Have you ever thought about the fuel it takes to get food to the grocery store? Or if there a way to reduce your food miles? Produce from large farms is harvested using gas-powered machinery. It is then transported – often hundreds or even thousands of miles – by airplane or truck to your local store.
For example, if produce travels from Mexico to Virginia, it travels over 1800 miles. That’s a lot of fossil fuel for a head of lettuce!
Another consideration is the safety and nutrients in food. The longer food sits, the more chance there is that it will be exposed to dangerous bacteria such as salmonella. If food has been processed and shipped for long distances, it is usually sprayed with preservatives to keep it “fresh” during the long journey. Fresh fruits and vegetables are often coated with wax to prevent them from drying out during transport. In the meantime, nutrients are lost as the foods sit for long periods.
If you’d like to cut down on your food mileage, here are some ideas that can help.
Grow your own food. This is not necessarily the enormous task it may seem like at first. You don’t need vast amounts of sunny acreage to make a fruitful garden. If you do have a moderately-sized or large yard, however, consider sectioning off part of it for a garden.
If not, try container gardening. Tomatoes, cucumbers, and strawberries are particularly suited for pots or containers. Get creative; you don’t need to spend a lot of money on commercial flower pots. Use flower boxes for lettuces, old pots or buckets for strawberries or tomatoes, and hanging baskets for cucumbers. Many herbs and even vegetables can be grown indoors in sunny windows.
Forego the imports where you can. Tropical fruit is, of course, grown in the tropics, and unless you live there, the tropics are a long way from home. This includes canned and dried tropical fruits as well.
Buy locally grown food. Not only will you get seasonal vegetables that are well suited to your body’s needs, but you’ll support your local community. And, of course, you’ll reduce your food miles. In fact, if there is a farm nearby where you can pick your own produce, that’s even better. Carpool with friends and gather your own produce by hand – no need for gas-guzzling harvesters.
Speaking of seasonal produce, buying food when it’s in season reduces food miles. If you live in New York, for example, and you want strawberries in mid-January, you will have to buy berries that have been shipped from somewhere much warmer (and farther away). A better option is to stock up and freeze or can your own summer strawberries and use those to assuage your January berry craving! You’ll save money buying produce in season, too.
Want more information? The NRDC has a great pamphlet on the subject at