By Michaela Kapala
Sustainability Studies Honor Student
The average distance that eight random food items traveled to my refrigerator was 733.5 miles. The closest item was a half pint of heavy whipping crème from a Horizon dairy farm in Fowler, Michigan, approximately 160 miles from the Whole Foods in Mishawaka. Considering that these items most likely traveled on heavy duty semi-trucks, the amount of emissions that accompanied these items is not a pretty number. The EPA reports that the heavy duty semi-trucks which are used in the transport of goods produce approximately 3.109 grams of carbon monoxide and 10.990 grams of nitrogen oxide per mile, both of which are regulated pollutants. Based on these results, I can assume that my current table used some fraction of the total emissions produced during transport, which is approximately 10341.6 grams, carbon monoxide and nitrogen oxide combined; a big number! And considering that an increased concentration of carbon monoxide indirectly contributes to global warming the cost of the high mileage of my food extends to my environment.
While I am aware that I can’t eliminate the emissions produced from the transport of my food (I still need to drive to the market or grocery store to purchase the items), I can take small, simple steps reduce the amount of miles my food travels, consequently reducing it’s emissions.
My short term goals include the simple act of reading labels. While buying locally grown items is the most effective way to reduce food miles, I’ve found that it is not always an option when it comes to seasonal produce such as tomatoes or apricots. If I carefully read labels and buy the most local produce, I am still reducing my food miles.
However, making my table more sustainable does not only depend on the reduction of food miles, but also the reduction of the actual food production. A study done on food miles in 2008 showed that 83% of carbon emissions in the United States food system results from food production, while transporting it accounted for only 11% of carbon emissions. I can take immediate action by simply being more investigative into how much production might go into the food product that I am buying. As an example, it takes 880 gallons of water to produce one gallon of milk. In contrast, almond milk requires approximately 3 quarts of water to make 1 quart of almond milk, a nicer ratio! Making simple smart consumer choices like these will help to make my table more sustainable.
For long term goals, I would love to say that 60% of the food that I buy comes from local farmers and markets and 40% comes from my very own yard. Growing my own fruits and vegetables provides a sense of security to me and allows me to know exactly how my food was grown and produced. It will also give my food miles a big fat zero in the food miles department, win!