Contributors: Ariana Forand & Tasha Gunasinghe
When you enter your local grocery store, you look down at your list with one goal in mind: get in and out of the store as quickly as possible so you can get dinner on the table. As you walk over to grab a bunch of bananas, you may notice a “Product of Mexico” label and for a moment, you are reminded of the country’s sunshine and hot weather. In that moment, however, do you also remember how far Mexico is from your local grocery store?
Going to the grocery store is a routine activity for many of us. These humongous stores are typically piled high with a wide variety of different foods for us to choose from. While we are shopping, however, how often do we stop and consider the journey our food took before landing in our baskets? Would you believe that the bananas in your basket have likely travelled more than 5,000 km to get to you1?
The distance that food travels before it reaches your plate is defined as “food miles.” The number of food miles that are accumulated by many items we regularly enjoy —such as bananas, avocados, mangos, and coffee —are, for the most part, unsustainable. Food miles have become a tool for understanding not only where food comes from, but the unsustainability of food production overall. A high number of food miles often indicates a large carbon footprint, or, in other words, a significant production of greenhouse gases that negatively contribute to the climate crisis. In the hustle and bustle of everyday life, we often forget about the faces of the producers of our food and the journey our food has taken. For the sake of food security (and our stomachs!) we need to put more thought into the journey of our food and food miles must become a vital part of our sustainability efforts.
The push to improve the sustainability of the food supply chain starts with you as a consumer. There is a built-in privilege associated with being able to choose from whom and where your food comes from, and with privilege comes the responsibility of using your power as a consumer to improve the sustainability of our food supply chains. You hold the power to improve the sustainability of food supply chains by making environmentally conscious decisions. Choosing foods that have accumulated fewer food miles in their journey from farm to fork can lead to huge benefits in the sustainability of our food supply chains. Try choosing foods that are in season in your local area, for example Finding a reputable local farmers’ market will allow you to consume more locally produced goods and putting a face to the farmer behind your food will help you gain a greater appreciation for the food on your plate.
Looking to reduce your food miles even further? Growing some of your own food is one way to improve health and reduce food costs, while simultaneously lessening the negative environmental impact of industrial agriculture. Try starting small at the beginning; vegetable and fruit gardens don’t have to be elaborate to thrive. Vegetables such as cucumbers, carrots, kale, and beets are a great option for those trying to find their green thumb3 because they are both easy to grow and chock-full of nutrients2.. Raspberries, strawberries, blueberries, and apples also make great options for those looking to incorporate fruits into their gardens4.
Taking steps to reduce your own personal food miles may seem small and insignificant, but when we band together, we can create positive change for the environment. If all of us do our part, we can ensure that our food is sourced in a more sustainable manner that allows both humans and the planet to thrive.
1 Food Miles. (n.d.). Bananas. https://www.foodmiles.com/food/banana
2 Toronto Star. (2015). Superfruits that will thrive in your garden. https://www.thestar.com/life/homes/2015/05/08/superfruits-that-will-thrive-in-your-garden.html
3 Almanac. (n.d.). 10 Easiest Vegetables to Grow at Home. https://www.almanac.com/content/10-easy-vegetables-grow-seed
4 Gladwin, M. (2019). The Five Best Fruit Trees to Plant in Ontario. Sequoia TreeScape. https://sequoiatreescape.com/the-five-best-fruit-trees-to-plant-in-ontario/