Happy Earth Day! Today marks the 40th anniversary of Earth Day. I thought I would honor this day by writing about how eating locally can help save our plant.
Did you know that the average American meal travels 1,500 miles to get to your plate? That’s like driving from Kansas City to Augusta, Maine. Or 150 miles further than the drive from Kansas City to Las Vegas. It’s basically halfway across the United States. Think of everything you eat in one day. Now think of all the miles that food has traveled.
The further food has to travel, the more fuel it uses in the process. Food isn’t magically transported across the country. It has to be driven in trucks, flown in planes, or even transported by boat to get to its destination. All of which uses a lot of fuel in the process. And we all know that fuel emissions are polluting our environment and contributing to climate change.
Our food also needs to be able to survive the long distance trip. It needs to be fresh and ripe when it gets to the store, not when it is loaded on the truck. As a result most produce is picked when it is not yet ripe, then gassed to ripen after transport (source). Gassed? Ick.
Food processors also use a lot of plastic and paper packaging to protect food and keep it fresh over those long distances (source). Some of that packaging can’t be recycled therefore creating more waste than necessary.
What Can You Do?
Eating local is easier than ever these days. I can’t speak for other areas, but most major grocery stores in Kansas City have started to carry local products and are even featuring local farmers in their produce sections. The first and easiest thing you can start doing right away is pay attention to signs and labels. I shop at both Hy-Vee and Whole Foods regularly. Both stores label their produce with where it comes from. On the sign for apples right next to the price is a statement such as “Product of Washington” or “Product of USA” or “Product of ______” (some other country). So when you are shopping, pay attention to these signs and pick the one that is closer to you.
For example, on Tuesday night I stopped at the store on the way home to get the ingredients to make chili. I needed an onion. In the onion section there were onions that were “Product of Texas” and onions that were “Product of Mexico”. I picked the Texas onion because it is closer to Kansas.
Grocery stores also stock products other than produce that are made locally. Whole Foods is really great at the practice of selling local products. They even put little signs up that say “I’m local!” right next to the product. Hy-Vee has stepped up its game too. At Hy-Vee I can get honey, milk and jelly that are all made in the metro area.
Four more ways to eat local and help save the Earth:
1. Shop your local farmers market. Buying produce at the farmers market not only cuts down on the number of food miles, it also supports a local business. A greater percentage of every dollar spent with local businesses remains right in your community. See The 3/50 Project for more information.
2. Join a CSA. A CSA is another way to buy local and support small family farms.
3. Start a small garden. You can’t get more local than 20 feet from your back door! It’s not too late to start this year either.
4. Eat in season. Seasonal eating is something I learned from reading the book Animal, Vegetable, Miracle. It simply does not make sense to eat fresh strawberries every day in the middle of winter. Fresh strawberries are meant to be eating in summer when they are ripe and abundant. Not when they are grown halfway across the country and then travel 1,500 miles to get to your plate. Not only is it better for the environment, its better for your wallet! In-season product is much cheaper for a reason. It doesn’t have to travel as far. I may need to do an entire separate post on seasonal eating.
What do you think about eating local? Does it factor into your buying habits?
How are you celebrating Earth Day?