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Food Miles: How food transportation causes pollution

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In sustainable communities, ‘Food miles” have become a buzzword. In this post, we will discuss what are food miles, and how they affect your health, wellness, and your wallet in addition to having a huge environmental impact. So let’s start with defining…

What are Food Miles?

Just 100 years back, most if not all of the food used to be grown locally. With the advent of transportation infrastructure, now it is normal to import even perishable items like bananas, and other fruits from other countries. So to define how much distance or miles a food item has traveled to reach its end consumer, we use Food Miles.

Calculating Food miles helps us to give a good idea of the environmental impact of what we eat. It includes getting food to you, but also getting waste foods away from you, and to the landfill!

What Does That Mean?

It is generally thought that most of our fruits, vegetables, milk, etc. come from a 150 km radius. But the reality is quite different. The average distance that food travels in India is somewhere around 1500 km rather than a measly 150kms

It means that it is time to think about where your food has come from and what environmental effects this has had.

Fruit/VegetableOrganized SectorUnorganized Sector
Food Miles list for fruits & vegetables in India (Azadpur Mandi, Delhi)

What are the effects of Food Miles?

20% of the total emissions related to food production come directly from the transportation of food. So Food Miles is a real factor that contributes towards pollution. Think about the distance traveled, then think about how that distance was covered. Was it by Plane? Boat? Road? Transporting food by plane is 50 times more emission-intensive than by sea.

A lot of Emissions

It is normal for food to travel thousands of miles before reaching the end consumer. For example, buying lemons from Chennai (about the Delhi market), coriander from Gwalior, and potatoes from Maharashtra is normal. On average, even in the case of the unorganized sector (leaving apart organized retail), vegetables (tomatoes, eggplants, okra) travel 160-220km on average, while onions travel 410km and potatoes a whopping 1530km. (Source: Here)

Long-distance transportation (called Food Miles) not only decreases the nutritional content (if it has any) but also contributes a lot to food wastage. Everyone is aware of the fact that most ripening is done artificially because there are many supply-chain challenges in shipping ripe harvest. So most farmers harvest unripe produce and ship it. Then when it reaches its destination, ethylene is used to help it ripe artificially (The transparent glue-type material on papaya is ethylene).

Low Nutritional Value

To transport food over long distances, it is a norm to harvest most things that are unripe so that transport is easy. After transporting, the fruits and vegetables are then artificially ripened with the help of chemicals. These chemicals have adverse effects on our health. On the other hand, if you buy locally you will get a lot of flavor and nutritional value.

Food Wastage

A lot of food is wasted while transporting the food over long distances. Some studies show that as much as 40% of the total food is wasted even in the US. Long-distance transportation causes more food to go bad. Hence, by buying locally, we will be decreasing food wastage.

Our Solution

OrganicoHarvest has found a solution to this. We source food only from local farmers. Most of our food (80%) is sourced from a 150km radius while some fruit does travel higher distances (rest assured we try to minimize it). The benefit is that we do NOT use any artificial ripening agent (hence good for your health) and deliver you highly nutritious food at nearly the same prices as non-organic food (prices are only 20-30% higher compared to 300% from others).

So, what can you do?

Buy Local! or buy from OrganicoHarvest where we source everything from local farmers and deliver directly to you. This means supporting local growers. It’s much better for the environment to grow and buy organic, but what if that organic product has come from, say Chile? That’s a long-haul journey for your apples to go! It’s better to go down the road (on a bicycle) and buy from your local farmer, or grower.

Beware though, even some foods that may appear to be from local suppliers, if bought in supermarkets, have probably toured the country between depots before arriving back in the shop.

Why not walk to the local shop or get the bus? This all helps to reduce the “food mileage” effect. Composting packaging, where possible, is another way of reducing the environmental effects of our food. This reduces the amount of waste that needs to be taken to the landfill sites and again helps to cut pollution.

Where can I find out more?

We are working to create a great resource about food miles here. But you can take a look at and here.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the average number of miles food is transported before it reaches the consumer?

In the case of the US, food travels more than 1500 miles (2400 km) before it reaches the consumer. The data for Australia is more or less the same. But for India, food travels an average of 1200 km before it reaches your plate.

What is the carbon footprint of food miles?

A study in China showed that transportation amounts to 19% of the total food system emissions.

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