Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Local Vs. Imported Food

The article "Environmental Cost of Shipping Groceries Around the World" in The New York Times caught my attention recently, and it surprised me a bit.  I have always assumed that it's better, environmentally speaking, to buy local food.  However, the article points out that sometimes imported food has a lower footprint than that which is grown locally in a hot house.  Who knew? 

At our house, it's kind of a mixed bag when it comes to the food we buy.  Every other week, at my kid's school, I pick up a box of veggies from Farm Fresh To You.  I enjoy the surprise factor of not knowing what will be in the box, which sometimes lead to fun, tasty discoveries.  A nice option that the farmer offers in its online payment program is that you can pick the style of the box you want, like whether you'd prefer a small box or a large box, how often you want it, and the types of produce you'd like.  We get a small box of mixed fruits and veggies that don't need to be cooked to eat, since I'm a busy mom who'd rather make a salad than cook.  The box itself gets reused, as you just return the box to the pickup location when you get the new one.  I like how it's very convenient and I don't have to do any extra driving to get my food.

I understand that buying organic, local meat (or not buying meat at all) would make a big dent on our footprint, too, but whether or not we do that depends on who is doing the grocery shopping.  My husband goes to the "just about to expire and super cheap" bin at the grocery store and picks a lot of meat out of there, cooks it all up, and then freezes it for us to eat while he's away.  He's a culinary genius and the chef in the family.

Since we live on a mini urban ranch, we also get a lot of produce just outside our door.  For instance, we get really tasty eggs from the chickens, whose diet we supplement with our kitchen scraps.  My toddler loves visiting the chickens, feeding them, and picking them up.  We get a delicious local honey from our bees.  We also get lots of fruits and herbs from the garden, as well as whatever veggies are in season.  I probably could go without buying the box of produce in the summertime, but I see it as a political act, trying to support organic farmers as they compete with industrial farms.

The New York Times article mentions taxing imported food, and it seems to me like a good idea to pass the true cost of the food on to the consumers.  However, it would be better if alternative fuel consuming transportation methods didn't get taxed in the process.  Some kind of program should give incentives to lower or omit emissions, since it's not necessarily always greener 100% of the time to choose local over imported.

My question is, who gets the tax money and what do they do with it?  It would be nice if that tax money went directly towards carbon trusts or carbon sequestering.  It was also make sense to eliminate the costs involved with taxing and allow companies to purchase carbon trusts in lieu of taxes, minimizing the need for middle men and letting the carbon trust organizations concentrate on how best to do what they do.

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