The food and drinks industry is the fourth highest energy user in the UK and energy tends to mean burning fossil fuels so it is a big deal.

Buying local not only reduces food miles but will also boost the local economy. Note that when you travel to the shops by car for groceries you are adding to the food miles, which could be reduced by walking or cycling to go to the nearby supermarket.

Food miles definitely are a factor in the energy used but they aren’t everything. It’s the energy involved all the way from field to fork that matters and only one-sixth of that is the transport. The farmers’ market saves energy because it eliminates all of the processing, packaging, and retail segments of the food chain, which use much more energy than the transport.

Highly-processed and packaged foods simply require far more energy than whole foods, regardless of how far they travel. Choosing imported whole foods over local processed foods almost always reduces food system energy use.

Choosing local food is one way to reduce food system energy use; but even more effective ways include:

Replacing animal products with grain and vegetable-based proteins;

Choosing food that was grown in a region well-suited to the crop, using methods that build soil and rely primarily on sunshine for energy and rainfall for water.

Choosing food that is in season, as out of season has to come from halfway round the world or from heated greenhouses.

By combining tactics we can eat well using much less energy than we currently do. An understanding of the food system helps put our various food choices in context.

Following a single, hard-and-fast rule – even a seemingly-obvious one like “always eat local food” – isn’t necessarily the best way.

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