how many miles are too many (food) miles?

i have what i can only characterize as a capricious relationship to the concept of food miles.  i tend to choose organic over just about any consideration and thus, can justify organic tomatoes from spain in my grocery basket, despite the distance they travel. i can also justify organic coconut milk that comes from an undoubtedly very long distance away, because hey, there aren't any coconuts in denmark and one must have one's curry. on the other hand, i can resist a mango from peru or an avocado from chile - on the grounds of the distance it had to travel to get to me. tho' oddly i can justify an avocado from south africa because it's in the same time zone as me (and possibly also because i love south africa).

others have argued the arguments for and against the locavore lifestyle much better than i, so i won't try to duplicate that here.  but i will delve a little bit into my reasons for, on the whole, wanting to eat a more locavore diet, but also what i consider local.

as with anything, there are pros and cons. cons for one who lives as far north as i do is that if you ate entirely locally-produced foods during winter, you'd have pork, pork, bacon and pork and a few root vegetables. you would have very little green. and i can't get along without green. so my local horizon actually extends to southern europe...spain and italy, predominantly. if the only tomatoes available came from a greenhouse in holland, i skip them, but if there are succulent little italian ones, they're going in my shopping basket.

the biggest pros for me in wanting to eat food that was produced close to where i are live are flavor and support of the local community. locally-produced means it can be picked closer to the time when it's ripe and perfect and not weeks before and then transported in a container on a ship for several weeks before it gets to me - that's hard on the taste, as well as on the environment (tho' shipping via sea is one of the least CO2-emitting methods of transport).

but it's also because i want to be able to stop at a little roadside stand in my neighborhood in season and buy strawberries or apples or potatoes. it feels good knowing that the food goes from field to my table on the same day. that strikes me as healthier and more in tune with nature. and i'm pretty faithful about it with the strawberries - i don't often fall for those pretty red, but tasteless ones you see in the grocery store year-round. if you don't shop locally, there won't be anyone local who produces these things, so it also benefits the community.

so when i go to the store, i'm very aware, especially with produce, of where it comes from - happily here in denmark, everything is marked. lately, the leeks have been from belgium and if there are danish leeks available, i'm sure to choose those - so i buy with an awareness of food miles.  however, i have been choosing spanish cucumbers over the danish ones, which are produced in greenhouses, on the grounds of those being so tasteless and bland. cucumbers need some real sunshine and they get that in spain. the greenhouses can also be quite guilty of environmental crimes and misdemeanors, so i feel ok with my choice. we have a member of this household who simply couldn't do without cucumbers, so i have to make choices.

i am looking forward to next summer, when we'll have lots of very locally-grown produce from our own garden. because that's the best kind of all. i intend to put up as much as i can - canning and freezing, for next winter, so hopefully we can change our consumption and cut back on the food miles. but until then, i'll just try to make wise and thoughtful choices on that front.

how do you decide how many miles are too many food miles when you're at the grocery store?

1 comment:

rayfamily said...

Great post! I am constantly struggling with this question, but have gone further on some of it. I've spent a couple of years, since our garden began in earnest, where I wouldn't buy items that I grow. It got so bad, some whacked guilty feeling, that once I ran out of our lovely stored or preserved items, I wouldn't buy more. Rather, I would wait until the next growing season. I've laid off myself some, as the rainbow chard in my shopping bag
today proves.

I buy as locally as possible, and have found that many great things, especially produce items come from
Michigan. There were gorgeous blueberries on sale today at the store and my mouth was watering just looking at them. One set came from Chilie and one set from California. I passed because of the distance. I wonder if like anything else, we shouldn't just do the best we can, but not punish ourselves (myself) in the process. Hmmm I should probably run back and get those blueberries!