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Have you heard of food miles?

Food miles (or kilometres) is the distance food has traveled between the paddock to plate.

Refrigerated shipping containers aboard a cargo ship, bound for faraway shores and clocking up food miles.

Not so long ago, fruit and vegetables available in Australia was seasonal, meaning the season in which they ripened, i.e tomatoes in summer and broccoli in winter.

International trade means we now get produce through the year.  This privilege, however, comes a consequence that may not have been considered.

Basically, if you buy imported produce, it had to travel on a plane or a ship to get here.

Just to give you an idea, an avocado from Mexico has traveled over 13,000 km (>8000 miles) to get to Australia!

This does not take into account the distance to get to the airport/dock, from the airport/dock to your supermarket and then to your home!

Other factors to consider in the food miles argument include:

  • Energy used in cold storage.
  • Energy used in production.
  • Quality of produce, including vitamin, antioxidant content, etc.
  • Agricultural/horticultural practices undertaken and FDA approved use of chemicals.
  • Potential contaminants (think frozen berries from China).
  • Potential treatments to extend 'shelf' life or to pass customs (i.e. garlic).
  • Ripening/picking time - is picking early detrimental?
  • Packaging for transport.

Want to find out if your produce has earned more frequent fliers than you? Check out this mileage calculator .

A bit blurry (I didn't want to get caught taking photo), but one Woolworths store was advertising "IN SEASON" Oranges, yet they were from the USA?!

Let's look at some ways you can reduce food mileage in your home.

Buy in season and buy locally.

In my research for this topic, I found Nick Vassilev's article on the pros and cons of food miles , particularly valuable. Excerpts from his article highlight additional reasons to consider reducing food miles.

Nick writes, "What's in season and grown locally is usually cheaper. This is a way to save money and to add some variety into your diet. While you may not be able to buy locally grown tomatoes in the middle of winter, you will find other things that are tasty and healthy that are in season and locally grown (e.g. pumpkins, swedes or beetroot). You can also take advantages of in-season specials to preserve produce for later use (freezing is easy)."Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), identifies that seasonal food contains the right properties to meet the needs of your body at each time of the year. According to this theory, " winter vegetables will help you deal with winter ailments, [...] and summer vegetables are best for summer health. Whether you follow the tenets of TCM or not, it is certainly true that the root crops available locally in winter are ideal for warming stews and roasting, while summer vegetables are better for cool salads.

What's more, buying locally is also good for your local community. You are supporting farmers in your area and boosting your local economy. Farmers' markets are the best place for this, as you get to meet the person involved with growing the food you buy and can build a relationship with them. This is great for fostering community spirit. What's more, farmers' markets use less packaging (less waste) than supermarket goods and often give a fairer price to the grower, even though you may not notice much difference in price."

Here are some helpful links to find seasonal produce and Farmer's Markets in your area:

Farmers' Market - get to know your local farmer!
A great way to reduce food mileage is to grow your own seasonal fruit and veggies. If you don't have room, maybe there is there a community garden in your area, or consider growing a vertical garden or veggies in pots! 
Food Swap as part of Eltham Farmers' Market, image courtesy of localfoodconnect.org.au (covering NE Melbourne).

Food swaps are gatherings where people are able to swap excess home grown/made produce, what a great way to get to know your community and share your passions! Local Harvest is a great resource to find a food swap in your area.

Food co-operatives are another way to reduce food miles, and offer locally made and grown products, often without packaging and in bulk. Jo from Quirky Cooking has prepared an ever expanding list of food co-ops in Australia.

 

Local and fresh produce on display at Beechworth Food Co-Op - www.beechworthfoodcoop.org.au

So the next time you do your grocery shopping, will you consider the food miles of the produce before you buy? Will you help to change the world, one home at a time? I would love to hear your thoughts.What about the 'miles' involved in other products in our homes? Yep, that's another blog for another time!

x Karen 

PS - I'm just talking about Australia in my blog, because in some parts of the world, food miles isn't an argument worth considering because of the intensity of horticulture required to grow fresh produce in small regions.