Why does our food travel so far?

There are many reasons why our food travels so far, along with many consequences.

Why does the food we eat travel an average of 1400 miles from field-to-plate? According to Michigan State University Extension, there are many different reasons.

Densely populated areas such as large cities simply cannot acquire enough food locally to feed their populations. For example, all of the food produced in the state of New York would not be able to feed all the people in New York City. Even if the state of New York could feed the Big Apple, where would the rest of the state get its food?

Food also travels long distances meet the consumer demand for out-of season food. There is very little to no food production in northern locales during the winter months, and so these areas must import their food at these times.

Consumers also demand greater food variety such as coffee and bananas that can only be grown in tropical areas. Technology such as refrigerated trucks and food additives for preservation make this demand possible.

More complex reasons for our food travelling great distances have to do with the consolidation of many food-related businesses, such as food distributors and food processors. This means that there are larger but fewer of these businesses. Therefore, producers often have to ship their food products further – sometimes out of state - to get them processed. Larger volumes of products get the best price for processing and at the market.

There are many consequences of increasing long distance food travel. Long distance food trade is said to be efficient because it allows purchase of food from the lowest-cost provider translating to lower costs to the consumer. However, food transportation contributes to global warming because of the huge quantities of fuel used for transportation, and these costs are not translated into the price of food. Trade favoring large volumes often squeezes out the smaller farms and processors. This consolidation of food businesses puts food production and processing into an increasingly smaller group, and reduces competition. 

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