How far has your food travelled to get to your home? The distance between where it was grown and where it is eaten – is what we mean when we talk about ‘food miles’. Herbs grown in your garden or window box or vegetables from an allotment or farmers’ market won’t have many food miles. However, if your ingredients have come a long way, they will have a lot of food miles, and may have a heavy carbon footprint. This is especially true if they travelled by air as aeroplanes have a very high impact on the climate.
It is incredible that we can eat food that had been grown all over the world. But we need to consider what is worth transporting and what is not.
What to do
Look through your cupboards and find one thing for each of the following categories:
- Something from your fridge
- A tin or packet out of the cupboard
- A fresh fruit or vegetable
- Something from the spice rack
Where do all these things come from? Can you plot them on a world map? What has travelled the furthest? Has anything come from close by? You could use google earth to look at the place your ingredients come from – what is the landscape like? Is it specifically suited to growing your ingredient? For examples, high mountains, or a coastal area or a large lake may create the perfect conditions for specific foodstuffs.
Things to consider
How has your food travelled to you? You may need to do a bit of research to find out how different food is transported. Some comes by boat, some by plane, some by lorry. Did you know that flying in food typically creates ten times more carbon emissions than road transport, and fifty times more than shipping?!
Could these foods be grown any closer in the world? Some spices for example only grow in specific conditions. But sometimes we transport apples from New Zealand.
Think about what times of year some foods are available. Dried beans or spices may be harvested at one time of year, but then as they are dried they are available all the time. But a sugar snap pea or a strawberry needs eating within a much shorter time. Are there some foods that travel better than others?
Take it further
Do some research into what people eat in different countries — is their diet linked to the kind of foods that easily grow in their climate? You could try out making some different kinds of pancakes from around the world.
As you look at different maps to search for your ingredients’ homeland, do you notice anything about how they are laid out, and which countries are most prominent? Explore the history and politics of maps and map making with our Middle of the Map activity.