100 Mile Diet

Sharon February 22nd, 2008

So what’s the very best way to reduce your fossil fuel emissions? Do you have to buy an expensive hybrid car? Add a million dollars worth of insulation to your house? Move to a cave?

Nope, believe it or not, most families will save more energy by ceasing to buy supermarket groceries than they will by buying a hybrid car. Most American meals travel thousands of miles before they come to rest on your plate. The beef in your hamburger alone may use up to 5,000 calories of oil before you eat it. And that cow ate enough grain to feed 6 people for a month before it was slaughtered. There’s fuel used in every step - growing the food, harvesting it, transporting it, keeping it cool.

So what can you do, assuming we’re not all going to give up eating? Well, for one thing, you can reduce fossil fuel consumption, reduce carbon emissions and reduce the poisons put in the ground simply by getting all or most of your diet from local food. The shorter a distance food travels to you, the less energy consumed. And food grown locally is fresher, requires fewer chemicals to store and process, less refrigeration, etc…

Starting on October 1, we’ll be eating the 100 Mile diet - only foods grown within 100 miles of our home. We’d love it if you’d join us for a week or a month or longer. We’ll offer recipes, suggestions and local sources here, and here are some more (www.100milediet.org). The 100 mile diet is important for a number of reasons. First of all, local food systems are absolutely urgent. We have no choice but to create millions of new, small farmers, if we don’t want to go hungry as energy costs rise and the climate costs of industrial agriculture rise. For the first time in decades, the world is not growing enough grain to meet the needs of everyone. Learn more about this (www.worldwatch.org) and the danger of world hunger. Climate change is creating droughts and floods, and making it harder for people to feed themselves. If we’re all to have enough to eat in the future, we must build local food and energy systems, which means we all need to find our existing local farmers and support them right now, while cutting our consumption rate.

If you aren’t able to eat an entirely local diet, there are lots of things you can do to reduce the climate and fossil fuel impact of what you eat. The most important things to get locally are meat (preferably grass fed), vegetables (which are mostly water, and transporting water around doesn’t make much sense), and fruits. Spices and grains, which are stored dry are the most efficient things to transport, so if you must get stuff from far away, those are the best choices.

Some ideas:

  • Eat much less meat. A little goes a long way for flavoring, or try vegetarianism.
  • If you must eat meat, buy local and grassfed. For the first time in decades, there isn’t enough grain being grown to meet demands. We need to save it for feeding people.
  • Learn to cook ethnic recipes that center around vegetables, beans and grains
  • Don’t buy processed foods. It really doesn’t take much time to make your own bread or pizza dough, yogurt or tofu. The ones you make will taste much, much better than the originals. Try adding one new thing that you make from scratch per week.
  • Buy local, in-season fruits and vegetables from small farmers. We need as many small farmers as possible going into the future. Even if you have to spend a little more, buy your apples and squash from them.
  • Learn to enjoy seasonal foods. There’s no real reason to eat Strawberries in December or Carrots in May, when there are apples that taste of wine and strawberries in December and the sweetest asparagus imaginable in May.
  • Introduce picky eaters in your family to new foods gradually. Keep introducing them.
  • Learn to put up your own home-grown fruits and vegetables for winter, or to do it with locally grown products.
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