Sunday, August 12, 2007

Looking Beyond Food Miles: Star Trib Commentary

James E. McWilliams, author of "A Revolution in Eating: How the Quest for Food Shaped America," wrote a thoughtful piece that appeared in the Star Tribune's Commentary section on Thursday:
Does eating local really help the environment? Not always. Other factors, from growing techniques to method of delivery, can outweigh the simple calculation of 'food miles.'
He proposes looking at a food item's life-cycle carbon and resource-use footprint -- things like water and fertilizer use and mode of transportation -- rather than simply at how many miles it has traveled. That, of course, is harder to know, and will depend on plenty of independent analysis.

Not too surprisingly, New Zealand -- about as far as you can get from anywhere in Europe or the Americas, and a prime source of our out-of-season apples -- has seen a need to respond to the local food push. University researchers there have published their findings that, due to naturally lush pastures and other factors, New Zealand lamb shipped by boat to Britain produces about one-fourth the carbon emissions per ton than British-raised lamb. Fruit and dairy products fared similarly.

McWilliams, who describes himself as a passionate "eat local" advocate, concludes:
While there will always be good reasons to encourage the growth of sustainable local food systems, we must also allow them to develop in tandem with equally sustainable global counterparts. We must accept the fact, in short, that distance is not the enemy of awareness.
Read the full piece here.

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