In this week’s column Rachel Marshall writes about the environmental impacts of food and the role eating locally can play in reducing these impacts.

The distance food travels between farmers and the final consumer/ food eater is known as ‘food miles’. Sourcing food in season and locally – direct from local farmers and producers- can reduce these food miles and contribute towards reducing the carbon emissions associated with the food we eat. There are also significant social and economic benefits for doing so– as discussed on FoodFutures website.
When we look at carbon data, it is clear that transport actually constitutes a relatively small proportion of the overall carbon footprint of food compared to factors such as: ‘what is being eaten’ and ‘how it is produced’. There are also huge differences in the emissions created by different forms of transport – depending on the speed and size of the transport vehicle used.
For example, when food is flown here (via air freight), carbon emissions can be fifty times higher compared to food transported by ocean tanker. As airfreight is expensive, it is only used when food is extremely perishable and has to travel a long way e.g. asparagus, green beans, peas, and berries sourced from Africa and South America. These journeys are often taken because we now expect these crops in all seasons. Eating with the seasons could help to reduce unnecessary food miles.
Driving to the shops can also contribute a significant proportion of our foods’ carbon emissions. As food shoppers we can reduce this by walking, bicycling, taking public transport or by using a more efficient or electric vehicle. These also have the added benefit of improving local air quality.
Urban areas can also be designed to support us is shopping more locally – by offering local food hubs, markets or shops that are easily accessible from residential area. Local delivery models could also be designed with low carbon emissions in mind.
As mentioned above, eating with the seasons is also important. Fruit and vegetables grown out of season in the UK or the Netherlands in a heated greenhouse can easily have a higher climate impact than if they are grown elsewhere in season and transported to Northern Europe.
Locally we can grow under cover (without heating) to extend our seasons. We can also grow a surprising range of fresh fruit and veg much of the year round here in North Lancashire. Is it time to embrace a Northern seasonal diet and celebrate what North Lancashire has to offer?

Alongside sourcing more local and seasonal produce, if we want to reduce the environmental impact of our food further we also need to question ‘What we choose to eat?’ and ‘How it is produced?’.
Exploring these questions are key to shaping our local food strategy.
For more information and to feed into FoodFutures strategy work, visit:
Join us this Saturday 20th February 3-5pm for a community conversation around food:

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