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Buying Local: Do Food Miles Matter?

Buying Local: Do Food Miles Matter?

Gary Adamkiewicz, instructor of From Farm to Fork: Food, Sustainability, and the Global Environment, discusses the nuances of food miles and their impact on our climate.

I am dependent on foreign oil.
Not that kind. Olive.

Whether it’s grapes from Chile or olive oil from Italy, odds are, you consumed something today that logged more than 1,000 miles from the farm to your fork. Concerns about the effects of this transport on our climate have inspired many to embrace their inner “locavore” by limiting the food miles on their dinner plate.

The short answer is that buying local food is a good principle, but not a universal rule. Some of the biggest climate effects can happen before a corn cob leaves the farm or a steer leaves the feedlot.

To quantify this, we need to account for all steps in the lifecycle of our food, from cradle to grave. Transportation is just one slice of that lifecycle. The figure below, based on an analysis by the Environmental Working Group (EWG), illustrates this fact by separating the effect of production from emissions once the food leaves the farm.