While driving this afternoon, I happened to catch a bit of Fresh Air on NPR with Michael Specter, the author of the recent article, “Big Foot,” just published in the New Yorker. When I tuned in, the conversation had just turned to the food choices we make and their impact on the environment, which I found to be quite fascinating!
So, you think you are doing a “good thing” by purchasing California wines when stopping by your local bottle shop… you are supporting “local” farmers and helping out the US economy. Interestingly enough, you are doing just the opposite for the environment. Specter quoted a recent study on the carbon footprint of wine distribution which stated, “it is actually more “green” for New Yorkers to drink wine from Bordeaux, which is shipped by sea, than wine from California, sent by truck.”
This is because boats are much more fuel efficient than trucks (makes sense)… though this philosophy only works for people living east of Colombus, Ohio – west of there, drink Californian wines – the carbon footprint is higher from European wines.
But then at the same time, Specter says, “The environmental burden imposed by importing apples from New Zealand to Northern Europe or New York can be lower than if the apples were raised fifty miles away. In New Zealand, they have more sunshine than in the U.K., which helps productivity. That means the yield of New Zealand apples far exceeds the yield of those grown in northern climates, so the energy required for farmers to grow the crop is correspondingly lower. It also helps that the electricity in New Zealand is mostly generated by renewable sources, none of which emit large amounts of CO2.”
So, what are we to do? Buying fruits and vegetables at the Dupont Farmer’s Market is one of my favorite weekend activities, and I like supporting the farmers, but am I really hurting the environment at the same time? And as mentioned in the quote from Spencer’s article below, I don’t want my broccoli to come from 1,800 miles away if I can avoid it.
(“American produce travels an average of nearly fifteen hundred miles before we eat it. Roughly forty per cent of our fruit comes from overseas and, even though broccoli is a vigorous plant grown throughout the country, the broccoli we buy in a supermarket is likely to have been shipped eighteen hundred miles in a refrigerated truck. “)
My thoughts – buy local, grow what you can and take care of the environment in every other way you can.
For Spencer’s thoughts, read the article.