Food Miles at the Portland Plan

December 15, 2009

A tonight’s Portland Plan workshop I sat in on a table discussion that turned to food supply.

One participant bemoaned that he went to a local outlet of a national grocery chain and found hazelnuts grown in Turkey and packaged in Thailand – when we know that 70% of the world’s hazelnuts are grown in Oregon!

The reason is that national chains often make national sourcing arrangements – usually to the lowest cost supplier. The result is that your food may travel hundreds if not thousands of miles to get to you.

The counter-example cited by another participant at the table was Burgerville – a regional chain that makes a point of buying local ingredients.

Draw you own conclusions…

One comment

  1. I actually consider food miles a more important measure of food value than whether or not the food item is organically grown. And, I will pay more for items grown locally, especially heirloom crops. I don’t think I’m alone in my preferences, otherwise New Seasons Market wouldn’t be all that successful.

    The conclusion is obvious, locally owned and operated businesses are more responsive to local market demands.

    I also see a definite counter-current reaction to pricing differences too. I think this is reflected in the trend of the responses to the Portland Plan survey questions – where more importance is placed on the affordability of full service grocery stores. But, I wonder if that means that people would prefer less sustainable food if it was less expensive, or if they just wish the sustainable food was more affordable.

    We all make budgeting choices. In my case, I choose to spend less of my income on transportation and more of my income on high-value food. But, I will agree that if I could get the same quality of food for less money, I would probably transfer that investment to buying other locally produced items – like fashion or home goods.

    So, maybe it’s a question of looking at our food distribution systems, beyond the farmer’s market, and adding incentives for full service groceries to purchase locally produced foods – and perhaps requiring them to label the origin in a very obvious way, like New Seasons does.

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