Consommer local est une nouvelle exigence des consommateurs, qui veulent aussi du bio, de l’équitable et du durable. Mais quel est le vrai coût environnemental de l’alimentation ?

Consumers find motivation to buy and consume locally based on criteria such as proximity of the producer, less processing, employment protection, less transportation, traceability, etc. By choosing local, they think they’re making a “sustainable” move. However, the sustainability of a food product means adding up several factors that impact its overall “environmental” cost.

Environmental cost, a multi-factor index

Consumer preferences change very quickly. Besides taste and price, their selection criteria also focus on other qualitative and ethical factors. They want “all natural” and, by looking to consume local, they worry about the ecological impact.

The food footprint, or environmental cost of a food, is actually derived from two types of costs: production cost and transportation cost.

Production cost, the biggest environmental impact

To produce foodstuffs (vegetables, grains, fruit, etc.), the local producer will use:

  • energy
  • water (irrigation, etc.)
  • machinery (to manage the soil, harvest)
  • inputs to fertilize or repel insects

Analysis of the production itself shows that it represents, on average, 83% of the ecological impact for a food.

What does the cost of transport include?

In addition to production is the transportation cost. It accounts for about 11% of greenhouse gas emissions.

This transportation cost can be broken down into two steps:

  1. the transport of raw materials and intermediate consumption during the production phase (7%)
  2. the transport from the producer to the store (4% of the transportation cost).

This means that transporting an ingredient from its growing location to the point of sale represents “only” 7% of the greenhouse gas emissions caused by this ingredient.

Calculating the food footprint: not as easy as you might think

Calculating the food footprint: not as easy as you might think

Does consuming locally mean eating sustainably? Not always. We have to include the impacts of production and transport from one end of the supply chain to the other in order to calculate the overall impact of a food.

Let’s illustrate this with an example: the famous tomato that is offered year-round in supermarkets.

A Swedish study showed that, if the buying criteria is CO2 impact, it’s better to buy a Spanish tomato in Stockholm than a Swedish or Danish tomato. Nordic tomatoes have a carbon footprint up to 7 times higher than Spanish ones. Producing and transporting a tomato from Spain “costs” 0.8kg of CO2 emissions per kg of tomato compared to the 5.3kg of CO2 per kg for a Danish tomato (or 3.9kg of CO2 for a local Swedish tomato).

If you are in Sweden and eat local blueberries, however, the situation is different: small Swedish blueberries will be the most ethical choice since their carbon footprint is low.

This is where we see that “local” must be associated with the area’s ecosystem, the season and the endemic nature of the ingredient. Otherwise, beware of false friends!

Local and sustainable consumption, a matter of common food sense!

In the end, does consuming locally necessarily mean eco-friendly consumption? Well, the answer is common sense. You’re consuming sustainably if you buy endemic products that are adapted to the local ecosystem and the season. This is what we can consider responsible consumption. Production costs are the main contributor to a recipe’s carbon footprint. And even local ingredients, as we’ve seen, aren’t always sustainable.

So, when Youmeal calculates the environmental impact of recipes, or even complete menus, the software considers the production impact of all of the ingredients that make them up. Some have a lower impact than others, with the software indicating the average based on the proportion of ingredients.

Unless a Swedish consumer only eats Spanish strawberries, the part related to the transportation impact of the ingredient may be marginal when compared to that of the production impact.

All this to say that buying a “local” product doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re also buying a “sustainable” product. Everything depends on the environmental impact of the food’s production, which is sometimes a lot more than what’s imagined.

With the Youmeal software, provide your clients with recipes based on sustainable products and inform them in a clear and supported manner. Ask for a quote that’s customized and adapted to meet your needs.