04.Applying the concept and the verdict
Read the label
Researchers at CERES advise that going for same State or even same country, and for products with fewer ingredients, will cut food miles without headaches. Fresh produce, for example, has to state a place of origin. Of course it's sensible to use what information you do have, but our advice is to be realistic about it – you won't always be able to make an accurate or complete judgement.
Waste not, want not
Manage what you've got – in Australia it's estimated we waste more than $5.3bn worth of food annually. Too much of our food is wasted and it's a source of greenhouse gas emissions when sent to landfill too. Shop wisely, buying only what you think you can realistically use, and try to incorporate leftovers into your repertoire of recipes.
Support businesses that work it out for you
Some businesses cater for people trying to reduce their food miles. There's a eatery in Melbourne called The 100 Mile Café that focuses on sourcing local produce.
- Farmers' markets bring together food producers from the local area, so you don’t have to expend energy looking for them. (See our CHOICE article or check out local Farmers Markets at www.farmersmarkets.org.au.)
- Some food co-operatives and organic home delivery companies strive to source food as locally as possible. Ask them.
- Community Supported Agriculture is where the local grower agrees to supply a group of consumers with a variety of freshly picked organic food for the entire season. For example in Brisbane there's Food Connect and in Perth there's Mimsbrook Farm.
Eat more food in season
By eating seasonally you get the most flavour and nutritional value. Nationally there's huge climatic variation within Australia. You can find out more about your local seasonal availability of foods by contacting your State's Department of Agriculture or the produce markets in your capital city. If you don't have time to research it at this level, simply being aware of price changes will help. When it's in season, produce will come down in price. But remember to combine this with place of origin – for example we get cheap grapes in winter but they come all the way from the US.
Grow some of your own
There are lots of ways to do it. Window pots of herbs and greens, the balcony or the backyard, or access some more space by joining a community garden, where you can meet and learn from other gardeners (Find out more from the Community Gardens Network).
There's been some misunderstanding that food miles were devised to show total environmental impact of food production systems – for that they're a poor indicator. They should be seen as one aspect of the bigger environmental picture.
But it's useful that food miles is generating discussion about issues ranging from pollution, economic diversity and food security to bigger questions about energy and mineral resource depletion, urbanisation, drought and climate change.