Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Miles and miles of food miles

There is nothing like a 20 hour car ride up and down Interstate 95 from Vermont to Georgia, to Tennessee and back to Vermont to get you to think about food miles...

Okay, this may not be your first instinctual thought, but after a while on the highway the scenery out the window becomes quite repetitive.  After passing billboards for fast food, food trucks, more billboards, and more trucks transporting food side by side your car for 10 hours, its hard not to think where that truck is headed, where that truck came from, and my specific thoughts; 
Why are there so many trucks hogging up the lanes, and is it so necessary to drive cross country to sell that? 

The definition of a food mile according to the Oxford Dictionary is: 
"a mile over which a food item is transported during the journey from producer to consumer, as a unit of measurement of the fuel used to transport it."
Perhaps it was the lack of sleep or lack of entertainment, but these trucks really began to rile me up.  While most often I think of the environmental impacts of food miles, this time I took a different perspective of just how inefficient these trucks seem.  I can't imagine it is very cost effective to drive $.75 muffins across the country to sell in a gas station 1500 miles away.  Then stemming from that thought, to think that a large fraction of that money is going to the transportation, another fraction to the producers, and almost none to the farmer that happens to be my neighbor!  For those of you who do not know 1500 miles is the average distance food travels in the U.S.  This appalling fact, along with other valuable insights on the industrial food system came from a video produced by PBS e² series entitled Food Miles. 
This short 25 minute video, though not very in depth, has some great insight into the topic of localization of food and the positives and negatives of industrial food production.  If food mile is a term you are not familiar with, I recommend this video.  It is easy to understand and I felt it was put in non-threatening or urgent terms that are often present in advocacy films.  It is great because it really pinpoints the main issues of the industrial food system, while also recognizing other opinions.  

In the teachers guide to this video episode they provide questions to think about before viewing the video.  The question I encourage people to think about before viewing the video is: 

Think about a typical dinner that you eat. What foods does it include? Do you know where that food comes from (before it ends up in the supermarket)? Where it is grown? Using what methods? Where it is processed, if it is processed?

By thinking about the external costs associated with the food we eat, it may become easier to understand how these issues apply to you or effect you as a consumer on this planet.  A line that stuck out from the video was from Michael Pollan, a famous scholar, author, and advocate of the food movement: "The fact that we are catching salmon in Alaska, filleting it in China, then flying it to New York".  Sounds bonkers! The truth sometimes hurts to find out.

Video Hyperlink:

N/P 3/19

Photo Credit: Susannah Clark Parsons

1 comment:

  1. To me one of the oddest things about food miles is the question of how it came to be that shipping foodstuffs thousands and thousands of miles across countries and even across continents in some cases came to be an accepted and expected part of our food system. Before the age of refrigeration and mass transportation, it used to be that what you could get locally was about all you had and you had to make do with that because there was no other option. I keep wondering and thinking about how it is that we can start to reverse this pattern. As you said above, especially when it comes to something like .75 muffins it just doesn't make sense because it isn't as if those muffins are a regional food you can only get certain times of the year; they could be made locally and without the cost of shipping them so far. I think it's largely tied into the industrial food system that we have in the US, and I wonder whether there is anything we can do short of revolutionizing that food system.