Friday, January 25, 2008

The SUV on your plate

We all know that driving contributes to global warming, but so do many of our other activities. So let’s talk about something we do every day — eat.

Start by thinking about where your last meal came from. No, not where you bought the food, but where did each ingredient in your meal actually come from?

Across the state? Across the country? Across the globe?

If you’re like most people, you probably have no idea. But it is estimated that the average American meal travels about 1500 miles to get from farm to plate. In his book Deep Economy: The Wealth of Communities and the Durable Future, author Bill McKibben says that 75 percent of the apples sold in New York City come from the West Coast or overseas. These food miles clocked as food is shipped around the nation and world mean large amounts of CO2 — a major contributor to climate change — is released into the air.

But food doesn't have to start from far away to clock high food miles. Food grown in your home state can still travel huge distances. It isn’t unusual for food to even be shipped out of the state for processing and storage, before being shipped back in to be sold at local supermarkets.

However, to complicate the issue even more, simply looking at food miles doesn’t tell the whole story of how much energy was used to make that cheeseburger on your plate. You also have to think about the fertilizers and pesticides used in growing crops, the tractors and other equipment used on farms, the machines and products that go into the processing and packaging, the means of transportation, the cooking method – all require the use of fossil fuels.

And since we’re talking about cheeseburgers, it’s a good time to mention that the fossil fuels used to get a burger onto your plate are greater than most other meals. A UN report found that raising cattle generates more global warming greenhouse gases, as measured in CO2 equivalent, than transportation. That’s because, along with CO2, livestock also produce lots of nitrous oxide and methane, even more harmful greenhouse gases.

With such large emissions resulting from the livestock sector, cutting back on meat becomes one of the simplest things a person can do to reduce their carbon footprint. An interesting University of Chicago study found that the greenhouse gas emissions of meat-eating and vegetarian diets vary by as much as the difference between owning an average sedan versus an SUV.

So a climate-conscious consumer not only has to think about where their food comes from and how it was grown, produced and packaged, but also what they’re eating.

Just some food for thought…

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