Food Miles: Eating Globally, Acting Locally

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Feeling guilty about all those food miles (and the greenhouse gas emissions associated with them) your provender travels to get to your table?

http://www.growinggrub.co.uk/images/session2/food_miles.jpg

A new study from two Carnegie Mellon University researchers says you can counter greenhouse gas emissions and earn some climate change absolution  (while continuing to eat out-of-season foods) simply by giving up red meat for one day per week. Here's the abstract:

Despite significant recent public concern and media attention to the environmental impacts of food, few studies in the United States have systematically compared the life-cycle greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions associated with food production against long-distance distribution, aka "food-miles." We find that although food is transported long distances in general (1640 km delivery and 6760 km life-cycle supply chain on average) the GHG emissions associated with food are dominated by the production phase, contributing 83% of the average U.S. household's 8.1 t CO2e/yr footprint for food consumption. Transportation as a whole represents only 11% of life-cycle GHG emissions, and final delivery from producer to retail contributes only 4%. Different food groups exhibit a large range in GHG-intensity; on average, red meat is around 150% more GHG-intensive than chicken or fish. Thus, we suggest that dietary shift can be a more effective means of lowering an average household's food-related climate footprint than "buying local." Shifting less than one day per week's worth of calories from red meat and dairy products to chicken, fish, eggs, or a vegetable-based diet achieves more GHG reduction than buying all locally sourced food.

Whole paper here.  

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  1. Well, that sucks. I eat red meat every damn day.

  2. EAT THE RICH

  3. EAT THE RICH

    Yuck. On the other hand, arming the homeless sounds fun. Half of them are crazy, and most of them are vets and so know how to shoot a gun. National shame cannot hold a candle to utter fucking terror.

  4. I try to eat locally for a much simpler reason. Food (especially vegetables) shipped for long distances is generally crap.

  5. Put the right sauce on anything and it will taste yummy…on the other hand they would have to taste better than the poor given their superior eating habits & food sources

  6. The worst are people who think that they’re saving the world by buying apples grown in a greenhouse in Indiana in the winter rather than getting some that were shipped from Chile.

    And thank you, Reason. This paper is going to let my little vegan heart feel warm, fuzzy and sanctimonious all day.

  7. Feeling guilty about all those food miles (and the greenhouse gas emissions associated with them) your provender travels to get to your table?

    Uhh…nope.

    Next question!

  8. I don’t even eat meat, so I feel justified in my use of incandescent light bulbs

    /self-righteousness

  9. Actually, everyone please do this. If reduced demand drives down the price of filet mignon, I win.

  10. I’m pretty well over the whole global warming thing. My gut feeling is that man is nowhere near as powerful as nature, so the idea that we can kill the planet is the ultimate sign of hubris.

    OTOH, I do my locavore bit simply for the nutritional aspect of the food. Locally grown food is fresher. From what I have read, the nutrients in vegetables tend to diminish over time. Therefore, fresher=more nutritious. Plus they generally taste better.

    As for cutting back on red meat, already done that. Although that’s primarily since the costs of food, fuel and energy have all risen while my paycheck hasn’t. Something had to go. It was beer, snack foods and meat. But since the reason most of that stuff has risen is price is global warming related, I reckon the enviro-types are gonna get their way one way or another. And with Republican help (in the form of Ethanol mandates) taboot!

  11. Red meat is one of the beneficial byproducts of cetation oil production. Do they expect me to just toss it on the ground and let it rot? Next thing you know some big brain from the Oregon Highway Division will want me to use explosives to get rid of it!

  12. well I’m just going to have to eat red meat an extra meal a week to make up for those who take up this offer

  13. “simply by giving up red meat for one day per week.”

    Abstain from meat one day a week? Whoa, that’s a cool idea! I wonder why nobody ever thought about this before . . .

  14. Mad Max,

    “simply by giving up red meat for one day per week.”

    Abstain from meat one day a week? Whoa, that’s a cool idea! I wonder why nobody ever thought about this before . . .

    Yea, was wondering if that CMU group was Catholic or thinking back to the FDR days of WWII.

    libertytexan,

    well I’m just going to have to eat red meat an extra meal a week to make up for those who take up this offer

    Yet another use for this idea πŸ™‚

  15. And thank you, Reason. This paper is going to let my little vegan heart feel warm, fuzzy and sanctimonious all day.

    As opposed to being warm, fuzzy, and sanctimonious only half of the day? πŸ™‚

    But yeah, those of us who don’t eat red meat much or ever out of personal preference aren’t really going to mind all that much, unless the environmentalist fringe ends up raising the price of my chicken and fish by increasing their consumption of them…

    …then I’ll be pissed (or just eat red meat more out of spite).

  16. Does veal count as red meat?

  17. Guy is onto something here. What if we switch to lamb and veal? Wouldn’t their production footprint be much lower, since they are so young?

  18. Just becuase this had to be said.

  19. RCD,

    And they are not tha “red” either! Not a fan of lamb though, so more for you.

  20. As opposed to being warm, fuzzy, and sanctimonious only half of the day? πŸ™‚

    Yeah, I usually try to limit it to the hours between 3:00 and 6:00, but today I’m splurging.

  21. robc,

    Hello Mr. 10 min. ago πŸ™‚

  22. My gut feeling is that man is nowhere near as powerful as nature, so the idea that we can kill the planet is the ultimate sign of hubris.

    Killing the planet? That’s not what this is about. George Carlin said it best:

    “Planet Earth will keep going fine. It’s the humans that are goin’ away. Pack your shit, folks.”

    The ecosystem will almost certainly adapt to our perturbations and reach a new equilibrium. The concern is that that equilibrium will contain conditions not conducive to our continued survival.

  23. Guy,

    Dang it, it took me too long to find it. I guess I should have focused on the task.

  24. Tell George Carlin that I have stuff, his shit is in the way of my stuff.

  25. Of course, these are just averages. If you lived in Bermuda, you would be importing all you meat. If you lived im my house, you’d quietly open the bathroom window, poke out the barrel, obtain sight alignment, sight picture, control breathing, and gently squeeze the trigger. There. Zero miles. Maybe I should give up olives instead?

  26. Wow, so after all that environmental fuss, all we had to do was eat fish on Fridays. πŸ™‚

  27. “Feeling guilty about all those food miles (and the greenhouse gas emissions associated with them) your provender travels to get to your table?”

    Not in the least.

    Nor do I feel guilty about driving cars, using central heating and air conditioning, dishwashers, TV’s and stereos, letting the water run while I brush my teeth or pretty much anything else.

    That about covers it.

  28. We better cool it. One of those wacky progressive sites like American Prospect might read this and end up with a 6900 word article about how ‘heartless’ the Libritarians are.

  29. I try to explain, patiently, to people who use guilt arguments against libertarianism, that libertarians refuse to feel guilty.

    It’s their fault, really. I was supposed to feel guilty about so many things, that the capacity in me became overloaded and burned out.

  30. In a sorta related story, the largest bakery in Hawaii is shipping bread from Oahu to the neighbor isles (a distance of about 250 miles or less) via LAX, since the interisland cargo company (a div of Aloha airlines) that had accounted for 85% of the market ceased ops on Monday.

  31. Kolohe,

    Arent there guys in outriggers for that kind of thing?

  32. I will say, the carbon footprint on the three wild turkeys I just shot on my neighbor’s ranch should be quite low.

    Like I care.

  33. robc-
    If you put donuts on a outrigger, I don’t think many would be left at the point of delivery.

    I least not if I was paddling πŸ™‚

  34. Yet another example of hang-wringing environmentalists proposing behaviors that are worse for the environment. Other examples besides the eco-antagonistic “eat local” mantra, are biofuels (let’s cut down rainforests so we don’t have to pump petro) and emission caps (let’s further incentivize moving industrial production to polluting third world nations).

    Of course, environmentalists always claim *after* the fact that they were never for these programs, but I think the reality is that they were against the environment all along.

  35. Yes, Brandybuck. Because of the Law of Unintended Consequences, we should never do anything.

    Ever.

    I agree it is cute to see people, confronted with the unintended harm their ideas have caused, attempt to disclaim their involvement and/or culpability.

    That doesn’t mean that environmentalism itself is bad or a bankrupt ideology. If we had waited for “market pressure” to end segregation, we’d still be waiting; my, would many Libertarian faces be red.

  36. EAT THE RICH

    OMG!!!

    I am totally going to grow Donald Trump and Bill Gates vat clone meat and sell it.

  37. The energy used in Growing, harvesting, and transporting food to market costs money.

    So one can assume the cheapest food is the least impacting on the environment.

    Hey look countless studies find this to be the case. Wow big surprise.

  38. My problem with environmentalists is that they do not think through their solutions. They are economically illiterate. Bastiat taught us about the unseen consequences, and Sowell always asks “and then what”. Environmentalists say “shut up and don’t bother me, I’m busy legislating!”

    If we had waited for “market pressure” to end segregation, we’d still be waiting

    The majority of segregation was the result of government (not market) action, either direct or implied. If you were a black and drank from a “whites only” drinking fountain, you went to jail. That’s government action. That the KKK has sway over some counties was the result of local governments failing to act. It may not have been the Federal government doing it, but it was the government nonetheless. The government has a monopoly and force, making it damned hard for the market to act against its wishes.

  39. My problem with environmentalists is that they do not think through their solutions.

    And if they did they would be called something else, like successful.

  40. ah yes the reputable Carnegie Mellon researchers. They are so scientific that the research must be good. Yep it is scientifically proven that we should all abstain from meet once a week. Scientifically proven that your guilt will be reduced if you will only abstain. I wonder what the scientific researchers will recommend for the proper pennance for all of the meat we have already consumed.

    Maybe we can use this type of scientific analysis to create a new world of scientifically designed optimal humanity.

  41. Guy,
    The environmentalist are very successful. Their problem is they don’t realize that we use their naivitity to help push inane programs with nice sounding goals in order to succesfully benefit me and my friends.

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