This has become a trendy new movement, rooted in the 60’s commune values of living locally and sustainability. Now, this concept is hot in the trendiest (and priciest) of restaurants along with small local cafes, and even household kitchens. As well as being the new “it” way to eat, farm to table has also become a critical movement in eating healthier and supporting the environment and our fragile resources.
When you sit down to eat your dinner at night, your plate may contain a chicken breast, some broccoli, perhaps a grain and fruit. We don’t traditionally think about the total miles the food on your plate traveled to get to your belly, we just eat it. Well, the Center for Urban Education about Sustainable Agriculture tells us why it needs to be more than just a trend to shop your local farmers markets and why the distance on your plate needs to be more than just an afterthought. According to their website (www.cuesa.org) :
It is estimated that the average American meal travels about 1500 miles to get from farm to plate. Why is this cause for concern? There are many reasons:
• This long-distance, large-scale transportation of food consumes large quantities of fossil fuels. It is estimated that we currently put almost 10 kcal of fossil fuel energy into our food system for every 1 kcal of energy we get as food.
• Transporting food over long distances also generates great quantities of carbon dioxide emissions. Some forms of transport are more polluting than others. Airfreight generates 50 times more CO2 than sea shipping. But sea shipping is slow, and in our increasing demand for fresh food, food is increasingly being shipped by faster – and more polluting – means.
• In order to transport food long distances, much of it is picked while still unripe and then gassed to “ripen” it after transport, or it is highly processed in factories using preservatives, irradiation, and other means to keep it stable for transport and sale. Scientists are experimenting with genetic modification to produce longer-lasting, less perishable produce.
The benefits of including more local fruits, vegetables and meats in your shopping cart are extensive. More nutrient dense produce, fresher produce because it is not traveling from overseas to get to your plate, which in turn impacts that carbon foot print of the food being consumed. It is obvious that this method of consuming produce is not going to work year round for everyone. Here in MN, without mass transportation and a robust supply chain, we wouldn’t see a fresh apple or tomato for many, many, many months out of the year. So, it is not an all or nothing proposition, just a balance between what you buy from your farmer down the road, and what was shipped to you from Chile.
Seasonal and regional cuisine can be a fun experiment to take on in your own home. Go to the farmer’s markets or join a CSA and see what you can create. You don’t have to be a chef (or a food recruiter) to dive in and get your hands dirty.