One of the main aspects of the sustainability of a restaurant is to emphasize the importance of local an seasonal food. Today we hear more and more about food miles; namely about the length of journey between the producer and the consumer. Each and every kilometer increases the carbon footprint of our food. Several American, British and Swedish research address the topic about the average length of journey of consumables: in most cases it is between 2-4000 km-s. In the contrary, the average length of a journey of a locally produced food is approx. 90 km-s. Moreover, when we choose to buy local food, we help creating and saving local jobs, contribute to our food-independency, and protect our own arable land.
Furthermore, if we select locally produced food, we also support the local economy. When we buy directly from the producer, we can not only receive information first hand about our product, but also skip the intermediaries of the commercial chain, and we can save on packaging and transportation as well.
According to an American organization, the Environmental Working Group, when we buy locally produced broccoli, we can reduce its ecological footprint by 20% compared to its transported counterpart. Regarding tomatoes, this rate can be even higher, approx. 25%, and in case of meat, locally produced means reducing its footpint by 1-3%. The emission of the products transported by airplanes are even higher: for instance a salmon that is transported by airplane increases the product-related emissions by nearly 50%. The footprint of an imported cheese – transported by airplane – is about 46% higher than the one produced within the country borders. Moreover, the above mentioned figures come from the United States, a country with a size that is more than ten times bigger than Hungary. So when we speak in terms of „home-made”, in Hungary it means a lot shorter distance than in the USA.
Besides all the above, tropical fruits, coffee, and chocolate for instance come with social considerations as well. When we see the „Fair Trade” logo on a product, at least we know that the producer receives a fair payment for his work.
Food production and the environment
Already back in the sixties, concerns have already been expressed about the negative impacts of the chemicals on our environment for instance by Rachel Carlson, in her powerful book called „Silent Spring”. As of today, we hear about genetically modified products almost daily, as well as about the concerns regarding the effects of the antibiotics used in livestock-breeding, or the fishing practices that send certain fish species almost into extinction.
Therefore it is undeniable that there is a connection between food production and global warming. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), livestock-breeding is responsible for the 18% of the total greenhouse gas emissions, but the World Bank reports that livestock and the related byproducts are accountable for 51% of the world’s total yearly greenhouse emission.
That is why it matters what is on our plate every day. Even with one or two meat-free days now and then, we can do something to make our environment better.
Besides the increase of the world’s population, the ratio of people living in cities also increases, which in many cases means a less healthy lifestyle as well. As of today, the number of people dying each year from diabetes reaches the number of people dying from HIV/AIDS: about 3,2 million. One of the reasons behind this is that the size of portions has largely increased even just over the past 20 years. 20 years ago in the United States there were 500 calories in two slices of salami pizza – today the two slices contain 850 calories. A Ceasar salad then had 390 calories – today one portion of salad has grown to more than twice its original size, and contains 790 calories. The popcorn at the movies has doubled in size also, along with the calorie content (from 270 to 630). We do not realize the growing sizes, because it has been happening rather slowly. But we eat more and more, because that is what we have learnt as a child: we must eat up whatever is on our plate.
What products are better to buy organic from?
Similarly to the GMO foods, contradictory opinions are out there about the advantages of organically produced food as well. Our current project does not intend to cover the dispute about whether the organic products are higher in nutrition than the traditionally grown ones or not. However, it is proven (Foodwatch Report) that the production of certain food products, when the cultivation process uses organic techniques, results in less emissions than the traditionally used cultivation methods.
The amount of chemicals that penetrate the soil and the actual fruit or vegetable when grown in the traditional way are also aspects that are worth taking into account. The Environmental Working Group suggests choosing the organically grown variety of the following vegetables and fruits, since they contain the most chemical derivatives:
The Dirty Dozen: apples, strawberries, grapes, celery, peaches, spinach, sweet bell peppers, nectarines (imported), cucumbers, cherry tomatoes, snap peas (imported), potatoes
(2013: apples, celery sticks, cherry tomatoes, cucumber, grapes, hot peppers, imported nectarines, peaches, potatoes, spinach, strawberries, bell peppers, mangold, zuccini (2012: apples, celery sticks, peaches, strawberries, nectarine, grapes, spinach, lettuce, cucumber, blueberries, potatoes)
The following 15, however, contain less chemical derivatives, therefore – if we only consider our own „chemical intake” – it is less important to buy the organic variety:
The Cleaner Fifteen: avocados, sweet corn, pineapples, cabbage, sweet peas (frozen), onions, asparagus, mangoes, papaya, kiwi, eggplant, grapefruit, cantaloup, cauliflower, sweet potatoes
(2013: asparagus, avocado, cabbage, cantaloupe,corn, eggplant, grapefruit, kiwi, mango, mushrooms, onions, papaya, pineapple, green peas, sweet potatoes; 2012: onions, corn, pineapple, avocado, cabbage, sweet peas, asparagus, mango, eggplant, kiwi, cantaloup, sweet potatoes, grapefruit, watermelon, mushrooms)
(Please do not forget that this list was prepared by an American organization, and different countries could have different results!)
A big THANK YOU goes out to Katalin Hall for the translating the original site!