Food miles: a straw man

Food faddists talk a lot about ‘food miles’ these days. It’s the concept that a dinner bought from a supermarket, instead of from local farmers’ markets, is more polluting due to the distance it’s travelled – tomatoes from Egypt, oranges from Israel, apples from Alpha Centauri, etc etc.

This concept, of course, is a complete straw man.

When the do-gooders talk about how many billions of lightyears my Sunday lunch has travelled, belching barrelloads of CO2 into the atmosphere, they’re calculating it on a erroneous basis – the basis that each 747 from Egypt carries precisely one tomato. (I was on one last week – a 747 I mean, not a tomato – and can state categorically this isn’t true. Although some of my fellow passengers certainly counted as vegetables of some sort.)

An example. That tomato from Egypt carries a sinful load of about 2000 ‘food miles’. However, a cargo 747 will carry… let’s see.. 8000 per cu m… at least 160,000 tomatoes. So my forlorn tomato can dry its eyes, because it’s only responsible for an eightieth of a food mile, about 20m. It’s a ‘green’ tomato after all.

For a local farmer to compete on food miles with Tesco’s supply chain, he’d have to set up his farm in the same street. Not easy in SE8. On a per-tomato basis, the local farmer’s Land Rover delivering to market is probably more polluting than the same amount of produce from Tesco’s pan-galactic supply chain.

So if you buy organic – don’t get smug about saving the planet, because you aren’t. Buy it because it’s better than the rubbery stuff sold in the supermarkets. After all, you’re certainly paying for it.

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