Monday, November 3, 2008

“Food-Miles and the Relative Climate Impacts of Food Choices in the United States”

Christopher Weber and Scott Matthews, two engineers at Carnegie Mellon University estimate that if the average household bought every food product locally, it could save as much as cutting back driving by 1,000 miles a year. If that family substituted fruits, vegetables, chicken, fish, eggs, and nuts for red meat and dairy products for just one meal a week, they would save the greenhouse emissions equivalent of an additional 1,160 miles a year. ”Red meat is more greenhouse-gas intensive than all other forms of food”, claim the authors of the recent article in Environmental Science and Technology, because of the long supply chains of animal feed. Dairy products are second by half, calorie for calorie. If our hypothetical family were to eliminate red meat altogether, it would save the impressive equivalent of 8,100 miles of vehicle emissions a year. (If that same family were to also reduce driving by 8,000 miles a year, the effect would be a dramatic improvement in our (and everyone’s ) quality of life!)
Most of the environmental impact of food happens in the production phase, which certainly was not the case before the capitalization of the food industry. Just 50 years ago here in western Oregon, most food was available from local sources (according to Doryman, who remembers his childhood in field and farm well!). Who decided that beef should come from Argentina and produce from Chile? Who aborted the family farms of the fertile Willamette Valley in favor of grass seed and industrial corn? It’s time we took back the production of our food in our own back yard. That would be true Homeland Security.

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