My FoodPrint Reduction Experiment

eco.fact: Distance your average item of food travels to your plate: 1,500 miles
Feb 19, 2010 12:25 AM ET

My FoodPrint Reduction Experiment

eco.fact: Distance your average item of food travels to your plate: 1,500 miles (John Hendrickson, Energy use in the U.S. Food System: A Summary of existing research and analysis). 

I took part in the one-week No Impact Experiment and day four's challenge was to eat healthy to lesson our family's "foodprint"--the impact our food has on the environment (packaging waste, distance traveled, amount of resources used to process, etc.) This I knew would be a challenge for us. I purchase organic as often as possible and go to the farmer's market when it's in town--we were even receiving weekly deliveries of mostly local, seasonal fruits and veggies from a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) until my husband got laid in December '08. (Side Note: He's still unemployed, so let me know if you're hiring!)

The good news is, on this particular day, I didn't shop for food (or anything at all), although we had very little in the house. I got creative with the food we already had --eggs, lentils, edamame, frozen veggies (bad, I know) and pasta/rice--and we survived.

I'm sorry to admit (stabbing guilt pangs) that I frequent Trader Joe's and find myself purchasing things like pre-made frozen meatballs, cans of chili, Craig's fave already-made-single serving of Shepard's Pie because I don't do meat-and-potatoes. There are also the cans of salmon and tuna that I can't seem to get away from. After a full day of working, helping my third-grader with homework after school, I (big excuse alert) "have little time to plan". Believe me, I am ridden with guilt from this enormous environmental flaw. I do try to buy in bulk at Costco--but I cringe every time I grab the huge container of organic spinach packed in a plastic container. Or the processed chicken nuggets--guaranteed cage raised--which even my husband and I love to eat on occasion.

The reality is, you don't need a lot of money to eat locally and reduce the packaging waste. Better time management on my part would allow me to make a fast meal in the crockpot. And on our zero budget, we've talked about eating mostly pasta, rice and beans--well it wasn't exactly a discussion... my husband practically shouted, "NO!" We haven't purchased red meat in eons (I don't eat it) and if we ever have to appease my son and husband, it's grass fed, organic. Any chicken (except the nuggets, which we need to be weaned from) is organic, free-range and eggs come from these happier chickens.

Tips to a lower "foodprint":

  • Instead of sugar, use locally harvested honey

  • Purchase ocean-friendly fish

  • Reduce or eliminate meat consumption -- Even going one day without meat can make a difference. U.S. factory farms raise and kill more than nine billion animals annually. These massive operations consume a tremendous amount of raw materials, water, and fossil fuels and produce 500 million tons of waste annually that can pollute our soil, air and water.

  • Purge "processed foods" from your vocabulary and don't let it enter your grocery cart --- especially single-serving packages!! Not only will you help the planet, by reducing packaging waste, your health will benefit. Processed foods can be loaded with chemicals, additives, etc.

  • Say no to heavily packaged foods--this one is hard in our busy lives... but maybe we just need to slow down a bit. By cutting down on packaged foods, I've actually found more money left in my pocket for organic foods. I have to admit, we have room for improvement in this area!

  • Bring your own containers to the restaurant for doggie bags or carry-out

  • Join a CSA.

  • Grow your own garden.

About the Author

Lynn is the founder of and a contributing editor for Just Cause Magazine. She lives in the Chicago suburbs with her husband, son and two mischievous cats. is dedicated to our users. We focus our attention on changing the world through recycling, waste-to-energy and conservation. We reward our users for their sustainable behaviors on our website, through our Greenopolis Tracking Stations and with curbside recycling programs.


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