Welcome to the blog of the course and textbook Facing up to global warming: What is going on and what you can do about it. This course is run by Professor Nick Gray of the Trinity Centre for the Environment at Trinity College Dublin.

Monday, March 25, 2013

How Far Would You Go for Your Food?

When I went to university for the first time in the autumn of 2010, I was moving from a small upscale New England town, to the edge of a struggling impoverished city. Before university, I was used to having everything that I needed. I didn’t think about what I ate or where it came from beyond “this is what my mom is making for me” and “food comes from the grocery store.” Then I was introduced to the city of Baltimore.
Baltimore is a struggling city, with nearly 30% of its population below the national poverty line. Supermarket gaps, areas where there are no supermarkets because chain stores won’t do business in low-income areas, are prevalent. Many citizens of the city have little or no access to healthy foods like fruits and vegetables. Instead they are forced to eat fast food every day.
The Real Food Farm, Baltimore
Image: http://www.realfoodfarm.org/
As depressing as it was to learn this, it came to me in a context which was wonderful. I was introduced to The Real Food Farm, which is part of a movement in Baltimore to provide residents access to local foods, and to create community gardens where residents can grow their own food.
This movement is not limited to Baltimore. It is one cropping all over the United States and the world. Many are aware that “supermarket food” in the US is getting dangerously out of hand. Packed with preservatives, toxins, GMO’s, and additives, much of this “food” is bad for the environment and for people. Locally grown food, on the other hand, is fresh, healthy, good for the environment and good for the local economy.
Eating locally has a huge impact on the environment. First off, the average American meal travels 1500 miles from farm to plate. Assuming the food is driven by a typical 18-wheeler, that’s about 188 gallons (711 liters) of petrol per trip, and that’s only one-way. Much of the food is also shipped by airplane, which releases massive amounts of carbon emissions. On the other hand, those able to eat locally only have to drive a short distance, or they can even take the bus or walk. The bottom line is, if large amounts of people were able to start eating locally, there would be huge savings in the non-renewable resource department.
There’s also the matter of packaging. Shipping food long distances means packing of each individual item, which requires plastics, aluminum, etc. It also means packaging of the foods in bulk, and use of refrigeration trucks to preserve it en route. Locally grown foods cut out all this nonsense and are usually bought as is – no extra baggage needed.
Growing local foods also supports the lands they grow on. Small time farmers respect the land, because they need good soil, water, and plant life to grow sustainable crops. Protecting the land supports local habitats, and promotes healthy growth of both plant life and animals.
Then there is the most obvious benefit of locally grown food – it’s healthy! Cutting down on preservatives, GMO’s, and artificial additives, while increasing consumption of fruits and vegetables, is beneficial to your health. Improving health on a large scale means less need for medical interventions which in turns means less waste.
In summary, growing and eating locally grown foods is a win-win for people and the environment. Implementing new ways to give people access to and knowledge of local farmers markets and community gardens would be a great step towards sustainable living.
Here are some useful links which I hope you will find useful:
  • A list of all the farmers markets in Ireland.
  • Comparing the “mileage” of supermarket food to food from a local farmer’s market
Megan Hennessy

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