I stopped at my neighborhood grocery store last night on the way home from work (I think I may have a more mundane existence than most geeks on this buffet) and noticed as I went down the produce aisle a beautiful display containing tiny cartons of perfect raspberries. A sign next to the display said “Chilean Raspberries 2/$6.” What struck me was not the price of the berries, although it was pretty steep, but the idea that those raspberries had traveled halfway across the hemisphere to get here. In fact, as the crow flies, they traveled about 4700 miles. (The Internet is good for so many things, including looking up distances between two points.) How else would fresh raspberries be available in North Carolina in early March?
I thought piously to myself, “I would NEVER buy such fruit! Too many food miles!” But then I examined the contents of my shopping cart and found the two items it contained were carrying a not-insignificant mileage burden themselves: organic baby spinach from California (about 3000 food miles); and grape tomatoes from Mexico (about 1500 food miles). I wasn’t so righteous about those items; I bought them and had them for dinner. But the experience did start me thinking…
It’s one thing to talk about eating locally, but another to contemplate that reality in the off-season. What would the produce aisle in my store look like if it contained only those fruits and vegetables that are available fresh locally today, right this minute? My guess is that we’d see sweet potatoes, collard and turnip greens, and maybe some turnips and cold storage apples. YUM.
I’ve seen estimates that anywhere between 10 and 25 percent of the fossil fuels burned in the US are consumed transporting food to and within the country. We in the developed world have come to expect a bounty of fresh out-of-season produce in our stores. So much that it’s trendy to discuss “food miles” and “eating locally” at dinner parties where liberals have congregated. And it sounds like such a good idea – in the summertime.