Energy Diet

Going Beyond Food Miles

During recent years, buying local and its ecological benefits has been on the news a lot, as an opportunity to reduce carbon footprints. Jean-Denis (thanks to his strong ability to question media) slowly noticed that reducing carbon footprints by buying local is much more complex than anticipated…

How can we know the real energy consumption for each grocery purchase?

We noticed that, for Québec, locally grown fruits and vegetables may have a biggest carbon footprint when compared to other provenances. Once again, the extremely cold winter weather is a strong problem. For example, we grow tasteful tomatoes in Québec but most of them are grown in greenhouses, heated by non-renewable sources of energy.

Some summer tomatoes sold in supermarkets are naturally locally grown without heaters. Still, some of these tomatoes come from French-developed seeds that are then grown in China before transforming in tasteful Québec tomatoes, as a life-cycle analyst specialist once explained during a conference held in Québec. This process has a major impact and a strong energy consumption.

Thus, which tomato should we choose? How should we make such choices without conducting a serious research on each item of the vegetable alley (we are still facing the tomatoes now!). Among different countries, there have been many attempts to place an indicator on food to facilitate rapid-eco-responsible choices. No system is yet planned for Canada. Though, there are some hypotheses we have asserted to make decisions:

Firstly, we should interact with local producers to understand how they grow their food and the impacts they have on environment. When good eco-responsible local producers are found, we should provision directly from them, as much as possible. During summer, we have very nice initiatives in our city, allowing us to pick up a bio-basket, filled-up with seasonal vegetables, directly from the producer. It’s an easy solution we tried last year and we even discovered new vegetables!

Secondly, when it’s impossible to by from local producers during the cold season, we shouldn’t always stick to the distance (country-to-country) as an indicator of the energy used to grow food. We recently came across a good article Yes. We have no bananas! published by the Mercatus Center of George Mason University. The author is analyzing the greenhouse gas emissions of locally produced versus imported food; helping us developing a deeper understanding of our impacts.

In an effort to get to know and evaluate the real footprint of the food items we buy, we try to gather information and make the best (or better) choices. For now, we banned some items from our basket and are reducing our impacts by going to the grocery when walking our way home after work. An important part of the energy consumed to bring food to an household may come from the way they get to the grocery and then back at their place – we thus always try to go by foot.

Finally, we normally go to the grocery 3 to 5 times a week, buying what we need for next meal and subsequent lunches. Thanks to the three grocery stores on our way back from work, we can buy small quantities and reduce the waste. As a significant part of the food bought in grocery is wasted and ends in the garbage, a good planning is a simple solution to an efficient energy diet. As for the waste, there’s no question to ask to ourselves, unconsumed food is a pure loss, wherever it comes from.

We’d be happy if you have ideas or information to share on food!

Jean-Denis and Catherine


  1. Jennifer
    Los Angeles
    November 11, 2011, 11:11 am

    Interesting. I’ve been trying to buy as much produce as makes sense at my local farmers’ markets in west LA and Santa Monica for a few years now…The organic produce comes from a variety of farms within a 50-mile radius. Perhaps the year-round lovely climate of Southern California negates the negatives associated with the Buy Local philosophy your discussing. Los Angeles is a lot of things, but it’s no Quebec!

  2. Mason Inman
    United States
    November 13, 2011, 1:27 am

    Yes—I wrote about this for National Geographic News a few years ago:

    “Eating Local” Has Little Effect on Warming, Study Says