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Take the Pledge to Eat Local

Take a pledge to eat and drink local products October 1–31. Eat only foods produced within a 100- or 150-mile radius of your home, or within the tri-county region, or within California. Decide if you are going to make any exceptions (such as for coffee, tea or spices), but try to stay as local as possible. By taking the pledge, you will be automatically entered to win a basket full of locally-produced goodies.
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Eating Local with Creativity & Zucchini Noodles

 

When Georgianna Wilson committed to the Eat Local Challenge for the month of October,  she didn’t think it was going to be that challenging. She was already signed up for weekly produce boxes through Plow to Porch, a local CSA program, and to top it off, she won one of the local food baskets in the Eat Local Giveaway by CEC and Edible Santa Barbara.

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Krista H. reflects on the Eat Local Challenge

For the fifth year, Edible Santa Barbara along with the Community Environmental Council, the Santa Barbara Certified Farmers Market and the Foodbank of Santa Barbara County sponsored the Eat Local Challenge, which encourages people to take a personal pledge to eat and drink local products for the month of October. The challenge is a great way to encourage people to think about where their food comes from and to perhaps change the way they shop and eat.

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It’s almost time for the Eat Local Challenge

Those of us who live in Santa Barbara know that one of our greatest local treasures is the abundance of fresh produce, meat, and seafood that can be sourced regionally.  However, you might be surprised to find out that while Santa Barbara County is in the top 1% of agricultural producing counties in the U.S., 95% of the produce we eat is imported.  In more extreme cases, the food we eat was sourced locally, shipped overseas for processing and sent back to Santa Barbara to end up on your plate.  Take calamari for example.  

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We challenge you to eat locally this October

When you browse the produce section of a typical grocery store, you'll find that much of the food we eat is not sourced from local farmers, but typically travels from all corners of the world. It takes a lot of energy to produce fertilizers and pesticides, package and process the food, and then transport and store it.  By choosing to eat locally-sourced food you’ll save energy and is a great way to reduce your carbon footprint.

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Our local food system explained, Part 2

As part of Eat Local Month in Santa Barbara, CEC talked with local experts about local food systems. This is the second of two blog posts that explore the Santa Barbara food system, the system's biggest energy impacts, and simple steps you can take to reduce your food footprint.

Read Part 1 →

(Click image for full size version.)
FoodSystem

Our local food system can be simplified into six components seen in the graphic above.1 The food system in the U.S. accounts for around 15% of national energy consumption, so this system must be addressed as a part of our long-term energy strategy.2 Each part of the system has significant energy impacts -- from fertilizing the soil to growing crops, from refrigerating and cooking food to disposing of food scraps. Some of these impacts can be reduced with simple lifestyle choices, and some require larger scale systemic and regulatory changes. In this post, we look at what happens after the food has been grown, processed, packed up and shipped to your community.

 

Retail and Restaurants

11% of energy used in the food system

Much of our food is grown by farmers and then sold to grocery stores, wholesale clubs, and convenient markets for retailing to the public. A big portion ends up with restaurants, caterers, and institutional cafeterias (e.g. schools, prisons, hospitals, and universities). Most of the energy used by retailers is in refrigeration and lighting, and the restaurants use quite a bit in cooking. Both are energy-intensive users of commercial real estate.

Make an impact: Encourage retailers to prioritize energy efficiency.

Restaurants and grocery stores can reduce their impact by using energy efficient lighting and appliances in their retail spaces. They can also work to eliminate landfill waste generated by their operations. There are several utility and government programs designed to help this sector; a good starting point for resources is the voluntary Green Business Program.

 

Home Consumption

31% of energy used in the food system

The consumption of food at home is the largest component of energy use in the food system. From old, sparsely-filled second refrigerators in the garage, to ovens that are fired up to toast a piece of garlic bread, most of the energy consumption in the kitchen is used for refrigeration (40%), cooking (20%), and water heating for dishes (20%).

Make an impact: Recycle your extra refrigerator.

In 2005, 22% of households in the U.S. owned two or more refrigerators. Most households only need one to keep perishable food cold. Watch CEC's e-news for free refrigerator recycling programs. Information on refrigerator recycling →

Make an impact: Buy energy efficient appliances.

Old toasters, microwaves, and other kitchen appliances are much less energy efficient than the newer Energy Star appliances. If you're not sure how your appliances are performing, you can buy a Kill-A-Watt device for $25 to measure how much energy your appliances use. Compare your figures with newer appliances and decide if it's time to upgrade. More information →

Make an impact: Stop pre-rinsing your dishes with hot water.

New dishwashers are quite efficient, and it takes a considerable amount of energy to heat water for pre-rinsing.

 

Disposal: The hidden impact

The majority of our food waste ends up rotting in a landfill and releasing methane gas, a potent greenhouse gas with a global warming potential 25 times that of carbon dioxide. Only about 60% of the food grown and produced by the food system is actually eaten. The rest of the food is wasted by retailers, restaurants and consumers.3 That's a lot of food energy being wasted.

Make an impact: Compost your food scraps.

Composting food waste causes it to decompose aerobically, turning it into a valuable gardening product instead of a potent greenhouse gas. For tips on composting in your backyard, visit lessismore.org. Also, encourage your local government officials to adopt municipal composting as part of its waste disposal services. Information on business curbside composting →

 

A checklist

The food system is large, and analyzing energy use within the system presents complex questions. You can make a positive impact with a few lifestyle adjustments:

  • Buy organic.
  • Buy whole, minimally processed foods.
  • Buy local food.
  • Encourage retailers to prioritize energy efficiency
  • Recycle your extra refrigerator.
  • Buy energy efficient appliances.
  • Stop pre-rinsing your dishes with hot water.
  • Compost your food scraps.

Sharing is powerful too. Tell your friends and neighbors how you're reducing your food footprint.

It's also helpful to encourage your elected officials to make food-energy issues a priority. Subscribe to our Action Alert email list and when it's time to mobilize, we'll let you know.


1Graphic adapted from the original at: http://www.nourishlife.org/teach/food-system-tools/
2Canning, P., Ainsley C., Sonya H., et. al. (2010). Energy Use in the U.S. Food System, ERR-94, U.S. Dept. of Agri., Econ. Res. Serv.
3Hall, K., Guo, J., Chow, C. (2009). The Progressive Increase of Food Waste in America and Its Environmental Impact. PLoS ONE 4 (11): e7940.

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Foodsystem1

Our local food system explained, Part 1

October is Eat Local Month in Santa Barbara, and as part of this month of increased awareness of our local food system, CEC has been talking with the top local food experts in the area. This is the first of two blog posts that will explore the Santa Barbara food system, the system's biggest energy impacts, and simple steps you can take to reduce your food footprint.

Read Part 2 →

(Click image for full size version.)
FoodSystem

Our local food system can be simplified into six components seen in the graphic above.1 The food system in the U.S. accounts for around 15% of national energy consumption, so this system must be addressed as a part of our long-term energy strategy.2 Each part of the system has significant energy impacts -- from fertilizing the soil to growing crops, from refrigerating and cooking food to disposing of food scraps. Some of these impacts can be reduced with simple lifestyle choices, and some require larger scale systemic and regulatory changes.

 

Growing and Harvesting

20% of energy used in the food system

Growing and harvesting is often perceived as one of the largest energy users in the food system, but in actuality, this stage uses about 20% of the total. The energy used in this area powers farm equipment and facilities, produces synthetic fertilizer and pesticides, irrigates crops and dries grains.

Despite only accounting for only 20% of the energy use,, agriculture and ranching emit 83% of food system greenhouse gases. This is primarily because of the climate-changing power of nitrogen (from those fertilizers) and methane (from cows and other livestock).

Make an impact: Buy organic.

Consumers can have some influence on this section of the food system by buying organic. Organic farming does not use synthetic fertilizers or chemical pesticides, and consumes less energy than conventional farming methods. A study comparing conventionally grown crops with organically grown crops showed that organic corn required 31% less fossil fuel inputs than conventional corn, and organic soybeans used 17% less fossil fuel inputs than conventional soybeans.3

 

Processing and Packing

23% of energy used in the food system

Much of the food we eat is processed at a factory, and virtually all of it is packaged in some form before it reaches consumers. Anything you can buy in a can, jar, packet, or bottle is processed in one way or another. Americans continue to eat more and more processed food each year: the amount of energy used to process food in the U.S. has been increasing by an average of 8.3% per year since 1997.

Make an impact: Buy whole, minimally processed foods.

Buying whole, minimally processed foods shrinks your food footprint, as pre-consumer food processing requires 16% of the energy in the food system. For example, an apple pulled straight from a tree requires significantly less processing and packaging than pre-sliced apple slices commonly found in grocery store produce departments.

 

Transporting

15% of energy used in the food system

Transportation of food from the farm, to the factory (in many cases), to the store, to your home consumes 16% of the energy in the food system. Santa Barbara County is in the top 1% of agricultural counties in the US, and yet 95% of the food we eat in Santa Barbara is imported. Local growers produce plenty of food to feed Santa Barbara County residents, yet we still import much of our food, often from thousands of miles away.

Make an impact: Buy local food.

Choosing local food is a good way to maintain a small food footprint. Eating locally reduces "food miles," the distance your food travels to reach your plate, and cuts down on energy use. With so much food available in Santa Barbara, eating a low-impact diet is easy. Join our Eat Local Month Facebook group for tips and tricks on eating locally.

 

Next time, we'll explore the parts of the food system that occur after you purchase food and take it home to eat a meal. Read Part 2 →


1Graphic adapted from the original at: http://www.nourishlife.org/teach/food-system-tools/
2Canning, P., Ainsley C., Sonya H., et. al. (2010). Energy Use in the U.S. Food System, ERR-94, U.S. Dept. of Agri., Econ. Res. Serv.
3Pimentel, D., Hepperly, P., Hanson, J. (2005). Environmental, Energetic, and Economic Comparisons of Organic and Conventional Farming Systems. BioScience, 55(7), 573-582.

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A month of eating (mostly) local

Suppose you had dinner guests whose trip to your table covered thousands of miles and took several weeks. Surely that would represent a special occasion, and you would probably forgive them for being a bit listless and travel weary from their journey. You might even overlook the large energy expenditure and carbon footprint it took to reach you. But what if this situation was repeated every day, for every meal? That would be crazy, right?

Indeed it would be crazy, and yet that is very nearly what happens in the average American household. Only it's not dinner guests that travel great distances, but rather the food itself. The typical meal item originates more than 1,500 miles away and spends weeks or more being processed, packaged, shipped, and stored before ever reaching your plate. Are you willing to forgive listless, travel-weary food that has a large carbon footprint?

My wife Gina and I decided we are not willing, and so for the last few years we've been eating a more local, environmentally-responsible diet. In fact, we just spent the month of October participating in the Eat Local Challenge, with a goal of eating only foods grown or produced within 100 miles of our Goleta home. The following is an accounting of all the food we ate, where it originated, and some reflections on the experience.

Food sources

The ultimate in being a locavore is to walk out into the yard and gather some food just moments before preparing and eating it. We have a productive, healthy garden which provides roughly half of our fruits and vegetables, along with abundant eggs from our happy chickens! From just outside our door we have apples, oranges, tomatoes, garlic, peppers, herbs (rosemary, time, oregano, cilantro), squash, carrots, lemons, figs, strawberries, lettuce, cabbage, beets, chard, and eggs. We also had blueberries harvested in the spring and stored in the freezer (powered by rooftop photovoltaic panels).

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The next best source of local food is the Farmers' Market, and we are fortunate to have good ones every week here on the south coast. During October we patronized those growers with farms within 100 miles. From them we bought almonds, grapes, squash, carrots, lettuce, potatoes, dry beans, onions, broccoli, cauliflower, strawberries, avocados, walnuts, spinach, corn, peppers, and leeks. We also had local free-range beef and chicken, as well as cheese made from the milk of Santa Barbara county dairy cows. We used Santa Ynez honey the entire month instead of sugar, and twice we bought bread made by the Solvang Pie Company using locally-grown wheat.

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We did visit grocery stores a couple times during the month, and in particular, the Isla Vista Food Co-op was a great surrogate when we missed the Farmers' Market. From them we bought locally-grown lettuce, broccoli, and apples, as well as wine and olive oil made in Santa Barbara County.

Exceptions to the rule

I must confess that we had some "cheats" or exceptions to the 100-mile rule. We got milk and yogurt from the Straus Family Creamery, an organic dairy in Sonoma County. They use returnable glass bottles, thus cutting down on wasteful packaging. We allowed ourselves a few other small indulgences with local connections: coffee from Handlebar Coffee Roasters in Santa Barbara, tortillas and chips from La Tolteca, and ice cream from McConnell's. We also made an exception for spices and condiments, although you might think our definition of a condiment was a bit liberal... for example, parmesan cheese and caramel sauce fell in this category!

Reflections

Gina and I choose to eat local for many reasons. We believe the industrial food system is too reliant on toxic chemicals and fossil fuels, so we prefer to support local farmers and ranchers who practice environmentally-responsible agriculture. There is something comforting about buying a piece of fruit directly from the farmer who grew it, knowing that it was picked recently and only a few miles away.

We also found during October that we had significantly less trash because very little of our food had packaging. Our meals didn't come from a box or jar with a lengthy ingredient list; instead we prepared everything from scratch. It took more planning and time, but the end result was worth it. Ironically, our food budget during October was lower than normal, primarily because we eliminated junk calories and processed foods, and we never wasted leftovers. Eating local doesn't need to be more expensive.

Modern society has become disconnected from food in many ways. People don't really know what they are eating and how it got to their table, and yet the negative impacts on health and the environment are profound. Choosing to eat local is a major step in the right direction. It reconnects us with our food, and perhaps most significantly, the food tastes better!

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