A little research can go a long way in deciding what to eat

Thanks to a class assignment, I had the opportunity to examine where my food comes from. While a lot of foods don’t list the exact origin (especially processed, packaged foods — good luck with that) most produce lists the country they came from.

In my family, we usually order our produce from Sustainable Produce Urban Delivery (SPUD), a service that delivers fresh, organic food to your door after you order it online. SPUD offers a list of where your produce came from with every receipt, including the approximate total miles your order travelled. When we buy from SPUD, we pick our favourite organic produce (kale, swiss chard, spinach, carrots, lettuce) and most of the produce comes from Alberta or BC.

SPUD comes to my house once a week, and sometimes my family needs produce in between drop-offs, so we will occasionally shop for produce in a grocery store. When I shop in a grocery store, I pick which produce looks the freshest. This produce happens to come from places like Chile or Mexico. SPUD is an online delivery service that bring fresh, organic food to your doorstep.
Photo by: Laura Lushington

After one shopping trip, I got home and examined all the food in the grocery cart and tried to track where each product came from. Overall, I was pretty shocked at my findings.

What I learned

My first surprise was finding that my garlic came from China. I asked myself, how can garlic that travels thousands of miles be cheaper than garlic grown in North America? It turns out that even with the transportation costs, it’s still cheaper than garlic grown here. Since 2003, the amount of garlic imported from China has nearly tripled, while the amount grown in California has dropped by nearly half. This undercuts local farmers and the transportation has an immense negative effect on the environment.

Another surprise was that none of my groceries came from Alberta. While a lot of my produce from SPUD comes from Alberta like carrots and potatoes, none of the food I bought in the grocery store came from my own province.

My third surprise was that most packaged foods only list the country the packaging was sourced from, not the actual food. I was pretty ashamed of myself. My carbon footprint from that grocery trip must have been ridiculous, with garlic from China, grapes from Chile and dates from Mexico.

Joining a community garden or a community supported agriculture initiative are also great ways to get local produce.
Photo by: Laura Lushington
Luckily, there are a few easy things that we can do to reduce our carbon footprint:

Join a CSACommunity supported agriculture involves giving CSA farmers a set fee prior to the start of the growing season. In return, you receive shares in the farm’s bounty (in the form of produce) and you share any risks that are beyond the control of the farmer. To sign up, use a database to search for a farm that has pickup locations easily accessible to you. You can get produce, eggs, meat, etc. depending on what the particular farm offers. 

Buy produce in seasonf – Dine Alberta has an excellent seasonal fresh food guide that makes it easy to buy locally-grown produce.

Read labels – Check to see where you food came from. Try to buy close to home as possible. I’ll be checking every head of garlic from now on!

Join a community garden, or start your own – Calgary has several community gardens, and it’s easy enough to find one close to you. Most gardens require a certain number of volunteer hours which can be as little as one or two hours a week, and in return you get to take home fresh, delicious produce. Want to stick to your backyard? Mount Royal University offers courses on how to grow small yard organic vegetable gardens. The university’s community garden also al-lows you to take some produce home provided you volunteer an hour a week.

Stay tuned for Laura’s response to this class assignment next week!

spikal@cjournal.ca