Updated: Jun 23, 2022
Much of the food we eat on a daily basis is sourced from all across the world. The distance food is transported from farm to table is referred to as “Food Miles,” and that is one aspect of a food’s carbon footprint that can be mitigated through buying local produce. Most food that is not grown in the US is brought here on cargo ships and distributed across the country via trucking, both of which largely use fossil fuels. By buying local, you are reducing your food miles from many thousands to maybe a hundred.
Let’s look at garlic as an example. The world’s leading producer of garlic is China at 20 million tons per year, followed distantly by India at 1.25 million tons per year. The garlic grown in China is gathered from farms and brought to wholesale markets, from where it is trucked to processors or to ports (up to 1000 miles) to be shipped around the world. From a US perspective, garlic from China would likely be shipped either to California (about 6,000 miles) or to the East coast via the Panama Canal (between 10,000 and 12,000 miles). Garlic would then be brought by truck to distribution centers (up to 1000 miles), from there to grocery stores (up to 1000 miles), and from there to your pantry. So in the case of garlic, depending on your proximity to a port, your garlic’s Food Miles can be as low as 7,000 or as high as 15,000.
In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, we continue to see the effect of crises on the supply chain, especially for intercontinental trade. Buying locally strengthens our sustainability and self-sufficiency, and reduces our reliance on foreign imports in an unpredictable world.