Stop Counting Food Miles
Stop counting food miles. Or kilometers for that matter. Don’t try to figure out whether the farm that lovingly grew the tomato you are about to sink your teeth into is 100km or 300km away. Don’t restrict yourself to storage crops and preserves all winter. Don’t lose sleep because you ate an avocado.
This may seem strange coming from a guy who started Canada’s largest commercial city farm, Fresh City. After all, we go out of our way to grow food right in the city, very, very close to where our customers live (and eat). Outside the confines of your windowsill or backyard, our produce is as local as it gets.
So what’s my problem with food miles? Growing food locally is supremely important. But not just because our plates accumulate too many food miles. We should not reduce the reason for eating local to a greenhouse gas emissions formula.
Buying food from local farmers means supporting farming as an economic activity. (The same goes for food processors that act as intermediaries between farmer and retailer.) This creates jobs. And it creates a headwind against the urban sprawl that is gobbling up our best farmland. The expanding GTA has paved over 10% of Canada’s – yes, of the second-largest country in the world – best farmland in the last couple of decades.
Making sure we can grow most our own food enhances our food security. In a world where container ships and trucks move unimaginable quantities of goods across borders each day, it’s hard for many to take this concern seriously. But consider some of the sudden border restrictions we have witnessed in response to terrorism or disease outbreaks in recent years. It is a strategic imperative for us to be able to feed ourselves in case of an emergency.
Above all, growing food in and around where we live creates a collective consciousness around food. With only one in a hundred of us farming and two or three generations removed from farming, a thriving local food ecosystem is an antidote to flaws of our food system. It narrows the gap between a supermarket mentality – everything always available in uniform units – and the ecological reality – seasonality, unpredictable weather, industrial farm-driven pollution. It helps propel food to the top of the political agenda where, in a world of rising obesity and diabetes, it rightly belongs.
And, lest we burden this primal activity with too much social and political burdens, eating local just tastes better.