Embodied Carbon in your food

I had an interesting response from someone on my recent pantry post. A few things in her comment sparked my need for this post. This is in now way an attack on Coral or her opinions, it is simply that her comment inspired further thought for me and a need to share some knowledge that I have and others may not.

“i live in the usa… ok… so yeh, i get that ‘we’ consume way too much and that ‘we’ are an import haven of sorts… but i do not personally take that for granted… i love to eat a great variety of foods and i think about other countries as wonderful and to be discovered in any way i can…”

“when i buy a banana i hope it came from Africa… and when i have coffee i want it to come from Brazil…”

“if i buy pasta i would be happy to note that at least the product was inspired by Italy”

“i want to feel a part of the world as a small place after all and that we are all in it together…. we walk on the same soil and share waters from the same oceans and look up at the same planets and stars…. and share the same wind…”

“i love that part of my pantry…. in fact i am going to go check it out just to celebrate the imports…”

Thank you for the offer of grape jelly Coral but I’d much prefer a copy of the recipe to make some myself from my own abundant grapes. I think that their is greater value in the sharing of recipes across the world then sharing of food. I guess it’s part of that “teach a man to fish philosophy”.

So here goes the sharing of knowledge.

Food production contributes to climate change in the form of packaging, transport, processing even marketing. These all require great amounts of energy consumption. The closer to home your food comes, the fresher and less processed it is, the less energy is required to provide it to you
In her book “Animal, Vegetable, Miracle” Barbara Kingsolver (et al) points out some startling facts

1) Americans put as much fossil fuel in their refrigerators as in their cars
2) 400 gallons of oil is used per person, per year (about 17% of total USA energy use) for agriculture, a close second to theirs cars
3) Synthetic fertilisers, pesticides and herbicides,  use more petroleum then all the gas gusling machinery put together, more then 1/4 of all farming energy is in just the synthetic fertilizers
4)  “Each food item in a typical U.S. meal has traveled an average of 1,500 miles!
5) Then there is the energy use for drying, milling, cutting, sorting, baking, packaging, warehousing, refrigeration etc. This comes to more energy calories then is in the actual food!
Just think on this: “If every U.S. citizen ate just one meal a week (any meal) composed of locally and organically raised meats and produce, we would reduce out country’s oil consumption by over 1.1 million barrels of oil every week.” Key words here BARRELS & EVERY WEEK! I recommend EVERY person in the USA reads this book.

Climate Change is a fact, polar ice caps are melting, polar bears are resorting to cannibalism because they are running out of ice to live on and thus also seals that would normally sustain them through their long sleep. New Scientist wrote an article on just this back in 2002 so this isn’t new news, it’s old and still we, as a world, are paying very little attention. According to http://www.foodcarbon.co.uk “The latest reports from climate scientists suggest the trapped heat energy is begining to change the climate of the entire globe. Glaciers in many parts of the world are retreating, extreme weather is becoming more common, rains across semi arid lands are failing, condemming millions to drought and famine.” Have you noticed that the price of cereals (grains) has increased?  If your not up-to-date on the topic of climate change please go to the WWF site here and read up on it.

Polar Ice Cap melt

Polar Ice Cap melt

And one more link for those in British Columbia (still interesting for the rest of us) LifeCycles has some interesting info on food miles, reasons to buy local and a very cool map to show you where you can get locally produced items in BC. Craig has also been working on something similar as part of the Transition Towns movement for our community. 

For a normal western household, food is just about the biggest contribution to global CO2 levels that we can make. You can probably have more success in reducing your carbon footprint by changing your eating habits than by getting rid of your car. Many world leaders are calling for an 80% reduction in our CO2 emissions within the next two decade, and many scientists believe that even this is not enough. Where can we make these reductions that least affect our quality of life? By supporting local food, the idea is that we can quite possibly increase the quality of life in our local community, particularly for small farmers, while making a huge impact on our carbon footprint. Reductions in our fossil fuel use also assist our civilization in dealing with declining oil extraction rates, and in reducing the political pressure which tends to cause conflict in certain oil rich states (particularly the middle east).

I love that I can have chocolate, coconut milk and many other exotic items that don’t grow in NZ. If your life is made richer by the import of exotic items then great, revel in that, but don’t buy tomatoes from Australia if it’s winter where you live, don’t buy something soaked in oil when you can get it organically. We fill our pantries with food from all over the world, not because it’s exotic and we want to be part of the global community, but because we’ve come to expect “fresh” tomatoes in winter rather then feasting on winters abundance. Seasonal eating has been kicked to the curb in a world that is obsessed with getting what you want, when you want it, rather then looking forward to the joys to come.

Coral mentions that she wants to eat pasta that is at least “inspired” by Italy. So do I! That’s why I want to buy it from the italian guys who make it fresh as I watch at the local farmers market rather then buying a packet of dried, or worse filled with preservatives to make it look fresh in a supermarket and imported from somewhere on the other side of the planet. I want to remember that not only is pasta inspired by the italians, but it’s roots also reach back to China – I love our global community and the inspiration it gives me. Life to me is about inspiration, excitement and desire. I want to live in a world of decadence, not a world of excess and destruction.