There is a Tesco just five minutes walking from my flat, which is very popular for students. Food are packaged well so it is more convenient for consumers to pick and take away. An interesting discovery is most of the fruits and vegetables are imported from foreign countries, for instance, avocado from Peru, oranges from Morocco, e.t..Consuming imported food is common in the UK.
It is not just a phenomenon in the UK but a global trend. Nowadays, due to the development of technique and the expansion of supermarket and capital, it’s easier for consumers to obtain food which are imported from other countries. It’s common for people to buy food in a supermarket which is closer to home, easy to park, food well packaged, one-stop shopping. Local market seems not as popular as before. According to a report from The Guardian, more than half of the food in the UK is imported from overseas, increasing the environmental burden of poorer countries.
Compared with the long chain food, local food (defined as geographical area of 20-100 km radius) consumption has less environmental impact. That’s a key element in favor of short supply chains. Data shows that conventional food distribution creates 5 to 17 times more CO2 than local and regionally produced food.
Why local food is more environmentally sustainable?
First, in general, local food means a less demand of production and a better land protection. Industrial agriculture, the main imported food source controlled by large companies, often means artificial chemicals intensive, more water waste, more serious soil pollution, as well as more greenhouse gases emission. For instance, the using of chemical fertilizer increases global warming emission and oxygen-deprived ‘dead zone‘ has expanded in some water areas by an increase in nutrients (particularly nitrogen and phosphorus). Besides, herbicides and insecticides have bad impact to animals and even the ecological system. In terms of animal production, CAFOs (concentrated animal feeding operations), based on a high-calorie, dramatical grain consumption and use of antibiotics and hormones to gain weight, also lead to an environmental problem. All of the impact could be reduced in a local food system.
Second, locally-based food waste less energy on transportation and storage compared with the long-time transportation. Local food means shorter food miles and chains. From farm to market, there is less cost on the way. Long-distance food transportation contributes significant amount of global warming emission, data shows, in the US food system, diesel fuel use accounts for one quarter of the total energy consumption due to the food shipped and half of fruits sold in the United States is imported. What’s more, refrigerated system, used for keeping food fresh during long-time transportation, is another point related to carbon emission. By contrast, local food, which means a shorter supply chain, leads to less carbon footprint in the stage of transportation.
However, Is local food always environmentally sustainable? I’m afraid this may not always be the case.
On local farms, fruits and vegetables out of season have a great carbon footprint. A typical example is apple. Apples in the UK are harvested in autumn while in New Zealand the harvest time is in March and April. So, if people in the UK want to eat apples in spring, which option is more environmentally sustainable, local apples stored or the ones imported? That’s a question, depending on the balance of carbon footprint, and nutrition loss is also a factor taken into consideration.
Another interesting case is lettuce. Researchers found that, for British consumers in winter, greenhouse gases emissions of lettuce grown in local glasshouse, which needs fossil fuel to generate heat, are greater than emissions of lettuce grown outside in Spain and trucked to the UK. So, the better choice is to eat seasonal local food to make sure that emissions in both stages (production and transportation) are the least.
Additionally, it is important to note that local food doesn’t mean no artificial chemicals and no carbon footprint. Local farmers could also use conventional farming methods. From this perspective, it has negative effect on environment more or less.
It’s said food waste and food packaging in local markets increase carbon emissions. But it seems limited compared to long chain food.
Local food on the rise
Local market is growing in recent years promoted by local food movement. In 2014, there were 8268 markets in the United States listed in the USDA’s National Farmers Market Directory, growing by 76 percent since 2008.
Some products in Tesco are labelled local produced such as milk and flour. It’s wise to have a look at the produce place shown on the label or get more information from the shoppers.
Overall, choosing local food is a more environmentally sustainable way and lifestyle. But we still need to pay attention to some points, such as food out of season. For myself, I prefer to buy food in local market with more local food and less packaging, where obviously is more environmentally sustainable.