Does Your Food Travel More than You Do?

(jumps onto soapbox)

Pop into your local supermarket or wholesaler tomorrow and you'll find strawberries or tomatoes. But have you thought how they got there? Did you know that most produce grown in the US travels an average of 1,500 miles before it arrives at your shop or supplier?

Shipping our food from around the world has a huge impact on the environment and the health of the planet. Think of all the CO2 produced to fly those strawberries in from Holland. Not only that but did you realise that there is now only a few varieties of strawberries to choose from, not grown for how great they taste, but how well they travel?

If you source your produce locally you'll not only reduce your businesses' carbon footprint, you'll also being supporting local producers, who not only have fresher, tastier food, but also a greater variety too.

Why not go one further and grow what you serve? Raymond Blanc's restaurant La Manoir does just that, growing 90 types of vegetables on his 2 acre site - the gardens supply his kitchens for nearly 8 months of the year!
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  • I think by just being aware of the imprint your restaurant leaves as well as the lineage of the food you serve is a great step towards conscientious cooking. Buying local for a smaller restaurant or a fine dining establishment which can afford to pay the premium for these quality goods is easy...and often required these days with the general public so enthralled with cooking and dining. It is much harder for large corporations. Companies such as fast food restaurants and large chains can hardly succeed in the battle of buying local when they use so much product and have such a rigid corporate hierarchy.

    One of the biggest things MacDonald's did when they opened their first store in Russia was to start farming and sourcing many of the ingredients for their operation locally (locally being a very vague term in this case). They helped bring money into the economy though farming and cattle in addition to their retail stores.

    There have to be lines drawn somewhere in the battle to buy and serve local food. Some people take a zealous pride in being a nearly entirely local operations (or local organic). This shouldn't be shunned but should be taken as it is. The food should be exciting and flavorful whether it is the peak of summer or the dead of winter, but the local restaurant will not have such opulent fare in the dead of winter as the restaurant across town who is flying in the finest "in season" ingredients from the southern hemisphere. It was a sad sight to see our gardens in the winter, mostly bare with braising greens and herbs in the greenhouse. It was also the most beautiful sight to behold when the spring came and the garden was filled with fragrant flowers and produce to use in the kitchen just a short walk (or even sunny stroll) away.

    I don't mean this to be a rant and do appreciate and seek out the interesting menus crafted by chefs who use only the finest ingredients and oftentimes local products. Not all operations are set up to embrace the local food economy. I wish that more restaurants could afford to. In Michael Ruhlman's "The Reach of a Chef" He writes about a restaurant somewhere in the northeast United States (I forget where and don't have the book in front of me) that uses food grown entirely from it's local gardens with local meats and they change the menu daily to use what they have on hand to the greatest effect. I know I always have more confidence and pride in my food when I can tell a guest exactly who grew the produce they are eating and which small farm nearby the lamb came from.
  • Oxford University Press USA have made 'locavore' their Word of the Year 2007 . Let's all become locavores!
  • Hi Phillip, thanks for the recommendation. There is of course a dilemma with suddenly changing to local suppliers - a lot of developing countries rely on supplying their produce to developed countries - the FairTrade ( scheme will help address this, but is there a way to overcome this ethical drawback?
  • Ciao Ascanio!
    The '30-mile menu' concept sounds a great idea - restaurants would by default have some unique dishes, which they could expand on as the seasons change.
    The other advantage to using locally produce is the quality - meat will be better as the animals will have been less stressed by travelling, and vegetables and fruit will have had less handling.
  • Ciao Mark i like you to read this:
    THE OWNER of a restaurant in Marsh Benham has said that restaurateurs would earn more respect from their communities if they sourced food locally.
    Xavier Le-Bellego, who owns The Red House, believes that buying locally produced food to put on the menu cuts his business’ carbon footprint, bolsters the local economy and ensures that his customers are fed fresh ingredients.
    “We need to use produce which reflects the season. It’s no good using strawberries in the winter. And what is the point of buying things that come from miles away and travelling miles when you have the food right on your doorstep,” he said
    Mr Le-Bellego’s turkeys and lambs come from Benham Stud, a farm 300 yards down the road from his restaurant, his beef comes from Highclere, and his pork and chicken is all locally sourced.
    “Only restaurants with a bit of personality can sustain this. Others do not have the demand or the skill to do it,” he said.
    The Red House is on the verge of introducing a “30-mile menu”, which will only use food bought within a 30-mile radius of the restaurant.
    Mr Le-Bellego wants other restaurants to follow suit and said more should be done to support local food producers.
    The avian flu outbreak in Norfolk and the foot-and-mouth scare in Surrey were additional reasons for buying local produce, he added.
  • I'd like to recommend the book "Omnivore's Dilemna" to anyone interested in the true environmental and ethical impact of differing food chains.

    He'll take you from a midwestern corn farm through processing and travel to an intimate albeit disturbing look at the feedlot and finally to the end destination for all that corn. The book also examines true sustainable organic and industrial organic farms, their impact on the land and health and the differences in marketing organic products. Finally the author explores the foraging food chain which involves him finding or hunting his entire meal.

    Ah the rambling again. I'd recommend that book to anyone interested in food or farming and would also ask others to check out their local certified organic farmer's markets on the internet. At my last job there was a local market nearly every day of the week and the farmer's were happy to sell and deliver the quantities we were purchasing. The winter became a more sparse, but warmer menu and time when we adapted to what the farmers were able to grow for us in those times. We were blessed by a location filled with much rain and cold but no snow during the winter.
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