KEY POINTS:
* Food miles is a way of increasing awareness around food sustainability, freshness and quality
* The reality of food processing and transportation is a complex matter and determining an accurate ‘carbon footprint’ for food can be problematic
* Purchasing locally produced food nevertheless has many socio-economic benefits
* Locally produced ingredients also tend to be fresher and taste better and the less food miles travelled, the cheaper the food usually is

WITH SO MUCH current Australian TV content built around food and cooking shows, it’s no wonder that your customers are becoming increasingly interested in where their food comes from and how it’s prepared.
As time goes on it’s likely that more and more customers will be asking questions about how your ingredients are sourced, whether you use local produce, and how far the food has travelled.
This last query relates to the concept of food miles, which is increasingly being highlighted as a way of increasing awareness around food sustainability, freshness and quality.
Simply put, food miles means how far the food has travelled from its production source to reach the consumer’s plate. The push for greater food miles awareness is being promoted by government and private enterprise alike. For example, Environment Victoria has a page devoted to the subject on its website , which explains that “in wealthy countries like Australia, we have a bad habit of eating food that has been grown on the other side of the world.”
It uses the example of oranges grown in California, which must travel more than 12,000km to reach our shores, pointing out that the act of transporting the produce sends more greenhouse gases into the atmosphere (even when travelling by sea).
The reality of food processing and transportation is, however, a complex matter — due to the sheer number of variables which must be considered in determining an accurate ‘carbon footprint’ for the food you serve. A study by Harvard University in the US cites the counter-intuitive example that for consumers in England, lamb imported all the way from New Zealand actually has a lower carbon footprint than the locally produced variety. In New Zealand, sheep are generally raised on farms run by hydroelectric power — resulting in an energy saving so big that it more than compensates for the energy expended in travelling the 11,000 miles to the UK.
So it’s just not as simple as saying that food which has travelled less food miles to reach you is always a better choice in terms of carbon footprint. However, the same Harvard study points out that food miles are “none the less a valuable metric”.
The reason is because purchasing food that has been produced locally has many important socio-economic benefits. Not only is it good for the local economy, it increases community cohesion — especially in regional centres where food production is a major source of employment.
It also helps perpetuate self-reliance — by keeping our local food industries strong, we have less need to turn to imported product and are therefore less affected by exchange rate fluctuations and supply problems.
So it does make sense for consumers and foodservice professionals alike to be aware of food miles and encourage local purchase where possible. Many consumers seek to make a positive difference through their purchasing decisions — hence demand for locally sourced product is on the rise.
But that’s not the only reason. Food and cooking shows have also made consumers aware of the simple truth that locally produced ingredients are usually fresher and taste better.
And as a foodservice professional, you’ll also find that food which has travelled less food miles tends to be cheaper.
So take the time to find out about how far the ingredients you’re using have travelled to reach you. As the reasons listed above make clear, ingredients with lower food mileage are a better choice for your business!
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