[permaculture] The eco-diet ... and it's not just about food miles

Saor Stetler sstetler at earthlink.net
Tue Jun 12 10:32:53 EDT 2007

The eco-diet ... and it's not just about food miles

. Focus on distance is too narrow, say researchers
. 'Only 2%' of impact due to transport from farm to shop

James Randerson, science correspondent
Monday June 4, 2007


Consumers need more information about the environmental impact of the food
in their shopping basket if they are to make eco-friendly choices, according
to researchers who have carried out a detailed analysis of the ecological
costs associated with food. They argue that the focus on "food miles" is
missing the bigger picture and may be counter-productive.

Food stores such as Tesco and Marks & Spencer have said that they will label
products that have been transported by air. But according to the
researchers, only around 2% of the environmental impact of food comes from
transporting it from farm to shop. The vast majority of its ecological
footprint comes from food processing, storage, packaging and growing
conditions. So food grown locally could have a considerably bigger footprint
than food flown halfway around the world, and consumers who make their
choices on air miles alone may be doing more environmental harm, according
to the scientists.

"I'm a bit worried about the food miles [debate] because it is educating the
consumer in the wrong way. It is such an insignificant point," said Ruth
Fairchild at the University of Wales Institute in Cardiff. "Those [foods]
could have been produced using pesticides that have travelled all the way
around the world. If you just take food miles, it is the tiny bit on the

A better system, she argues, would be one that considers all environmental
impacts from farm to dinner plate. One option is ecological footprint
analysis, which takes into account the amount of land needed to provide the
resources to produce food, both directly on the farm and indirectly from the
energy that goes into growing, harvesting, processing, packaging and
transporting it. A food's impact is measured in "global hectares", the
notional land area needed to produce it. But she thinks that consumers are
not yet ready for ecological footprint labelling and the science behind it
is not yet watertight.

To help confused consumers, Dr Fairchild and colleague Andrea Collins at
Cardiff University have used the ecological footprint concept to develop a
set of eco-diets designed to minimise the impact of food consumption on the
planet. Sticking to the diets does not mean eating lentils all day, but the
most eco-friendly diet excludes wine, spirits, chocolate, ice cream and most
meat. The study is published in the journal Sustainable Food Consumption.

The diets are based on an analysis of the ecological footprint associated
with the food consumed by the average Cardiff resident in a week. The three
diets are progressively more austere in their ecological footprint, with the
most ascetic allowing only foods with a footprint of less than 0.002 global
hectares per kilogramme. This meant replacing around one in six food items
with less eco-profligate fare which had a similar nutritional makeup . This
diet has a 40% lower ecological footprint than the typical Cardiff diet.

Most meat is pushed out of the super-eco-diet because feeding livestock is
energy intensive. Cheese is also out because of the large amounts of energy
that go into processing it and refrigerating it in storage. The footprint
for wine is just too high, while sprits and chocolate have a per kilogramme
footprint which is around double the cut-off point. Bread, vegetables,
cakes, biscuits, eggs, pork, ham, bacon and milk are all acceptable.

A typical day on the diet

Breakfast: Cereal and milk, tea/coffee (from weekly allowance half as large
as normal diet)


Toast and jam (or marmalade)

Lunch: Avocado and poached egg with toast


Black-eye bean, rocket and pinenut salad

Dinner: Spinach, leek and pinenut risotto with yoghurt.

Fruit salad


Pork cassoulet with mustard, honey and cinnamon, served with green salad.
Sweet pancakes with jam, honey, tahini, chocolate sauce or yoghurt

Drinks/Treats: Two glasses of beer, pack of fruit pastilles, two Jaffa Cakes


One can cola and nine boiled sweets 



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