At the last Harvest Moon Festival in Soldotna, our Local Foods Program hosted a booth, with an interactive component aimed at helping event participants understand the carbon footprint of their food choices. The carbon footprint of a food, or “foodprint,” is the greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions produced throughout its journey from seed to farm, processing to plate, and finally to the landfill or compost bin. At each step along the way, carbon is emitted, with some steps accounting for more than others.
At the Festival, we set up a game with pictures of various foods, like beans, salmon, chicken, vegetables, and cheese, and then asked folks to guess the foodprint of each food. Almost everyone we interacted with was surprised by the drastic differences in the impacts of foods. In general, food accounts for between 10-30% of a household’s carbon footprint, depending on the types of foods that are consumed (plants tend to have a much lower foodprint than animal-derived foods), as well as where they are sourced from (i.e. grown locally or imported).
Buying locally grown or harvested food helps to protect Alaskan lands from residential or commercial sprawl and, if farmed sustainably, protects vital habitats like salmon streams. It also reduces food miles – the distance food travels. Imported food often travels thousands of miles to get to Alaska and has a larger carbon impact than local foods. On average, locally or regionally sourced produce travels about 27 times less distance than conventionally sourced produce – add in the distance to Alaska and this distance is even bigger. Next time you are enjoying fruit mid-winter, take a moment to think about that banana’s journey to your plate.
It’s important to note that, while buying local has many benefits, like supporting resilient communities through increased food security, in some cases, it may not drastically lower GHG emissions. Beef, for example, carries a large carbon footprint regardless of where it’s grown. By learning more about how your food is produced and where it comes from, we can all make more informed, lower-carbon choices about what we eat.
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