Is eating locally better for the environment?

Many of us west-coasters will never forget the empty shelves in the supermarkets over the summer and closed restaurants throughout the fall and winter. The word unsettling is an understatement. The impacts of climate change have become more apparent in British Columbia this year than ever before. Supply chains have been severely impacted by wildfires and excessive rainfall that has flooded roads and delayed deliveries.

Many businesses in the food and beverage sector, including restaurants, grocery stores, and bakeries, have been unable to receive food supplies, ingredients, and equipment needed to remain operational. Since we already source most of our supplies locally, our ingredients supply hasn’t been severely impacted. Still, many businesses are being forced to look at their current suppliers and consider shifting to local options.

Not only does sourcing supplies locally make practical and financial sense for businesses, but it also hugely reduces their impact on the environment and their contribution to climate change. It’s a win-win!

As consumers, eating at local businesses that source local ingredients will also help you reduce your environmental impact. Let’s look at how eating locally can truly make a difference.

eat local to help the environment

1. Reduce CO2 pollution and food miles

By eating locally, you reduce the amount of road or air miles required to get your food from the farm to your plate. Research indicates that over 30% of the food products we consume in Canada are imported. This alone leads to about 3.3 million metric tons of CO2 emissions each year. And that stat doesn’t even consider the road, and air miles travelled within Canada to get food from one side of the country to the other. The farther your food has to travel to get to your plate, the more greenhouse gases that are released into the atmosphere.

By shopping at local food stores and eating locally-sourced ingredients, you reduce the distance the ingredients need to travel, reducing fuel consumption and pollution caused by planes, trucks, trains, and boats. There is also no need to operate large shipping, packing or refrigeration facilities, which themselves generate huge amounts of pollution.

eat locally to reduce plastic waste

2. Less packaging

A huge amount of packaging is required to preserve food when shipping it long distances. Peppers don’t need to be wrapped individually in plastic, but they often are when they come from across the country. Food packaging has a devastating impact on the environment. The manufacturers that create the packaging use a lot of resources like chemicals, water, petroleum, electricity, wood and other fibres that make up the packaging itself. The manufacturing process produces a lot of greenhouse gases, and the wastewater from the plants is full of toxic chemicals that end up in our waterways.

All food packaging eventually becomes waste. While a very small amount of food packaging could be recycled, most of it ends up in landfills or becomes litter. Regardless of whether the packaging makes its way into waterways or landfills, it has a universally negative impact on the environment. Most packaging is not biodegradable but leaches toxic chemicals into the ground and the water. Packaging the ends up in the ocean threatens the lives of both marine and bird species, often being mistaken for food. Additionally, microplastics being consumed by seafood could end up on our plates as well!

By eating locally, there is less harmful packaging needed. You can purchase your bread from a local bakery and take it home in your own reusable bag or a paper bag. You can go to a local food market for fresh vegetables and fruit that are unpackaged. And by eating at restaurants that source their food locally, you can rest assured that no unnecessary packaging was generated as a result.

eat locally for the environment

3. More seasonal produce, meaning more natural production

When you picture your food being grown, you likely picture lush peach trees, with plump orange fruits being picked at the perfect ripeness and delivered straight to the grocery store. Unfortunately, this is probably not the case. After all, peaches don’t grow in Canada all year round. So, where do they come from in the off-season?

There is only a very small window of time when fruits and vegetables are in season. But because of the demand, we have to import a lot of produce from other countries during our off-season. Not only are there issues with food miles, as we mentioned above, but also issues with the quality of the foods. There are different regulations in other countries regarding the use of preservatives and pesticides. Since your food will have to travel farther, preservatives are needed to prevent foods from spoiling before they get to you. Eating local means more organic options and ingesting less harmful chemicals. 

Produce is often picked before it’s actually ripe and then gassed to speed up the ripening process after being harvested. These harmful toxins negatively impact our air quality and pollute our water supply. On top of that, no matter how many measures are taken to prevent the produce from going bad, a lot of it inevitably spoils before being purchased, which generates more waste.

Eating locally means always eating what is in season. Maybe you’ll eat a lot of preserves in the winter and need to save the fresh berries for spring and summer, but you’ll be reducing the negative impact that your food consumption has on the environment. And that’s definitely worth it! Plus, when you enjoy local produce, it will be at peak ripeness and, therefore, the most delicious.

Support businesses that source local

Climate change is directly impacting our food and beverage industries in the form of natural disasters interrupting supply chains. But the same industry is directly contributing to climate change too. We’re no strangers to this problem here in British Columbia, and for the economy to survive and for businesses to continue to operate, we need to support local! Businesses that source local ingredients, like us here at BReD, reduce their impact on the environment and ensure that they can still continue to thrive, even if they cannot import goods from other countries. Support your community, local farmers, and a healthy environment by choosing to eat locally.

Local farms we support

Here are some of the local farms we support here at BReD and how we use their produce on our ever-changing menu:

Helmers

Carrots for the carrot cake and potatoes for tartines

Seed to Culture

Garlic for our hummus, plums for muffins, apples, tomatoes and other vegetables, edible flowers and herbs in the summer

Laughing Crow

Squash, beetroot and onions for tartines, zucchini for cake and tartines, as well as other vegetables

Hares

Blueberries for chia jam which features in muffins and sticky buns