The myth about Food Miles

I read often from the hand-wringing brigade about the evils of “food miles” and how we should always buy locally produced food. As a statement, it sounds sensible – why “waste” effort importing food from the other side of the planet, when it can be grown just down the road.

Well, ignoring the subtle fact that I live in central London, and would rather that my lettuce is not grown in London’s polluted air – even if the food was grown in the South-East, the cost of land is so high that the cost of the food grown there would be astronomical.

Anyhow – I have read on many occasions more sober reports that the food miles issue is a bit of a myth – and that only 10-20% of the CO2 emissions from food actually come from transportation. I had also even read that, as odd as it may sound, that importing flowers from Kenya is better in terms of environmental damage than growing them in the UK.

Today, I came across this article from a wiser head who has finally also linked to the scientific studies which many other reports seem to rely on, so I can read them in full. I don’t really like relying on 3rd party comments – so being able to read the reports directly is a very reassuring.

Back on the cut flowers one – it seems that Kenyan flowers are not just a bit better, but stunningly better.

Roses produced in the Netherlands and transported to Britain cause 35,000 kg of carbon emissions per 12,000 stems, against 600 kg of carbon emissions per 12,000 stems of Kenyan roses.


Of course, not buying cut flowers out of season would be even better, but while we live in a society which wants flowers in winter, asparagus in March and apples all year round, then we should at least be realistic about the environmental impact.

We might think that it is better to buy locally, but if that means loads of heated greenhouses during winter vs importing from a part of the world where it is summer at the time, then we should be aware that the imported goods may actually generate less carbon emissions than the goods from Kent.

I think it would be nicer if we did eat more seasonally, but to be honest I am lazy and as guilty as most people in wanting my favourites all year round regardless of when they would traditionally have been available. However, that said, it could bring a dose of excitement back into grocery shopping if we moved back towards seasonality.

Can you imagine if Easter lasted all year round? Where would be the excitement? Where would our waistlines be!

That’s what we have with our food supply right now though – and it is becoming a bit boring.

Whats's on in London: today or tomorrow or this weekend

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One comment on “The myth about Food Miles
  1. Paul Cox says:

    Those are striking figures; it does pay to take a deeper look beyond the feel-good labels.

    You’re right that buying seasonally all of the time takes a greater commitment than most of us can muster, but buying seasonally more of the time is actually very easy, and does begin to return an element of occasion to more of one’s meals. Increasingly, the problem is not just a matter of shoppers demanding or expecting certain foods year round, but of no longer being aware of what the natural seasons are. If you have a glance over the eat the seasons website before you go out shopping, you might find yourself buying more wisely and maybe saving some money. It works for us.

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