Sunday, July 26, 2009

Misleading metrics

It's so annoying to hear certain facts cited over and over than have little or no meaning. For instance, this figure of 1,200 food miles that I keep hearing about:

Barbera and his family have picked their own fresh produce at Larriland Farm for over four years. After realizing it takes over 1,200 miles for produce to travel to its destination, Barbera began searching for local fresh produce in the area. Four years ago, he began a business relationship with the Moores from Larriland Farm in Woodbine. “Now, our customers have become accustomed to eating local produce during the season and are beginning to ask us when we will have the product incorporated into our menu.”

It means absolutely nothing to say that a piece of food traveled X miles to get to you, because it traveled with hundreds or thousands of other similar pieces of food. A much more useful figure of travel would be miles per calorie. For instance, tally up all the calories in a tractor trailer load of blueberries that come from 1,200 miles away (and the return trip if the truck goes back home empty), and compare that ratio of miles to calories to the same ratio of food coming out of Larriland or some other local farm. That statistic would be meaningful, a simple calculation of food miles is completely useless.

By the way, I will be selling locally ripened bananas if anyone is interested.


JessieX said...

Oh, that last line made laugh. And out loud. You rock. Hey, that's a brilliant you brought up: miles per calorie calculations rather than the flat data of food traveling X miles. Did you make that up yourself? Brilliant. If not, thanks for sharing.

While we're at it, how 'bout miles/calorie plus miles/nutrients delivered.

So if a box of Oreos have to travel 1200 miles, that should be considered evil and taxed at an Evil Rate of Food Delivery. (Yeah, taxes.) And if Brazil nuts travel 1200 miles but deliver fantastic nutrients and happy calories, then that'd be a whole different perspective on the convo.

To bed: 11:55 pm.

Hope this makes sense in the morning.

JessieX said...

Typos. Errors. Omitted words. Oh my. To bed. To bed.

Eludius said...

On our way back from Ocean City a produce stand advertised "Local Produce". We stopped and as I was browsing I noticed some pineapples. I asked the lady, "Where did you grow the pineapples?" "Oh, well that's not actually local." duh.

Freemarket said...

I saw a road sign in Southern Maryland that advertised "lively crabs". That struck me as a strange way to sell crabs.

Better than "personable crabs" or "lethargic crabs" I suppose...

Bob O said...

I though crabs were just...crabby?

Nice post, and let me point out that no half-decent business owner ever let's a truck return anywhere empty.

Thought you might find this interesting: a new study, just out today, finds there is no difference in nutritional value between conventionally grown produce and organically grown produce:

Also, you could calculate how many calories it takes to move a certain number of calories per mile...that might be interesting....