Locavore - Considering Food Miles, Gate to Plate Distances, Greenhouse Gas Emissions, Farmers, Food Security and the Calculus of Eating Boregionally

It all started innocently enough, as it often does for me, with NPR's Science Friday from May 9 (one of four).

"Food miles".... It's an interesting concept, also referred to as "gate-to-plate". I thought it was a black and white thing: the smaller the distance your food has to travel to get to you, the better. Not so. This gets into A Tale of Two Apples. The closest I could find to the article that served as my original inspiration was this Mother Jones article. In turn, it references Iowa State's Center for Sustainable Agriculture. Bottom line: there may be competitive advantage to apples grown, for example, in New Zeland, which means the food miles thing is not the nice, friendly, black and white metric I thought it was. More bad news: It may still be best to support local / regional agriculture.

Huh?!

I know, I know... It's complicated, but not too complicated for you; you're a thinker!

So why regional? Well, if we all ate bioregionally, stuff that we can grow in our neck of the global woods, we would depend less on long-distance transportation of goods. In part, this means we can wait while transportation technology improves. To pick up the thread of reference to the NPR podcast from above, the guest on the show had just done a study that indicated that less than 5% of the emissions related to beef  are transport-related. This model considers everything from the raising of the cattle until it gets on your fork in a way you're familiar with. The methane generated by the ruminants, however, represents about 30-40% of emisions. It all makes sense when you've been a follower of Manamushrooms. For those less fortunate or less patient, it's this simple: cows make methane when they digest the feeds we usually give them. Methane is a GHG, greenhouse gas, about 20 times more potent than CO2, carbon dioxide. Although this gas can be captured and used for fuel in devices called biodigesters, most farms do not implement this technology. The only one I'm aware of that does, at large scale, is Fair Oaks, in Indiana. Ihave video somewhere, but until I unearth it, here's a YouTube clip of their milking area.

As important is your direct support for farmers, some of the coolest people I know. CSAs are a great way to do this, too. While you're at it, check out Angelic Organics and The Real Dirt on Farmer John, a story about a midwest boy (preview to film).

But I digress; I still like my pineapple and the 'free'* market says I have the resources to buy it, especially when it's subsidized, which is a whole other ball of wax... and I'm not advocating we all make an instant conversion to 100% bioregional consumption. If I were, though, the midwest would be the place to do it -- apparently, and I know I'm missing a citation to the NPR broadcast about this, but apparently we have some of the best soil in the US and one of the most forgiving climates, all things considered -- hard to believe if you know Chicago winters.

Problem: agriculture has become focused in the hands of a very few, very large companies like Monsanto and ADM. These companies mechanize labor, so fewer and fewer real, live people are involved in actual farming, and modify our food in the name of business. Now, I'm not saying all GMO is bad. Whaaaaa?! I know -- so far as I understand it, even selecting seeds from the best performing crops to re-seed the next year is considered genetic modification of crops -- admit it, you knew there was something fishy about those huge pumpkins! Few people are now involved in an industry that used to be very decentralized with lots of labor (JOBS). Not only is this a bad thing for employment statistics and our economy, because people also work at milti-billion dollar companies, but it's not good for our food security. The homoginization of crops and pervasive monoculture techniques that have become prevalent mean lower drought and blight resistance despite easier mechanization of planting, harvest, etc. So, it seems we have traded convenience for security. From an Evangelical perspective, what with the plagues of locusts and all in that Book, you'd think this would be better considered... or at least I would hope it would be.

So what? So go support your regional farmers; even knowing a farmer seems like a step in the right direction. If nothing else, a farmers' market can be a nice way to spend a day off. Take one of those you have saved up and check one out. There are other links to help you throughout the site.

 *Our market is far from free; subsidies and price supports prevent that for now, though finding a list of these market-meddlers is not easy: Jackpot!

 

Here's an article by Joel Salatin that does a fantastic job of addressing some of these issues. Since the original post date, I hve discovered and confirmed that Polyface farms (Joel Salatin) provides all pork to Chipotle restaurants, which has been the sole influence on me to become a chipotle customer.

 

Here's a picture of some Midwest raised turkey - I wasn't sure where else to put it. I recently watched Food, Inc. and I'm none too thrilled about this pile o meat. I still prefer to get meat at the farmers' market, it's just tough to face $13/pound when chicken can be had at $2/pound...