This morning I heard on the radio that the average American will travel something like 500 miles for Thanksgiving. That may seem like a considerable distance, particularly for those people braving the pre-holiday traffic today, but it’s quite likely some of the items on your Thanksgiving menu have traveled even further to reach your table. According to the Worldwatch Institute, an independent research institute that studies environmental issues, American food typically travels between 1,500 and 2,500 miles to reach consumers. That means our food usually has traveled at least the distance from Miami to Maine, but in many cases, your dinner may have journeyed from countries half a world away.
Americans today largely take it for granted that we can eat blackberries and asparagus year round, and that where we live has little bearing on what we eat. In the age of Whole Foods and Fresh Direct, many consumers have prioritized a product’s organic status over its provenance. There are probably many shoppers who have given themselves a pat on the back for buying exclusively organic groceries, but haven’t considered that their shopping list contains items from a different hemisphere. On the other hand, many budget-conscious shoppers have opted to fill their carts with items that have a friendly price-point, even if that means buying potatoes from Peru, or processed goods whose ingredients have clocked tens of thousands of miles collectively. I have certainly been guilty of enjoying an out of season treat, but this Thanksgiving, I am making a concerted effort to keep my food miles low. I’ve realized it’s time to adjust my expectations, and to accept that I shouldn’t expect peaches in January, or sweet peas in October. Eating seasonally (and ideally locally) is an easy step most people can take to make our food system more sustainable, and to reduce our carbon footprint. I hope this Thanksgiving many American families will attempt to eat food that has traveled a shorter distance than themselves.
If you’re a high school student (or the parent of a high school student) interested in learning more about where our food comes from and how to eat more sustainable, check out our Sustainable Summer adventure travel programs.