Nowadays when we think of food, there’s probably no thought in your mind as to where it comes from and how it has been farmed or produced. Supermarkets and chain stores have instigated this phenomena by importing and exporting goods from foreign lands who then cleverly market their products to make them appear locally prepared and sustainable. As we all run seemingly busy lifestyles you may say that we don’t have time to research and think of such things. This article is going to explain the journey of these foods and the processes involved to get from the source to your plate and how to balance your consumer habits to offset unnecessary carbon emissions!

What are food miles?

The term food miles is used to describe the distance it takes for food to be transported from its original source, to the consumer. Typically food miles are linked to large export and import of food from foreign countries, though the term can also be used for local produce in transit.

Food transport lorry

Food transport lorry

An example of food miles could be that; a demand has risen for soya beans in the UK and a supermarket has decided to import them from East Asia. The supermarket has found a supplier from East Asia and are now looking at ways to import the soya beans quickly and  efficiently.

This is where the food miles begin… The supplier has to arrange with the supermarket, transport to either a shipping freight, aircraft carrier or train etc… After the initial transport, which could vary in distance depending on the location, the soya beans then have to be transported over seas over long distances until they reach their temporary destination.

Upon reaching their temporary destination the soya beans must then be transported to regional manufacturers who then produce thousands of products from the soya beans. Once the manufacturers have produced their foodstuff, it is then transported again nationwide and distributed between supermarket stores via lorries and other heavy goods vehicles where the consumer then purchase the produce and takes it home in their car or via public transport.

What is the impact of food miles on the environment?

As you have already read from the example, the sheer distance between you and your food is vast and has a severe impact on the environment. Huge amounts of carbon emissions are emitted through the transportation of food in fragmented amounts which add up and pollute the air. This rise in CO2 emissions contributes towards a build up of greenhouse gases that are being trapped in the atmosphere, worsening the phenomena known as the greenhouse effect.

The greenhouse effect is a process in which solar radiation that is absorbed and reflected by the earth is absorbed by the greenhouse gases. The gases then scatter the remaining thermal energy in all directions resulting in a rise of the GMST (global mean surface temperature) because it is trapped in the troposphere (lower atmosphere). It is important to note that there are natural greenhouse gases such as water vapor, though the increase in CO2 is increasing the temperature as the scattered radiation cannot escape as much.

The warming of the planet can and has seen some disastrous effects on ecosystems and biomes such as arctic ice melting, causing a rise in sea level, resulting in mass flooding in areas of the world, and an increase in wildfires and drought due to the heat of certain areas of the world.

What can I do as an individual?

In order to eliminate these unnecessary carbon emissions it’s important that we try to think of where our food comes from. Most supermarkets now have labels on which tell you where your food has come from, typically fruit and vegetables. By purchasing seasonable fruit and vegetables that are endemic to our country we’ll know that the food miles have been limited to transport regionally and not on a global scale.

It is only with the globalization of trade that we’ve been able to acquire an eclectic taste of foreign foods and without the demand of these foreign foods, supermarkets and chain stores will cease to supply them as much, hopefully resulting in a lot of discontinued stock and ultimate removal of the produce.

Another way of making a change as an individual is to, reclaim your roots and grow food at home or in an allotment. Also by purchasing your food from farmers markets and local grocery shops, you’ll be making a great impact on your carbon footprint.

With our appetite now intrigued by the thought of new foreign foods, it would be wrong to deny our taste buds and we feel it’s about time our governments invested in new innovative farming practices in order to produce foreign foods locally. Both eliminating the exploitation of different countries across the globe and the unnecessary carbon emissions that western agricultural trade and appetite bring.