Originally posted on CBS San Francisco:
These days, your food may accrue more frequent flyer miles than you do. The distance food travels from farm to refrigerator can be as much as 2,000 miles and can encompass a variety of travel modes, from cargo freighters to trucks or airplanes. Many people find themselves hitching their appetites and hopes for a greener planet to the local food movement, assuming locally-farmed produce, meat and fish are fresher and have smaller carbon footprints than foods shipped from far away. But is this really the case? Locavores may think so, but the greening of food miles is only a small piece of the local food movement story.
The Myth of the Carbon Footprint
While there is no definitive consensus on what constitutes locally grown, locavores from San Francisco to South Hampton typically cite the 100-mile rule, thinking that anything transported from farther away automatically creates a larger carbon footprint, more pollution and greater damage to the environment. However, it’s not only how far you go but how you get there that counts. What’s often not taken into account is the mode of transport housing those tomatoes or strawberries. Unless local farmers en masse have signed an unknown pact to drive only fuel-efficient vehicles, they are probably producing just as much carbon dioxide on their short runs from farm to farm stand as the conventional distributors are when they drive cross country. Big rigs transport thousands of pounds of food at a time, which will grace at least that many tables. Locally grown produce may travel a shorter distance before it lands on your plate, but less food is being transported during any given trip. Local farmers, particularly those driving gas-guzzling pick-up trucks or SUVs, are producing more carbon dioxide per pound of food than the average food wholesaler does. And what about those fossil-fueled greenhouses? Buying produce grown outdoors in faraway, tropical climate may be a greener choice than opting for those grown indoors in nearby colder climates.