Sailing bananas and flying asparagus
Updated: Jun 12, 2019
- The benefits of cooking in season.
Sometimes it can be easy to forget about the journey food has taken to reach the aisles in the supermarket. However, this journey can have a huge impact on the carbon emissions associated with that tomato, or that basil bush.
To illustrate this, let’s look at some stats! Take the asparagus. Not only does it make your wee smell, but it can be a bit pongy for our climate too. To make it available all year round it’s often flown in all the way from Peru, which gives it a carbon score of about 8.87 kg CO2 eq/kg . To put this in context most vegetables score under 1 kg CO2 eq/kg, apples coming in at 0.36 and onions 0.39. Even tropically grown bananas come in at just 1.30. Why is there such a large discrepancy between foods which have similar numbers of stamps in their passport? Aeroplanes have been reported to emit 50x more greenhouse gases than boats over the same distance. That’s why Paddington’s marmalade sandwiches end up with a far lower footprint than those delicate asparagus stalks.
Okay, so no one has time to research the travel habits of every item of food they eat, so what can we actually do? It’s not as complicated as it sounds, here are a few ideas:
1) A good start is becoming aware of where your food has been grown. Vegetables have to be printed with the country of origin, so next time you’re in the shop have a look, and see where in the world different foods are coming from. You’ll start to notice some trends; tropical fruits will have come far, potatoes might have been grown just up the road.
2) How can you tell what method of transport was used? This can be a bit trickier, a good rule of thumb is thinking about how long the food stays fresh, and how delicate it is. What would you rather have loose at the bottom of your bag, a banana or a handful of tender strawberries? The hardier the plant, the more likely it sailed the seven seas, if it goes off quickly, then it might well have been flown in like a celebrity.
3) Finally, a fantastic way to ensure your dinner hasn’t been in first class watching movies is to buy produce ‘in season’. Here’s a handy chart to see what foods are being grown in the UK right now: https://www.bbcgoodfood.com/seasonal-calendar/all.
Other than having a drastically lower footprint, in season fruit and veg tends to be cheaper (no travel expense!) and more tasty (nothing beats a lettuce that was in a field yesterday morning). Also if you’re struggling to find ideas of what to eat, looking at a seasonality table can be a great form of inspiration. “Ooh cauliflower and celeriac are in season together? A rich thick winter soup for dinner oh yes I think so yum yum”.
 Heller, M. C. and Keoleian, G. A. (2015), Greenhouse Gas Emission Estimates of U.S. Dietary Choices and Food Loss. Journal of Industrial Ecology, 19: 391-401. doi:10.1111/jiec.12174