Carbon Footprints and Food

The Hidden Cost of Food: Food’s Carbon Footprint

What is a Carbon Footprint?

What is a Carbon Footprint?

Most of us don’t think about the long, arduous path much of our food takes to make it to the grocery store; I mean, those mangos just appear in the produce aisle, right?

Okay, so no one is that naive, but unless you look at the labels, you probably don’t realize that the wheat in your cereal comes from Canada even though you live in the Midwest–or that your salmon is imported from Chile, even though you live only a few miles away from a local hatchery.

From trawl net to truck to airplane to truck to storefront, a fish can emit a lot of gas before it even gets to your digestive system. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, transportation accounts for a whopping 28% of greenhouse gas emissions–and food transportation is a major part of the industry. A sphincter says what?! This is why the term “carbon footprint” is more and more commonly being applied to food. But what exactly does it mean?

The Definition of “Carbon Footprint

Tim Curry as Hexxus in Ferngully

Tim Curry as Hexxus in Ferngully

In the parlance of our times, “carbon” has become the catch-all label for  greenhouse gases, even though many of them are not carbon-based. “Footprint” is basically just another way of saying impact, only with various anthropomorphized, ecologically-destructive connotations. Put them together and what do you get? Tim Curry! Wait, no, I mean the net greenhouse gas emissions that result from an activity.

Things such as commuting to work and powering your home obviously have a carbon footprint. Burning gas in your car and consuming coal-produced power are clear-cut examples of practices that emit greenhouse gases into the atmosphere–and therefore contribute to climate change (or global warming, as its commonly referred to). However, producing and consuming food also has a carbon footprint, particularly when it’s shipped long-distances. In a globalized economy, this is increasingly common and increasingly becoming a problem. Talking about carbon footprints in relation to food brings to light this hidden cost of food.

Calculate Your Carbon Footprint

Check out this free carbon footprint calculator offered by the Nature Conservancy that can estimate the greenhouse gas emissions from your home energy consumption, use of transportation, food and dietary habits and recycling and waste behavior.

[photocredit: Reinhard Krause/Reuters]

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