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Food miles refers to the distance food needs to travel before it reaches the consumer. It is a major indicator for the environmental impact of the food, in particular its carbon footprint). Another major indicator for the carbon footprint is what vehicle has been used (ship, airplane, truck, ...) to transport to food, and what fuel/drivetrain was installed in this vehicle.
Food miles can be very misleading as a measure of environmental impact, as the means of production may have a much greater impact than transport by a low intensity form of transport such as an ocean freighter. However, when food is transported by air over any distance, or over thousands of kilometers or more by road vehicles, it can be assumed to have a high carbon footprint.
Gourmet products (e.g. organic produce) delivered on a small scale by car or delivery van could easily have a higher carbon footprint than a similar product delivered through a large scale logistics operation from further away - reliable generalizations cannot be made, however, and ideally a life cycle analysis should be carried out on each product.
Growing crops locally
In cold climates, not all crops that are popularly requested by the population may actually be grown there. Possible solutions to still be able to grow it (ie using greenhouses) may then again actually require more energy if artificial heating is used.
The use of native crops may be an alternative, yet in many cases consumers want more exotic produce; here as well, generalizations cannot be made, and a life cycle analysis would be helpful.
One other potantial disadvantage is a loss of income to poor farmers. See Food miles and the poor by Owen Barder.
- Compare the environmental impact of locally grown and imported food; look at the impact of eating different types of food as a part of the total diet.[Suggested project]
- Compare with the transport method that customers use to go to the shop and back home. If they are using car when they buy groceries it can be a much larger portion of environmental impact than the actual miles of transport of the groceries up to the shelves in the shop.[Suggested project]
- Research and compare existing heated green houses and what other use they do with the extra heat energy. One example is in Sweden where a ethanol factory sends their heat to a tomato grower, and then their extra heat goes to a residential home. Research on other potential practical uses to combine different uses of same heat energy in a small local grid.[Suggested project]
Notes and references
- Wikipedia:Food miles
- Website that encourages eating locally produced and sustainable food produce. Allows search by distance for local food produce from anywhere in the world.
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