Date: Tue, 16 Jun 1998 14:39:01 -0500
From: Diane B Mayerfeld <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Subject: Local vs non-local foods
I am helping prepare a short publication to get consumers to think about
consequences of local, national, and international food systems. We are
not advocating 100% local food systems, but we would like to raise
awareness of the degree to which we depend on non-local food and of some
the social and environmental costs associated with non-local foods.
We want to put together a list of thought-provoking facts, documented
credible references. Does anyone have leads on where we could get the
1) How far does the average food item travel? (for a midwestern
figures as recent as possible) The average vegetable?
This from (now out of print) Empty Breadbasket? by the Cornucopia
Project at Rodale Press:
The USDA conservatively estimates that 5.3% of the retail cost of food
pays for rail and truck transport. Based on this figure, Americans paid
almost $16 billion in 1980 to move their food around. And this does not
account for transportation to and from the supermarket, nor the hidden
costs such as highway construction and maintenance, deaths and
disabilities from transportation accidents, air quality control programs
and air pollution-induced illnesses. A US Dept. of Defense study
estimated that the average molecule of processed food in this country
travels 1300 miles before being eaten.
2) How much energy is used for food transportation, preservation,
packaging before it gets to the grocery store shelves?
At the present time (1980 was when the book was written), there are more
than 4 million trucks in this country used primarily to transport food,
enough for every citizen to have his own truck for one week every year.
These trucks travel 45 billion miles annually, a distance equal to 242
trips to the sun! 27% of all truck miles and four percent of the
domestic motor fuel supply is used just to transport food. Food trucks
burn up $5.5 billion worth of fuel each year, expel over four million
tons of pollutants into the air, and cause millions of dollars of damage
to public highways.
Food procession takes almost one-third of the energy used in the US food
system, consuming 1.8 million barrels of oil per day. About 1000
calories of energy are expended for each calorie of processed food we
Americans paid more than nine percent of their total food expenditures -
some $34billion - for packaging. Many packages cost more than the foods
they contain. Beer cans cost five times as much as the brew they hold,
while soft drink cans, chewing gum wrappers and breakfast cereal boxes
cost about twice as much as their contents. 1.3 % of the nation's energy
consumption is used for packaging. It takes 1643 calories of energy to
produce a 12 ounce aluminum soda can which contains a drink with 150
calories of energy.
3) How much irrigation water is used for summer (June - September)
vegetable production in California? Other major fruit and vegetable
exporting areas? versus in Iowa? (gallons used per ton produced for
particular vegetables such as lettuce or tomatoes would be ideal and
allow for comparisons)
The Western US receives about 27% of our annual rainfall, yet it uses
84% of our national water total. Westerners, per capita, use 14.7 times
as much water as people in the East. The primary reason is irrigation,
whiach takes 81% of all water consumed in the US
4) How is produce treated to preserve freshness during transport and
handling? Are any preservatives or pesticides applied to the packaging,
shipping containers, or produce?
5) Does anyone know of recent studies on the question of a local
multiplier effect (e.g., how much more does it stimulate the local
to buy goods produced locally than goods simply retailed locally?)
I would be very grateful for any information or leads you can give me,
I also welcome your other thoughts on this topic.
2104 Agronomy Hall
Iowa State University
Ames, IA 50011
tel: (515) 294-1923
fax: (515) 294-9985
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