Lesson ideas for ‘Food miles: what’s fair?’
Discuss this food policy issue in the classroom
In ‘Big Picture: Food and Diet’, we considered the issue of food miles. Here are some questions you could ask your class to inspire discussion and some possible responses, as well as more potential solutions to the problem.
Some facts about food miles
- An estimated 1 to 1.5 million livelihoods in sub-Saharan Africa depend on the UK-based food chain.
- £1 million per day in the UK is spent on fruit and vegetables from sub-Saharan Africa.
- Food production and consumption is responsible for 18 per cent of total UK greenhouse gas emissions.
- The average Kenyan is responsible for 0.3 tonnes of CO2 per year. The average Briton is responsible for 10.6 tonnes.
- The energy used, factoring in aeroplane emissions, for Kenyan green beans is 12 times that for UK beans.
1. Can you think of three of the activities included within the ‘food production and consumption’ quoted in bullet point three?
Farming, fishing, fertilisers, pesticides, machinery production, commercial transportation, retail, shopping, preparation of food at home.
2. What factors do you think are responsible for the difference in the amount of CO2 produced by an average Kenyan and an average Briton?
There are several things done by the average British citizen that contribute to the amount of CO2 produced, including road, rail and air travel.
Other factors include: leisure activities (everything from watching TV to visiting leisure centres), cooking, using fridges and freezers, consuming food and drink (and the packaging, transportation and processing that goes along with them), and heating our homes. The average Kenyan does not have access to electricity. Compared to the UK, the proportion of electricity that comes from renewable sources (eg hydropower and geothermal energy) is greater in Kenya.
Potential solution: Lovin’ it local
A printable version of our ‘Feast or famine?’ playing cards can be found in the downloadable resources section at the bottom of this page.
More pros and cons
It’s possible to support local farmers and farmers overseas.
Local produce from named farms and producers might increase consumers’ understanding of how food ends up on our plates.
People would need to get used to eating seasonal food, rather than being able to buy all kinds of produce all year round. Local organic or free-range food can be more expensive than some less local equivalents. Would stocking more of this in shops drive up the prices of food for poorer people?
How ‘local’ is ‘local’? Even if the food is farmed nearby, the farm will probably still use imported feed, seed, pesticides, fertiliser, etc, with the accompanying environmental impact. See the following links:
- Fair miles booklet by IIED and Oxfam.
- Search “supporting local food” on Google and see below to explore some more arguments around this.
- The People’s Supermarket is one example of a project to promote locally sourced and grown products.
How do the carbon footprints of different foodstuffs compare? Use the links below as a starting point to explore the carbon footprint of different foodstuffs, then answer the questions below.
1. How could you change your diet to reduce your individual carbon footprint?
2. What are some of the difficulties in calculating carbon footprints for different foodstuffs? Have a look at the following:
- What’s the carbon footprint of a cheeseburger? See this video and blog.
- ‘Guardian’ news story on the carbon footprint of beef.
- ‘New Scientist’ article on the carbon footprint of food, based on this PDF.
- National Environment Research Council story on why carbon footprints might be more complicated than they appear.
- Feast or famine playing cards [PDF 449KB]