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Stoke St Gregory, Somerset, England

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FOOD MILES (Carbon Footprint)


‘Food Miles’ is a way of measuring the distance any food travels from the land to your plate. ‘Food Miles’ have increased dramatically over the last twenty years, for three main reasons: we buy (what should be) seasonal food all year round; we buy more processed food; and we like to pay as little for it as possible. We also add to the mileage ourselves. We now travel further for our shopping, even if it’s to an organic farm shop, and use the car more often to do it.

Then there’s all the food coming in to the country. Nearly all the fruit, and half of the vegetables, eaten in Britain are imported. The amount of food being flown into Britain rises each year. To take one example, strawberries are flown in from warmer climates to satisfy our desire for permanent dietary summertime, and air freight has a far bigger impact on the environment than sea or road travel has.


Even the humble pizza, because of the way the food processing industry works, causes problems. Its various ingredients travel around the country from factory to factory, before they make their way to the shops. Even simple items like prepared salad travel far longer distances than they used to.

‘Food Miles’ is not everything, though. The way in which food is produced also has a significant impact. Reports shows that it is less environmentally friendly to grow tomatoes in Britain under glass than it is to import tomatoes from Spain. The energy needed to heat the glass houses for growing tomatoes in Britain is significantly more than the energy used in transporting tomatoes from Spain where no heating is used because of the warmer climate.


But, of course, this debate about tomatoes would be irrelevant if we eat  fruit and vegetables when they are in season.


A final point about Food Miles is how do we know how far any food travelled? A food’s country of origin may be on the label but, beyond this, it’s generally impossible to tell how far the food has travelled and by what means. A long journey by boat, has less environmental impact than a shorter one by road. Even in a Taunton supermarket, milk labelled ‘West Country’ may have been produced in Cornwall, travelled hundreds of miles to be processed, before returning to the local in store shelf.

It can be all very confusing, and work is needed to find out about the food we buy here in Stoke and in the surrounding towns.

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