Shock. Disgust. Shame. Enlightenment: A few of the emotions I went through when I realized how far my food had traveled to get to my plate. I could almost hear the vegetables speaking.
Oh dear me! My how this is an interesting place. I thought I’d be visiting those kindly folk that tickled my roots and gave me that delicious water this season. How did I end up in this truck? I feel weak. How long will this ride last? When do I get to return to the soil? Are you comfortable there, GraceBeet?
GraceBeet: No! Not at all, GeorgeBeet. This place is dark, cold, and we’ve been ripped from the soil. I do not like it at all. How long do you think we’ll be here? I feel weak as well.
Truth is, no matter how well I fill my plate with organic produce, if it’s not from a local source, I am likely doing more harm than good. Produce that has to travel long distance burns fuels, through gasoline and refrigeration, and pollutes the planet (e.g., our lungs and drinking water). The produce loses nutrients at a rapid rate once taken from the ground, or tree, from their growth source. The longer produce is in transit, the less nutrients it’ll have at its destination. I thought I was being so good, pure, and holistic. I was very wrong.
Being a Locavore is one of the best ways to support our health, environment, and neighbors. Locavore means eating food sources that are close to home. Strict Locavores say our food should be within 100 miles of our home, no more. Living in the high desert, however, greatly limits variety of foods, which is a difficult challenge of ‘living Locavore’. If you have any dietary restrictions, allergies, this is just compounded. However, the benefits of a Locavore way of life are priceless. By being a Locavore, you’re supporting local business, getting produce from known sources (and in many cases, helping grow those produce), creating a community to trade with, share food, recipes, livestock, eggs, home made goods and stories. A community helps its members, and creates a sense of pride and protection. The health benefits of fresh, organic, home grown (not to mention superior taste!) produce (and baked goods) is exponential. No toxins, no pollutants from mass long distance transport, no inflated prices from big business. And the small farmer gets to provide for his/her community, gets to have a thriving business. It’s naturally sustainable.
We’ve become disconnected from our food. The farther it is grown from us, the more it’s processed. Also, we know less about our food, which allows big business to get away with more. For much of the American population doesn’t even know what the original plant, tree, or bush looks like that created some of our produce. We hear horror stories of meat processing, yet we do nothing about it. A friend of mine thought green beans were from a Catalpa tree.
From the moment of harvest, food also starts to lose its visual appeal, shelf life is greatly diminished. The more time that elapses between harvest and plate, the greater the loss. The food industry has found many, many ways around this problem. Adding in chemicals to preserve the shelf life of the food (not necessarily it’s nutritious value), adding colors so it doesn’t look so wasted (imagine running a marathon and then being put on display) at the grocery store.
To make this all more real for me, I experimented with a diet journal and a lot of research (online, phone calls, e-mails). I tried to get all local organic foods. I failed. I failed greatly. I found some locally made products, i.e., Two Moms in the Raw, and found potatoes, and some quinoa that is also grown locally in Colorado, albeit still out side of the strict Locavore standard of a 100-mile radius. Other than that, my taste preferences and need for nutritional variety led me to stray far, far away from the Locavore’s way.
Other than couple items, none of my food was within a 100-mile radius of my home. The food that traveled the farthest were my canned black beans, a shocking 2,029 miles to be processed, packaged and prepared to be shipped another 1,288 miles to my city (which was only 821 miles from where the beans were harvested; how much in gas, time, processing would that have saved?!). The foods that were closest to me were seeds (17 miles) I use for growing sprouts in my kitchen, gluten free pizza crusts from a local bakery (5 miles), and some snack crackers (Two Moms in the Raw, 28 miles away). Does “uffdah” sum it up well enough? My legs are already tired, and wallet empty from the excursions.
There were a few foods I did not consume, but have previously that I also looked up, out of curiosity. I was amazed at how processed some of the ‘au natural’ seeming products were. Making almond milk is a fairly simple process that one can do at home without fancy equipment. Big brand producers; however, have made a mountain out of a mole hill, so to say and extracted, added, heated, chilled, enriched, and otherwise greatly processed this once simple milk. Wholly Guacomole, well. Hmm. After seeing how it’s processed (and how far the avocado, then product, has to travel), I’m completely turned off and almost nauseated. Food producers go to great lengths to make their products consistent, palatable to a consumer used to the Standard American Diet (SAD), packed full of chemicals, additives, flavor ‘enhancers’, and dyes.
It makes me sad that so many people can’t pick out the kale (curly, purple, or dinosaur, doesn’t matter, any of them) from the produce area, much less appreciate the incredible flavor it offers. Steam it for some buttery goodness, or blend it with other greens for a lovely, hearty smoothie. Our collective taste buds have suffered from leaving the farm. But I am reassured that many, when give the opportunity to taste test, can still distinguish the truly amazing flavor of a home grown tomato over the cardboard-tasting variety found in the grocery store.
Over three days that I tracked my food, the total mileage of everything that was on my plate was 50,891 miles. It’s shocking to me. It should be. Do you know where your food grew up? How far it traveled? What were the conditions it endured in its travels? Was it cold and chilly? How long was it crated? How long did it take, how many days, weeks, before it was consumed? How much gas was needed for the respective journeys?
From my three day diet log, here are the numbers: Day 1 I had raw oats with blueberries, almond milk, and chia seeds. Miles traveled for this meal: oats from Wyoming, 512 miles; blueberries, 1,262 miles; almond milk, 1,180 miles; Chia seeds, 1895 miles. I had a Kombucha drink late morning, 1,031 miles. Guacamole for lunch, with carrots: avocados, 1,016 miles; cilantro, 1,262 miles; jalapeño, 1010 miles; carrots, 1,032 miles. I had a snack of garbanzo bean nuts: garbanzo beans, 1,207 miles and a green smoothie: celery, 1,071 miles; pear 1,189; parsley, 1,262; avocado 1,016 miles; sprouts, 16.9 miles; mixed greens, 1,071 miles; wild caught salmon, 1,369 miles; quinoa, 205 miles; swiss chard, 1,262; and dates, 720 miles. The total miles for the day was: 20,588. Day two, omelet, green smoothie, Kombucha, black bean quinoa burgers, asparagus: a total of 12,458 miles. Day three, pear, omelet, almond milk, black bean burgers, gluten free pizza (crust from 5 miles away), wine, crackers (28 miles from the source, success!). Total miles for day three, 15,881. Sigh. Still very far from the 100-mile radius to being a Locavore.
This experiment was based on my curiosity to see what kind of distances my current diet had traveled. I’m much more aware of where my food comes from and much more dedicated to working toward a more Locavore lifestyle. If I lived in California, being a Locavore would clearly be easier. However, as it is, I am in Colorado. There is not much viable farm land, and what is available is very expensive, as is water here in the high desert. Over the past year I’ve been looking for a CSA to donate my front yard to (which is a fantastic concept that I hope more people take advantage of). There’s about 1,200sq ft, enough to make a decent garden for a number of families; way more than I would need for my own food supply. I love the idea of creating a community around sharing land, labor, and produce. However, I’ve had trouble finding a CSA that is my area; they, rightfully, don’t want to travel all over the city for small plots. For now, I’ve joined a CSA, which will provide locally grown produce for the summer/fall months, and am starting a modest garden my yard. Hopefully I’ll talk some friends into working it with me (and taking home whatever they want from what we’ve grown)! It’s exciting to think about being an urban homesteader. My family has always had a garden and canned and frozen food for the winter. I’m looking forward to learning more, making more, and getting back to those roots.
Post script: 50,891 miles three days of food traveled to get to me. The average semi-truck gets 6-8 miles/gallon. Taking the average, 7/50,891 = 7,270 gallons of diesel gas. Current Colorado diesel pump price per gallon is $3.58. Approximately $26,027 was spent on gas alone.
I interviewed some of my local (Colorado) grocers, and found a number of locally made (nearly all within 50 miles even) food products, not much produce this time of year, but here’s a good list to reference:
- Two Moms in the Raw
- Zuke (raw food)
- Osage Gardens (fresh herbs)
- Justin’s nut butters
- Moose hummus (and other spreads)
- Haystack cheese
- 34* Crisps (crackers)
- Sisters Pantry frozen dumplings (and some sauces)
- ChocoLove Chocolates
- Wilbur’s Total Beverage, Organic & Biodynamnic Wine, Fort Collins, CO
- Jack Rabbit Hill, Organic & Biodynamnic Wine, Hotchkiss, CO