Sunday, June 3, 2012

how much is that strawberry in the window?

I've had an epiphany, and it involves strawberries.

A dear foodie friend and lending-library-compatriot gave me Barbara Kingsolver's "Animal, Vegetable, Miracle," and I am a forever changed foodie.  Kingsolver writes about her year of eating locally, consuming only vegetables, fruit, meat, and dairy products that were created either in her garden or produced in the garden, dairy, or chicken farm of a neighbor. There were notable exceptions - coffee, for instance, as well as flour to make their own bread - but other than that, the family was locavore all the way.  Throughout the book, Kingsolver, her daughter, and her husband make compelling arguments about the economic, health, and environmental benefits of eating locally, and the arguments were still rattling around my brain when I was looking for fruit in my local Whole Foods. 

"Organic!" the label stated, all the way from... California?  Really, that's where my neighborhood Whole Foods gets its strawberries? I looked around, seeing the majority of produce from Mexico, California, Florida, and North Carolina, and I felt my epiphany arriving in slow waves of realization.  Somewhere in the further reaches of my skull, I had to have realized that not all food was in its prime growing season all the time, but seeing all the organic, Californian produce made me realize that I must be putting quite a bit of strain on the ozone with my globavore buying spree. The synapses in my brain were sparking, and I wondered... how much does it actually cost the environment to send strawberries from California to my home market?

A nifty site,, helped me out with the question. I picked Salinas, CA, as lots of strawberries come from that area (it's on the southwestern coast of California, a hotspot for strawberry growing).  After a little research, it seems that a freight truck, on average, gets 6 miles for highway and city driving. Into the calculator those numbers went, linked with the starting and ending points... and we get 13, 821 pounds of greenhouse gasses belched in to the environment with one truck trip.  This doesn't even take into account that the truck is refrigerated, which spits yet more carbon dioxide into the air, or the fact that strawberries are held in a large, refrigerated warehouse for up to 24 hours before they're shipped (yet more noxious gasses offered into the universe).  If we calculate, then, the strawberries at my farmer's market, which were from Lawrenceville, NJ, and keep the truck the same (for variable stability), then we add 162 pounds of greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere. That, of course, does not take into account that the vehicle used for transport by our local farmers was significantly smaller, gets better and more efficient gas mileage, and probably used coolers instead of a refrigerated vehicle to get the strawberries to market.

13, 821 pounds of greenhouse gas for my California strawberries, and 162 pounds for the Lawrenceville ones.   The trip from Lawrenceville is the obvious carbon footprint conscious choice, costing the environment approximately 83 times LESS pounds of greenhouse gas, or about 0.02% of the carbon emission of the sly California strawberry.  

0.02% of the carbon emission.  Shock waves were now coursing fully through my body. I had no idea my penchant for fruit was gassing up the ozone, that I had a little extra responsibility in the hot-as-hell, 90 degree May weekend, followed by the cool June 65 degree afternoon of global warming.

And where do I go from here? I'd like to promise that I'll never be a globavore again, but I know that's a promise I'll break when I drink my coffee (grown in warmer climates halfway around the world) in about 30 minutes. I'm not one for grand pronouncements or extreme action, so the most sensible plan I've lit upon is to try to eat as much local produce as I can: the farmers market today was awash in garlics, onions, lettuce greens, kale, and some iridescent Swiss Chard that I'd almost rather admire than cook. In addition to the bounteous local produce, I can eat as much locally grown, pasture-fed meat and dairy as possible, and start reducing the very large footprint that I've already carved into the earth.  I'm repentant, excited, and vaguely in awe of the interconnectivity of life, in that my local strawberry binge will do a very small part of keeping the earth a happier, healthier place.


  1. Hi Carly! It's quite shocking isn't it? Thanks so much for the reminder to try and go local as much as possible ;) Have you thought about possibly growing your own veggies?


    1. Thanks Antoni! It's great to hear from you!

      Growing vegetables is my next project - last summer, I was fairly successful with herbs but slightly above utter failure with my vegetables. I am an optimist, however :) And I'll take any tips you've got on good veggie production!

      All the best,

  2. Eating locally is a lot more complicated than people think. In the case of strawberries, the choice is clear, because we can grow strawberries locally. Especially if the farm isn't using pesticide (I never say "organic" anymore because that's a complicated label).

    Easy choices are hard to come by because our food system is so complicated. There are so many decisions we have to make: local or not, organic or not, fair labor or not. I've found that the best practice is really to get to know your farmers -- to go to farmer's markets, learn how they grow their vegetables and fruits and to be an active, knowledgeable participant -- just as you were when you were figuring all of this out.

    1. Food is such a complex issue, and so many factors go into both the product and our decision on what to buy. It's definitely something to continue discussing and exploring!

  3. Heya, my darling little matzo ball in fine, clear consommé ;) I'm glad lending you that book has given you a jump start. I agree, Farmers Markets are the way to go, and I'll start me search for some Delaware ones today. Hugs and Kisses and Really, Really High Notes.

    1. Hugs and kisses and high notes right back! I miss you and can't wait for you to venture back to Philly! Good luck on finding Delawenian (?) farmers markets!