There may be many reasons to eat locally: supporting your local economy, ensuring food freshness, curbing sprawl, or reducing unnecessary energy use. One of the most pervasive arguments in favor of the local food movement has been to reduce or eliminate the environmental impacts of long-haul food shipments. But Carnegie-Mellon researchers Christopher L. Weber and H. Scott Matthews suggest that, at least from a greenhouse gas (GHG) perspective, food miles may not be as important as you may think.
In their recent article entitled “Food Miles and the Relative Climate Impacts of Food Choices in the United States,” appearing in Environmental Science and Technology, Weber and Matthews conclude that “the distance that food travels only accounts for around 11 percent of the average American household’s food-related GHG emissions.” According to the authors, the more important factor in food-related GHG emissions is the amount of resources required to produce it.
The authors show that for the average U.S. household, “shifting less than 1 day per week’s consumption of red meat and/or dairy to other protein sources or a vegetable-based diet could have the same climate impact as buying all household food from local providers.” On average, they find, red meat produces more GHGs than any other form of food. So, while there are many reasons to support our local farms, there are also strong greenhouse gas reasons to be sure we eat our veggies, no matter where they came from.
Then, by exstension, the greenest choice might well be to buy organic veggies, and perhaps poultry, from local farms. Sounds like a plan. 🙂
It takes 16 pounds of grain and 5,214 gallons of water as well as 100-200 liters per day of methane. Chickens, tofu and beans are much easier on the environment, but people just don’t care. Raising backyard chickens is one way to eat more locally.
I agree in the sense that the “average” household is eating battery eggs and CAFO meats—in other words, they are taking heavily subsidized human food (mostly corn and soy) grown with fossil fuel fertilizers and force-feeding it to animals that have little natural interest in those foods. However, there are other options for meat and eggs—backyard chickens as Susan mentioned or products from farms that actually let animals eat what they’ve evolved to eat: green plants for cows (humans cannot turn grass into protein) and bugs for chickens (humans can eat many of those but its not too common in Cascadia)! These products are certainly more expensive than vegetables so it is a question of what you want to support with your time or money.