Most food is produced hundreds, sometimes thousands of miles from where it is consumed requiring significant energy consumption for handling, transportation and storage and resulting in significant food waste from spoilage during its journey.
According to a recent study published in the Public Library of Science, 40% of food is wasted in the U.S. That figure measures waste occurring throughout the entire food system starting at the farm and ending at what ends up thrown away as plate scrapings by all of us. Not only is that a huge amount of waste – a tremendous amount of energy, soil fertility and water is squandered. How much? Here’s some “food for thought:”
- The amount of energy wasted amounts to about 1,400 calories per person per day
- One quarter of the US annual consumption of freshwater is wasted
- 300 million barrels of oil are used to produce food that is eventually wasted
And because the US recycles less than 3% of food waste, most of that food waste ends up in landfills where it decomposes anaerobically, emits methane and other greenhouse gases and contributes to climate change.
The lack of fresh, local food production also significantly impacts our diet and health. We tend to eat what is available – highly processed food that can handle long distance travel and has a long shelf life. We are what we eat, and the obesity epidemic is one of the most visible and obvious indications that our food system with its lack of access to fresh locally grown foods has a significant and negative health impact.
How far does food travel from farm to our plate? In the U.S., the average fruit or vegetable travels 1,500 miles from where it was grown to your dinner table. Here are some examples from a New York State Energy Research and Development (“NYSERDA”) study entitled “Energy Investments and CO2 Emissions for Fresh Produce Imported into New York State Compared to the Same Crops Grown Locally”.