Food travels an average of 1,500 miles to reach your plate. This is probably the most frequently cited statistic in food system debates. Unfortunately, it is also incredibly misleading.
If you’re concerned about carbon emissions, the problem with this statistic is that it suggests that all 1,500 miles worth of emissions can be attributed to a single piece of produce. If you analyze distance traveled per pound of food, it’s actually more efficient to drive a big rig 1,500 miles with many tons of produce than it is for a farmer to drive 50 miles with 50 pounds of produce.
It’s also a region specific statistic that doesn’t exactly apply to our food system in Southern California, where we’re blessed with a comparatively more-localized food system.
Most importantly, a narrow focus on food miles limits the conversation about food and carbon to transportation, frequently overlooking other ways that our food system contributes to climate change. Food miles don’t make up the majority or even the plurality of carbon emissions attributable to food (Click here for larger image).
As a result of the debate’s narrow focus, three larger culprits – home refrigeration, growing the food (usually with synthetic fertilizers) and processing it – receive far too little attention.
There are so many good arguments for eating locally, it’s sad to see so much attention paid to the climate impact of food miles. It’s hard to match the flavor of a fresh-picked black prince tomato, and the best way to assure the safety, quality and environmental responsibility is to know your farmer.