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Interesting piece on Salon.com about the complicated calculation of “food miles,” and how, despite their best intentions, so-called “locavores” may be missing the bigger picture.

Noting a 2001 study by the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture, the article reports that “the average apple travels 1,555 miles to a Chicago terminal market where wholesalers sell produce to grocery stores. A San Francisco Farmers Market apple, on the other hand, only travels about 105 miles to the Ferry Plaza market building.”

Salon writes, “A new breed of eaters has embraced the local, low-food-mile diet. The Bay Area-based Locavores group, for instance, vows to eat food produced within 100 miles of San Francisco. In a nod to the movement's growing popularity, the word ‘locavore’ nabbed the title of 2007 Word of the Year from the New Oxford American Dictionary, and Food and Wine magazine offers tips to befuddled cooks on ‘How to Eat Like a Locavore.’ Campaigns such as ‘Local Food Is Miles Better’ (run by the trade magazine Farmers Weekly in the United Kingdom) have called on supermarkets to crack down on excessive food miles by labeling and promoting locally produced items. The corporate world has jumped on board as well: Google's Cafe 150 stocks its pantry with ingredients gathered from within a 150-mile radius.

“While locavores list numerous reasons for eating local -- including freshness, taste and boosting regional economies -- one primary argument is protection of the environment. Long-distance food transport sucks up more fossil fuels, says the Farmers Market Web site, and unleashes more carbon dioxide onto our planet.

“That does sound dire. But what if conventional distributors make up for the long journeys by driving big trucks packed with produce? Let's say a distributor travels 1,000 miles and carries 1,000 apples to market, while 10 local farmers each drive a pickup 100 miles and carry 100 apples each. The local farmers log fewer food miles but cover the same total distance -- and use a comparable amount of fossil fuels -- for the same amount of food.”

Beyond that, the article says, other issues have to be taken into account – the time of the year, the specific item, even the fertilizer used for the product. And the piece suggests that consumers may be better off looking at other criteria when choosing their food rather than just the simplistic calculation of food miles.

KC's View:
Seems to me that taste is the best criteria, whenever possible. I guess that doesn’t make me an environmental purist, but there it is. If we all – meaning retailers, suppliers and consumers - focused more on taste, rather than efficiency, then the food world would be an infinitely better place.