I’ve often considered my role in the process of climate change, both as an individual and in my work in the food industry over the years. I recently learned more about my ecological footprint using the Global Footprint Network’s footprint calculator (http://www.footprintcalculator.org/). The largest contributor to my footprint by far is air travel; my family lives on the East Coast and I travel back about twice a year, putting my flight hours at 24. Other areas of consumption reflect my place in an urban environment: a small, energy-efficient apartment, recycling and composting, using public transportation or walking. While my consumption is below the US average, I know that my relatively modest lifestyle has a measurable environmental impact.
Beyond my personal habits, I’m struggling with the fact that my entire career in food has relied on refrigeration and transportation. In grocery stores as a dairy and frozen buyer, I relied on daily cold shipments from distributors over 100 miles away. Working in distribution, I sent pallets across the country on refrigerated trailers and regularly expedited small parcels by air. I’ve encountered many stunning contradictions working within companies that claim a commitment to sustainability, but rely on inherently unsustainable practices. If a company’s goal is to connect consumers with high-quality, ethically and sustainably produced product, is their mission undercut by the impact of distribution and storage? Ultimately, the pressure to generate profit leads to scaling-up, large distribution networks, and the compromising of purported values. As the climate rises and resources become scarcer, we will increasingly need to look to smaller, community-based models of food distribution and production.