Math Lessons for Locavores

I posted on this two years ago but it bears repeating. Eating local is about keeping your money in your community and eating better, fresher food. Knowing the people who grow at least some of your food is nice too. It is not about the energy costs of transportation, as this NY Times op-ed notes:

It takes about a tablespoon of diesel fuel to move one pound of freight 3,000 miles by rail; that works out to about 100 calories of energy. If it goes by truck, it’s about 300 calories, still a negligible amount in the overall picture. Overall, transportation accounts for about 14 percent of the total energy consumed by the American food system.


Author: Scott

I am a married father of two. I graduated from Rock Bridge High School and then Mizzou before spending six years in the Washington, D.C. area. We returned to Columbia, Missouri in 2006.

2 thoughts

  1. Do calculations of transportation cost in food account for peripheral costs to transport, like cooling? The act of shipping produce from CA to MO includes not just the fuel, but the energy used in the packing sheds and warehouses at the source end and at the distribution end. Shipping by rail is certainly efficient, but that food only goes to a couple railheads, from which it’s then trucked in ever-less-efficient quantities to various sites throughout the state, all throughout needing to be kept cool. This days-weeks long process consumes more energy than just the fuel.

    I don’t know how that actually quantifies, and whether a wide net of local producers with small walk-in coolers and pickup trucks is more efficient. But I wonder whether such calcuations are taking into account all the possible factors. Certainly the produce sold by folks like me spends far less time in climate-controlled conditions than far-shipped stuff; I just don’t know whether it matters or whether anyone’s accounting for that.

  2. And now, having actually read the article, that concern stands even more. He rags on home fridges as energy-sinks that dwarf shipping, yet doesn’t seem to include the refridgeration involved in food transportation. Large-scale cold storage is probably more efficient than a bunch of home fridges, but he doesn’t seem to be taking it into account at all.

    I was also intrigued to read that modern farming has “liberated tens of millions from backbreaking manual labor” with no hint of the coinciding decline in rural American towns and communities as all those broken-backed souls either left or could no longer earn a living and are now on government support. Sure, most people don’t want to farm anymore, but let’s not kid ourselves about the cost to society and taxpayers of gutting rural America.

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