations, for example MyEcoCost, working on a standardised methodology to calculate the carbon cost to the environment. However, there is a long way to go before such methodologies would be available to you or me. Not only would food etc. need to have its cost to the environment value identified but it would need to be done in a practical and accessible way. Consider that a friend of mine has a severe nut allergy. If he comes to stay then any food shopping trip is considerably protracted due to the careful review of food labels for allergy information. Any checks whether it is for fat content, calories or environmental impact would have a considerable impact on the time take to conclude a shopping trip. I can imagine, at some point in the future, trips to the supermarkets where we use either a shop scanner or a smart phone with a scanner app to check both financial and environmental cost.
For the time being however we will no doubt continue to increase our awareness of sustainability in food production to enable us to make the best choices we can. Included here are a few of the many fascinating initiatives the CASI team incorporated into Casipedia
Whilst not always directly linked to producing food in a sustainable manner the following initiatives reduce waste from the industry in a way that benefits the community:
Mossagården is a family business in the village of Veberöd, Skåne County, Southern Sweden, for organic cultivation of vegetables and root crops. The business runs an online store for food orders and delivers ca. 900 organic boxes per week to households in Skåne and has contracts with municipalities, private companies and schools. Biogas vehicles and bicycles are used for home delivery of products.
In Ireland FoodCloud connects businesses with a surplus of food with charities that have too little. An online platform and app simplifies notifying charities that donations of food are available for their communities. Charities receive a message that a donation that is available and can choose to accept the donation which must then be collected within the time period specified. The service assists in reducing food poverty whilst also reducing the amount food waste.
Eataly is a food distribution chain offering the best of craft products at reasonable prices, through the establishment of a direct relationship between the producer and the distributor. The objective of Eataly is twofold: offering products of high quality at affordable prices and disseminate a culture of food attentive to the issue of sustainability. Since 2007 Eataly stores have opened all over Italy and spread to Japan and the United States.
Perhaps you can share other schemes local to you that either help you purchase local grown or environmentally friendly produced food – or those that reduce the waste of this valuable commodity?