Update On Cooking For Climate Change

My post cooking for climate change needs freshening here as sustainability’s body of knowledge keeps growing. As per Michael Specter’s well-researched piece in The New Yorker, it turns out that being a locavore — eating just things grown close to home — does not necessarily reduce our carbon footprint.

Come again? How could two Oregonians (my husband Thor and I) possibly drink wine from Australia and create a smaller carbon footprint than if we drank pear brandy from Hood River, just one hour up the Columbia Gorge?

The Australian wine may have been shipped by sea, which shipping would use one-sixtieth the fuel that flying it in would use. Its grapes may have been grown without petroleum-based fertilizer, and harvested and processed with low-energy methods. If the pear trees in Hood River had been grown out of season in a heated greenhouse, sprayed and fertilized to the nth degree and watered with water pumped uphill– then the pear brandy’s carbon footprint to us sixty miles away in Portland might be holistically bigger than the wine from Australia.

Holistic is the key word. Our culture trains us to think in compartments, not in a unified whole. But sustainability is always about the interdependent whole: everything is related to everything else.

A last note about food in general — while I enjoy good meals as much as the next person, I don’t think we should lean on it as heavily as we do in our culture for entertainment. If we invested less of our time and money on food and spent more time using our bodies for honest physical work and transportation, we’d be much stronger both financially and physically.


5 Responses to “Update On Cooking For Climate Change”

  1. 1 Dr. Vino March 14, 2008 at 8:18 pm

    Hi –

    Miles do matter it’s just not that all miles are created equal. In your case, the long sea journey of a wine from Australia would have a higher CO2e number than your local wine. Going local is almost always a better option from a CO2e perspective.

    You can see more about my research (cited in the NYer story) here:


  2. 2 aspirantlocavore March 19, 2008 at 1:43 am

    i totally agree with you, Alison..
    local eating cannot be seen as the blanket solution to everything.
    we need to be THINKING consumers.
    that’s why we maybe need to find out about our food, where it’s come from, who produced it and how. that way many of the sub-issues will become apparent and it will become obvious which food choice to make.

    we need to be careful not to consider only food miles when making food choices. we need to look at other sustainability factors too. the holistic approach. like your example where the product with less food miles is actually sprayed with chemicals…

    it’s about balance. i think that when we get overly fanatical about one thing is when we start to create imbalances. like the pro-organic crowd. i am for organics as much as the next person, but i get worried when i see people reaching for organic products that have been grown on another continent.
    we need to think on the broadest scale we can to make informed choices.
    thanks for the cool post 😉

  3. 3 lombardini March 22, 2008 at 2:50 pm

    Yes, it is not easy making sense of what constitutes a sustainable diet. For instance the report Environmental Impacts of Food Production and Consumption (see reference below) suggests that there may be trade-offs between reducing the greenhouse-gas emissions related to food production and improving animal welfare. My solution so far is to consume very little animal products and, when necessary, give priority to animal welfare.
    I am not sure I agree with you, that we should put less stress on food for entertainment. As an Italian, over the years I have learned to appreciate the social dimension of sitting together with friends to eat a good meal.

    By the way, I like your blog too, I have put it in my blogroll at http://ecohappy.wordpress.com/

    Best wishes


    Foster, C, Green K., Bleda M., Dewik, P., Evans, B., Flynn, A., Mylan, J. (2006) Environmental Impacts of Food Production and Consumption: A Report to the Department of Food and Rural Affairs. Manchester Business School, Defra, London. Available at http://www.defra.gov.uk/science/project_data/DocumentLibrary/EV02007/EV02007_4601_FRP.pdf
    (viewed 22 March 2008)

  4. 4 alison13 March 22, 2008 at 6:46 pm

    I really appreciate what you wrote. Concerning food as entertainment, my sense is that Americans emphasize quantity (as in too much food) while Italians emphasize quality (as in fresh, well-prepared food). I like the latter approach.

  5. 5 aspirantlocavore March 23, 2008 at 2:10 am

    i agree re the food as entertainment debate. i think that food can, and should, be central to gatherings of family and friends. but not in a tons-of-chips-and-sweets-and-snacks kind of way. in a everyone-sitting-down-around-a-table-sharing-a-wholesome-meal way. making food the focus of your gathering means that people are taking time to cook and eat. and that, to me, means that people are valuing what they are putting into their bodies, rather than just stuffing themselves with junk.

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