Examining the food I ate over the past three days reveals that I am a creature of habit. My meals are often comprised of the same major ingredients with variations in the spices, condiments, and vegetables that I eat. Three of the ingredients that I consume most regularly are oats, eggs, and peanuts. Eggs and oats I consume as is and peanuts I consume in the form of peanut butter. The estimated food miles and carbon foot prints for these ingredients are:
Oats: ~3,000 miles and 0.31kg CO2 per 1kg oats
Eggs: ~100 miles and 5kg CO2 per 1kg eggs (2.7kg CO2 per 1 dozen eggs)
Peanuts: ~1500 miles and 2.88kg CO2 per 1kg peanuts
When calculating food miles I tried to consider both the distance from where it is grown and the distance from where it is processed. The carbon foot print reflects many components of the ingredients life cycle, including production practices, processing requirements, and transportation.
The oats that I consumed were from Bob’s Red Mill company. They do not advertise where they source their oats from. However most oats are grown in the Northern Hemisphere. The top five oat producing countries are U.S., Russia, Canada, Finland, or Poland. I assumed that if Bob’s Red Mill sourced all of their oats from the U.S. that this would be advertised on their packaging. Since this was not the case, I calculated food miles based on oats produced in Canada. The processing plant for Bob’s Red Mill is in Oregon so I calculated the distance from Canada to Oregon and the from Oregon to Pennsylvania to be about 3,000 miles.
Oat production has decreased in recent years in response to decreased feed demand for labor horses with increased mechanization. However, oats have been recognized as a viable rotation option for corn/soybean and wheat operations. Oats are a monoculture crop that can improve agriculture systems by out competing weeds common in corn and soybean fields and reducing the weed seed bank. The low carbon footprint reflects the high yield of oats and limited inputs required. Organic oat production is increasing with consumer demand. The low cost of oats makes them a healthy whole grain that is widely accessible in the U.S.
The eggs I consumed this week were purchased at Wal-mart. The wide reach of Wal-mart increases the distance that the eggs likely travelled. However, the ubiquitousness of egg production in the U.S. suggests that the eggs are likely still from the Mid-Atlantic or Northeast. Eggs are mainly produced in enclosed hen houses, but free range egg production is increasing due animal welfare and environmental concerns from consumers. Intensive egg production has many negative environmental impacts and most drastically increases land and water toxicity through disposal of wastes. Production of feed for laying hens is also a significant source of environmental degradation.
I consume mainly Teddie brand peanut butter. Teddie brand peanut sources all peanut from within the U.S. and process the nuts in Massachusetts. The largest producer of peanuts in the U.S. is Georgia, so I calculated my food miles from Georgia to Massachusetts and then to Pennsylvania. Peanuts have historically been used as an important rotational crop with cotton. Legumes like peanuts act as nitrogen fixers and help restore nitrogen depleted soils after cotton is grown. Recent research has associated excessive use of fertilizers, especially nitrogen fertilizers, in peanut fields with nutrient depletion and soil acidification. This is likely less of a concern with Teddie peanut butter because it is an organic brand. Because peanuts grow below ground, they are more water efficient than other nuts.
A major social concern of peanuts is nut allergies. Peanut butter is a good, calorically dense source of protein, fats, and carbohydrates. In the 1900s consumption of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches was encouraged by government health programs and peanut butter and jelly was served as the free lunch at most schools. However, the high rate of peanut allergies in the U.S. has encouraged schools and health programs to move away from peanut butter.
Over the past few years, I have become more aware about where my food is coming from. However, this awareness extends mostly to vegetables and food items that I can easily get from farmer’s markets. I do not often analyze the source of my staple food items. I realize, through this project, that most of my staple foods, even the ones not listed here, travel a significant distance. During warmer months, I consume mostly local eggs, but I am not aware of many local sources of oats or peanut butter. This has caused me to reflect on the accessibility of local foods and the viability of local food as a solution to disconnect within the food system. Before taking food studies courses, I strongly supported the local food movement. I still support this movement, but I do not think it is a monolith solution. Examining my food consumption habits reinforces my belief in the need for diverse food solutions that acknowledge the geographical range of staple foods and remain conscious of food miles.