Food miles: they are hard to live with and often we cannot live without them, but what are they exactly? Food miles refer to the distance your food travels from the farm to your plate. Relying on food from great distances has many associated problems, but it is also defended tooth and nail. Why is this? Let’s start with a couple problems.

Consuming foods from further away can decrease your impact on whether the food was grown sustainably and whether the farmer was paid a fair price or worked to death while increasing need for fossil-fueled transportation and all of its resulting maladies. These negatives tend to increase with processing and value-added supply chains.

A massive global food trade system is defended along the lines of increasing dietary diversity, combating malnutrition and reducing susceptibility to famine everywhere. This seems like a worthy banner to raise, but it also glosses over many issues such as the difference in benefits for the Global North versus South, that this trade is based on cheap fossil energy, that we often import the same food that we export, the increasing demand for resource-intensive animal products globally and, oh, the fact that 805 million people still go hungry every day on this planet. These issues aside, let’s go through some common examples of food miles that we defend.

Tropical Goodies

Let’s face it: we are obsessed with tropical food in the U.S. Whether we are talking about coffee, tea, bananas, pineapples, cacao, palm fruit and beyond, we cannot get enough. We are talking about at least several hundred food miles here before these items even reach U.S. soil, typically. People worry about the nutritional deficiency of tomatoes after picking and then look forward to their banana ripening from halfway around the world. We buy coffee, tea, and chocolate from producers who do not care about rainforest destruction. We unknowingly consume palm oil at the expense of these forests and the lives of orangutans.

An Endless Summer

Speaking of artificially ripened tomatoes, what’s the deal with having all warm-season produce available all the time? In the U.S. we can buy fresh berries, peaches, cherries, melons, peppers and tomatoes in the dead of winter from California and South America. What happened to canning and dehydrating your summer harvest?

Isn’t Zest the Best?

Citrus seems almost synonymous with making sure that you get your Vitamin C intake, but did you know there are plenty of foods that contain it such as sweet potatoes, greens, red bell peppers, beets, and more? In addition to the food miles associated with trucking citrus or the energy used processing it into juice, there is a rampant disease wiping out many groves.

The bottom line is that we can live without many of the food miles associated with our diets. We can do this by researching how to get the same nutritional and aesthetic benefits from local foods as well as making or supporting efforts to make these more prevalent. We can make a HUGE difference in the amount of resources wasted feeding us while saving ecosystems and using farmland more sustainably if we as a culture and individuals shift our view of convenience from thousands of miles to digging up our own backyard.

What You Can Do

There are many ways that you can buy your food consciously and help reduce food miles. Check out these strategies to slash your footprint and tackle food waste. Also, see this article to learn more about what buying local really means and try to buy from farmer’s markets or produce that comes from farms near your area. Even big supermarkets can have local produce sections, which is awesome and convenient. Another good strategy is to opt for a CSA box or use a food delivery service that sells produce from nearby growers.

Image source: Tatters/ Flickr