I came across an article in the New York Times over the weekend about the real costs of food transportation. The overall point is that eating local foods may not be making as much of an impact as you think, because transporting it from one state to another can be more efficient in terms of energy use than growing it locally, especially if a heated greenhouse is needed to grow it.
The article makes some very good points, such as the fact that the energy to grow the produce is a bigger part of the energy cost than transporting it to the store. The energy cost from the store to your home is also usually one of the bigger costs – depending on where you live in relation to the store and how you get there, of course.
Then there’s refrigeration and preparation. Having food and preparing it to eat can add quite a bit to the energy used in dealing with that food.
I can’t say all of it works for me. The argument about the greenhouse simply points up that you should eat foods in season. Produce in season won’t need a greenhouse. There’s energy saved right there.
I’ll grant that cutting back on food miles is only a small impact. The size of the impact isn’t the point. It’s decreasing the environmental impact of your food in the ways available to you. That it’s small doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do it.
The article says that transportation is about 14% of the energy used in the American food system. Why shouldn’t we try to decrease that number? It’s one of the areas where a decrease is possible.
Fortunately, the article does admit that there are some benefits to eating locally. Not very specifically, but at least the author isn’t entirely against it and just wants people to really think before they eat local. That’s a good thing.