I find that there is a lot of confusion out there to what does it mean to eat sustainably. For some people it means going organic. Going organic is a good step towards eating sustainably since it does support a environmental sensitive approach to farming that seeks to protect and improve the soil and the land. But eating sustainably is not just eating food that was grown or raised in a responsible manner there is also the concepts of embodied energy and food miles to consider.
Embodied energy in the case of food is the energy that was put into preparing the seed bed, planting the seed, any artificial fertilizer or pesticides that were used, harvest and finally transportation and packing of the food items to be purchased in the store. All of those processes use energy in some way or another. Here in the western world that energy usually comes from fossil fuel such as oil and it derivatives like diesel and gasoline. In the intensive agriculture system found here in American there can be upwards of 10 calories of fossil fuel energy contained in 1 calorie of food energy. With fossil fuels being a non renewable and therefor unsustainable into the future and food that takes large amounts of fossil fuels to create and ship is not sustainable.
The concept of food miles ties directly into embodied energy but focuses exclusively on the distance that food will travel from farm to table. On average food in America will travel up to thousand miles from farm to table on a variety of of trucks, trains and planes. The large distance that most food travels gives even food raised organically poor marks in sustainability. One way that some people have gotten around this is becoming a locavore. A locavore is someone that eats only locally grown food from some sort of fixed radius whenever possible. Typical distances for most locavores can be anywhere from 50-200 miles depending on your location. Areas that produce more variety of crops in small areas can have smaller food radius while people that live in the Great Plains or other rural areas might have harder time with it. Being a locavore can limit you on variety unless you live in a ideal climate for growing many types of crops.
Being a locavore isn't for everyone since it would take out some of peoples favorite foods like green salads in winter, and every banana from here to Florida would be off limits. I know for me being a locavore would be incredible tough since I do love fruits like pineapple, oranges, and those would defiantly not fall into this potential locavores radius.
It essentially boils down to the fact that the current mass production of food pioneered by industrial nations like the US will not work for the future. It takes to much energy in the form of fossil fuels to make this type of food sustainable and it will eventually fail. The only hope for sustainable food production into the future is food that is organically grown and a local as possible. That is not to say you can't enjoy those oranges and pineapples I know I will. But we must keep in mind the potential damage that growing and shipping that food has caused. If you can try to source out organic sources of your food and always support the local growers by going to local farmers market and co-ops. If you live in a rural area without access to farmers markets and you still want to eat sustainably then the time has come for you to plant a garden and learn about growing your own food.
Hello my name is Josh Larson and I am the creator of the Green Living Library. Here on the blog you will find updates to content found in the Green Living Library as well as stories from those living the sustainable life already.