September 2, 2022

Food Miles


New research shows individual food choices can have an impact on our climate.

Is it just us, or is it hot in here?

If we’re talking about planet Earth, it’s definitely hotter. As you know, the added heat is producing crazy weather like heat waves, massive wildfires, longer droughts, and more hurricanes. It is heartbreaking to see the impacts of these devastating events.

So why are we writing about this in a blog about food? Because science has shown there’s a direct connection between rising temps and what we put in our mouths.

As we produce, process, transport and consume food, all that activity belches out heat-boosting emissions. In fact, one-third of all emissions caused by humans comes from food production. That’s a pretty big carbon footprint. 

So what can we do about it? 

Fortunately, science offers some hope. The latest research points to some individual choices we can make to help reduce those dangerous emissions.

First, we can choose to EAT LOCALLY and SEASONALLY!

Read on for more information about why those choices make a difference.


Local food doesn’t have to travel as far to get to you as food from Australia or even California. Fewer “food miles” equal lower emissions, and that’s good, right?

A new study, published in Nature Foodlooks at emissions throughout the entire global food supply chain.

Unlike previous studies, researchers in this study looked beyond shipping and vehicle emissions.

They factored in emissions from transporting fertilizers, machinery, and animal feed around the world. Like sending Canadian fertilizer and American machinery to Peru to grow crops that then get shipped back to us.

Researchers also included emissions from the refrigeration needed to maintain the “cold chain”. Fresh food must stay cold from the start of the trip to the end if you want it to stay fresh.

Turns out global food miles emissions are higher than we knew. More like 20% of total food-system emissions.


That’s why we said in the beginning, the more locally you eat, the better. The closer your food is to you when it’s harvested, the fewer miles those trucks have to drive.

And that’s in addition to the fewer emissions required to get American-made farm machinery and Canadian fertilizer to your local farmer here in the Mid-Atlantic. Of course, the farmers we work with here at Seasonal Roots also rely on sustainable farming practices that reduce their need for man-made fertilizer. That’s an extra emissions-reducing bonus. 


Another bonus that comes from eating local food has to do with the cold chain. It’s always clanking away in the background.

While fruits and vegetables are responsible for only one-fifth of global food miles, they produce more than one-third of transport emissions. One reason why is their juicy water weight. They weigh a lot compared to foods like dry grains.

But the other big reason is their need for energy-intensive refrigeration throughout their journey.

When fresh food spends less time in transit, that cuts down on refrigeration emissions. Of course, running refrigeration equipment for local transit is much better than the refrigeration required for a trip across the country!


Some of us Veggie Fairies are vegan, some are vegetarian, some are pescetarian (fish “meat” only), and some eat all kinds of meat. So we’ve got every possible opinion on meat.

It’s not news that meat-production is carbon intensive. Ruminants like dairy and beef cows expel methane gas. Oodles of methane gas. According to the EPAcattle produce a quarter of all agricultural emissions.

You also have to convert great swaths of woods and prairies into fields in order to raise livestock and grow their food. When put all together, Nature Food’s study shows that meat is responsible for almost 40% of total food system emissions. That’s more than any other food type by far.

But the news isn’t all bad for meat lovers: Meat’s share of food transport emissions is a mere 4%. Much less than fruits and veggies.

That means the best way for meat eaters to make a difference is to simply eat a little less meat. Maybe cut that 8-ounce steak in half for two steak dinners instead of one. Or substitute a grilled portobello mushroom or a veggie burger for a hamburger now and then. It’s a deliciously and savory switch. 


Rich nations like ours are the ones driving the food-system’s big emissions. We’ve gotten in the habit of enjoying fresh strawberries in December, peas in August, and bananas every day of the week.

People in poorer countries don’t have the luxury of eating food that’s not in season. So even though high income nations are home to only about 12% of the world’s population, we’re responsible for 52% of the international food miles and 46% of the emissions that go with it.

Discouraging? Heck, no. We veggie fairies find this very motivating! Since we’re the ones producing the most emissions, that means we’re the ones whose choices will make the biggest difference.

Lucky for us, Seasonal Roots is part of the solution to reduce emissions that the new study calls for: Move food production closer to population centers. We connect local farmers with local families. It’s easy to make informed choices, too – you know where everything in our online farmers market comes from. It’s all local, with some regional options in the winter. It’s all sustainably produced. And it’s all seasonal.

Carbon Brief asked the new study’s lead author whether eating local is a useful way to combat food emissions. She said, “For consumers, in addition to shifting towards a plant-based diet, eating local seasonal alternatives is ideal, especially among affluent countries.”

Bottom line: Eating locally and seasonally is the most delicious and nutritious strategy for eating our way toward a better future for our planet. Doing the right thing never tasted so good.

About Seasonal Roots

Since 2011, Seasonal Roots’ online farmers market has connected Virginia families with local family farmers who use sustainable, humane practices. Our neighborhood market managers – who believe in living better through scrumptious, healthy eating, being kind to animals, protecting the environment, and spreading joy – home-deliver freshly harvested produce, pastured eggs, grass fed dairy and meat, plus artisan fare. We empower our members to eat better and live better with more nutritious, flavorful food that’s good for us and good for the planet. More info at