Eat local, save the environment a little

17 Jun

Farmer's Market photo by Chas Redmond

Photo by Chas Redmond

By Chris Garbutt

I’m a bit inconsistent on the whole locavore thing. As I mentioned before, I won’t eat strawberries unless they’re in season and from nearby. Same with asparagus. (All of which means I’m sorry I missed this event.) But, and this is just one example, I love bananas, and eat them pretty much everyday. So I’m not exactly a diehard locavore.

For those who are, you’ll be disappointed that the environmental benefits of eating local are not as great as you thought. A study out of Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh has found that transporting food only accounts for 11 per cent of the greenhouse gas emissions – most of comes from the actual growing of food.

What the study did find, to no one’s surprise, was that the impact of red meat is much higher than other foods. So the authors conclude that diet change will have a bigger impact on reducing greenhouse gases than eating local:

Replacing red meat and dairy with chicken, fish, or eggs for one day per week reduces emissions equal to 760 miles per year of driving.

Of course eating less red meat and more local food is going to pile up the environmental savings. What I can’t figure out, though, is whether the study took into account different farming practices. What’s the footprint of industrial vs organic farming? (See here for the federal government’s take on the subject of organic farming and the environment.)

My other question is this: when we live in a city the size of Toronto, is there really enough land to eat local? Can we possibly feed every single person in the region based on a 100-mile diet?

More takes on this study here and here.

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