A while back I did a Live Local Challenge, attempting to consume only food produced within 100 kilometres of my home for a week. You can check out the results and learnings from the process in a series of blog posts from 2009.
Since that time I’ve been much more conscious of what I consume and where it comes from. Last week we screened Food Inc. at Social Innovation Sydney and that kick started me thinking about the issue again.
Then this article popped up in my RSS feed: Local Food or Less Meat? Data Tells The Real Story.
Andrew Winston summarises the research in a US context:
“Thankfully, a couple scientists took a harder look at the data and published an analysis in the Journal of Environmental Science and Technology. The abstract for this article is a prime example of clear writing and good lifecycle analysis — which don’t usually go together — so check it out. But here’s the essence:
- Food is transported a long way, going about 1,000 miles in delivery and over 4,000 miles across the supply chain.
- But 83% of the average U.S. household’s carbon footprint for food comes from growing and producing it. Transportation is only 11%.
- Different foods have vastly different greenhouse gas (GHG) intensity, with meat requiring far more energy to produce, and red meat being particularly egregious, requiring 150% more energy than even chicken.
So the journal article adds this up to an obvious conclusion: if you want to reduce your food’s carbon footprint, eat less meat. In short, “Shifting less than one day per week’s worth of calories from red meat and dairy products to chicken, fish, eggs, or a vegetable-based diet achieves more GHG reduction than buying all locally sourced food.”
As a numbers geek, I love this kind of analysis. Now for the caveats: none of this data should dissuade anyone from eating locally also. The footprint benefits are real, even if dwarfed by food choice. And the benefits to local economies and smaller farms are very important.
But let me repeat: just moving away from meat for one day a week is more effective than buying everything you eat locally. This number will be surprising to most people, but it’s partly why the global call for “Meatless Mondays” is gaining steam, with school systems and universities adopting the approach in cities around the world, from Baltimore to Tel Aviv.
Source: Andrew Winston, Local Food or Less Meat? Data Tells The Real Story
I suspect that the distances mentioned in the research hold for Australia too due to our large land mass and lack of local farming close to most cities. Thus it becomes clear that if you can’t decide to become vegetarian full time then there are substantial benefits to replacing a number of meals each week with vegetarian choices. That’s what we’re doing at my place.