I had been mulling over this local food project for quite a time now. This project is one gigantic habit-breaking attempt to reduce our household’s “food miles“–the distance that food travels from the source (usually a farm) to our refrigerator, plates and eventually our stomachs. This really is a meager attempt at reducing carbon footprint in our daily lives, considering how much traveling our family does in a year. But while we cannot afford to cut back on our leisure trips, we can at least take conscious effort to reduce carbon footprint in the food we eat.
In the United States, studies show that each food item in a typical American meal has traveled an average of 1,500 miles–that’s more energy calories consumed in transport compared to calories that can be derived from the food itself. We are lucky to be living in a country that is capable of producing most of the food we eat. Still, looking at our family’s food consumption habits, there is much room for improvement as far as decreasing food miles is concerned.
Local Food Project: How do I start?
First I drew up a list of food items that we purchase and consume on a regular basis. Then I tried to identify the sources of these food items and whether there were alternative sources for these items that were closer to home.
Take seafood for example. Our diet is heavy on fish, shellfish and shrimps–food items that are not grown anywhere near Cainta. Ordinarily, we buy seafood from the local market but the sources of which may actually be provinces or regions away. But, from time to time, we go on a trip to our little beach hut in Quezon province, where there is an abundance not only of seafood but also of pork and carabao meat. On our most recent trip there, we stopped by the local market before going home and went on to buy in bulk some fish, shrimps and shells, enough to sustain our seafood diet for at least two weeks. We are planning another trip back on the last weekend of August when we plan to re-stock on seafoods and also purchase some freshly butchered pork and carabeef.
As for the other meat products we consume, I was told of one chicken stall in the Marikina market that sources dressed chicken from a poultry in Tanay, Rizal, pretty close to home. And for beef, we can again do some bulk buying of locally sourced meat from the Tagaytay Mahogany market whenever we come home to my in-laws in Cavite.
As for vegetables, while most are available locally, we also try to grow our own at home, including lettuce, arugula and herbs. The farm in Quezon also has papaya, ampalaya, eggplant, kamote, pechay and mustasa that we harvest from time to time. I’m still figuring out where to get mushrooms and zucchinis, whether they could be an exception or if I have to ultimately drop them from our diet.
Here comes the big problem. Except for bananas and mangoes, most of the fruits that we regularly consume are sourced from outside of this country–oranges, apples, grapes, lemons. I don’t think it is realistic to simply cross out these items from our food list because they are good sources of vitamins and antioxidants.
But, we can try to reduce our purchases of these products by purchasing more of the seasonal, locally grown fruits. Earlier today I started this new habit of buying fruits in season. I bought a kilogram each of atis and guyabano. Avocados are also in season and in the coming months, rambutans and lansones will be readily available. Thanks to our tropical climate and some agricultural advancements, there will always be a fruit in season no matter what time of the year.
Food processing is another major source of carbon emissions in the food industry. We all know that it is best to consume food in its natural state, but with the need for some convenience in food preparation, we still cannot avoid purchasing food in a processed form. Rice, pasta/noodles, bread, biscuits, milk, cheese, yogurt, deli products, olive oil, butter, wine and beer are among the processed food products that we regularly consume. Taking them out from our food list does not present to be a logical option. My best bet would be buying products that are manufactured by local companies. Starches are commonly produced here and there are now local sources of dairy products like Rizal Dairy and Malagos Farmhouse even for flavored yogurts and gourmet cheeses. But wine and olive oil? Currently I have no alternatives and I simply cannot stop consuming them. I guess they’re going to be exemptions, unless we can go on a trip to Greece or France and bulk buy on olives and wine. In my dreams.
Remember: Three things
Three things to remember: buy in season, buy local, buy organic. And if you can do all three in relation to a single food item, you can be well on your way to a diet with a much lower carbon footprint. To take this an extra mile further, a better way is to grow and process your own food.
Having written this, I realize that our food consumption pattern is pretty conservative after all. I hope that other households will be as discriminating with their food purchasing choices as we are, if not more. Still, from time to time, it might pay off to reward ourselves with eating out at Mediterranean or Asian restaurants. Something that’s too bad a habit to break.