Did you read Jay Rayner’s article on local food in the Observer colour supplement on June 2nd? The title (very dramatically portrayed on the front cover) was “The food fight: Jay Rayner says almost everything you believe about locally sourced food is wrong” with a sub-heading included the words “Why worrying about food miles is missing the point” inside. Rayner then has a good old rant about misguided “goggle-eyed food-warriors” haranguing us in supermarket food aisles.
As someone who believes in eating as locally and seasonally as possible, but also doesn’t think that eating locally provides all the answers to reducing our food footprint, I thought that Jay Rayner made a lot of good points (he’s right, the question is complex) – my real quarrel was with the headline, which gave the false impression that eating local food doesn’t matter, and the tone of the article and lack of balance– you are left with the feeling that there’s no point in eating locally if you want to reduce your carbon footprint.
So what are the main contributors to our food footprint?
People have been aware for some time that food miles are only one part of the equation. So what are the main contributors to our food footprint? Tara Garnett’s 2008 academic publication “Cooking up a storm”, which looks at the contribution UK food makes to climate change, has a list of recommended changes to our diet, assessing them as having a “high”, “medium” or “low” impact. I list them here in brief, but I recommend reading at least the summary of Tara Garnett’s findings, where the full list can be found in table 2.
• Eat fewer meat and dairy products (high)
• Eat less (that is, do not eat more than you need to maintain a healthy body weight) (high)
• Eat seasonal robust, field grown vegetables (preferably seasonal to the UK) rather than protected, fragile foods prone to spoilage and requiring heating and lighting in their cultivation or needing rapid modes of transport (medium)
• Prepare food for more than one person and for several days (medium)
• Shop on foot or over the internet (lower)
• Don’t waste food / manage unavoidable food waste properly eg through anaerobic digestion (medium, possibly high)
• Accept different notions of quality (medium) – don’t expect everything to look perfect
• Accept variability of supply (medium) – ie don’t expect to be able to buy everything all of the time – this is obviously connected with seasonality
• consume fewer foods with low nutritional value eg alcohol, sweets, chocolate etc (medium)
• Cook and store foods in energy conserving ways (eg. Lids on pans, use pressure cooker, minimise use of oven; judicious use of microwaves); possibly smart metering (medium)
Journalists often exaggerate in order to get our attention – it’s a shame that they can also leave us with a false impression.
For an interesting (and more balanced) article on the issue of local / seasonal, I recommend this from 2010.