Food for thought

W hen we sit down to family dinner, we don’t often reflect on the energy required to get the meal to the plate. Here’s a look at how a typical dinner of roast chicken, potatoes and green beans adds up.

How did your food get here? On average, the ingredients in your meal have travelled some 1,200 kilometres from the farm to your table.1 If that food came by plane, rail or truck, it’s relying on energy from fossil fuels.

While this might support the decision to buy local, this choice does not always result in the smallest carbon footprint. That’s because farm-level decisions about how food is grown account for some 83 per cent of the food’s carbon footprint, compared to 11 per cent for transportation and distribution.2

photo: istockphoto.com

Did you drive to the grocery store? The average Canadian drives 3.5 kilometres to the supermarket.3 Assuming you drive the most popular car in Canada, a Honda Civic, you will burn approximately 0.5 litres4 of gasoline for the roundtrip to the store – with fuel costs of $0.65.5

Finally, it’s time to get cooking. Roasting the chicken and boiling your potatoes and beans uses approximately 5.6 kWh of energy, for total energy costs of $1.00. Add in the energy use of your refrigerator (at 0.17 kWh per day) and running a load of dishes (for another 0.5 kWh) and you’re adding $0.61 to your utility bill.6

So how much energy did it take to prepare this typical 600 calorie meal? Leaving aside the considerable energy used to grow the food and transport it to the supermarket, the energy used to drive to and from the supermarket and cook the meal is equivalent to some 22,572 kilojoules or 5,394 calories.7

Our food, transportation and purchasing choices add up. Definitely food for thought.

1,2 David Suzuki Foundation site: www.davidsuzuki.org/what-you-can-do/food-and-our-planet/food-and-climate-change/; 3 2008 Masterindex Report: Checking out the Canadian Grocery Shopping Experience; 4 Natural Resources Canada: http://oee.nrcan.gc.ca/transportation/tools/fuelratings/ratings-results.cfm; 5 Ontario gas prices: www.ontariogasprices.com/prices_nationally.aspx; 6 HydroOne Energy Calculator: www.hydroone.com/MyHome/SaveEnergy/Tools/calc_main.htm. Assumed 90 minutes roasting time (for 3.2 kWh) + 30 minutes range time (for 2.4 kWh); 7 Calculated by converting 0.5 litres of gas for transportation and 6.27 kWh and energy use for the oven, stove, fridge and dishwasher to kilojoules.

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