That Orange Has City Miles on It

The unending debate over food miles continues, this time in the virtual pages of Salon: Journalist Roberta Kwok goes to the San Francisco Ferry Plaza Farmers Market to figure out what vehicles the farmers drive. Seriously: “After surveying 19 farmers on my Saturday visit, I found that most of them drove Ford, Isuzu or Chevrolet trucks, packing anywhere between 200 and 2,000 pounds of goods. While some were hanging onto late ’90s models, one proudly sported a new fuel-efficient Dodge Sprinter.”

Kwok then takes out her calculator to figure out carbon dioxide emissions for different fruits and vegetables, using fuel efficiency figures for both wholesale vendors and market farmers. It’s an impressively thorough article, even if Kwok admits that being precise about these things is almost impossible. Which is why counting food miles has become one of the most contentious parts of the local-food debate. As a few readers point out at Salon, miles are an isolated, misleading metric. A Vermont farmer plaintively titles his comment “Aren’t There Better Questions to Ask About Our Food?” He’s worth quoting at length:

What about the old fashioned idea of supporting your local grower who delivers the freshest, tastiest, beautiful and interesting foods. The grower who is preserving scenic farmland and contributing to the local economy at the same time. Perhaps even providing a place for local children to learn about their food up close. Must we drop these considerations in favor of carbon miles? Even if after careful calculation it leads us to the million bland lettuce head farm or that oh so carbon friendly New Zealand Granny Smith apple. It makes debating the number of angels that can fit on the head of a pin seem downright logical.

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