Food Miles in Australia

CERES have just released a study of Food Miles in Melbourne.

The Centre for Education and Research in Environmental Strategies (CERES) is an urban oasis on the banks of the Merri Creek, 5km North of Melbourne CBD in Victoria, Australia. Over the last 30 years the local community has transformed the 4 hectare landfill site into a thriving community environment park, which encompasses a wide range of enterprises.

(Extracts below are on behalf of the authors, with their permission)

Here are some quotes from the Press Release:

“Food Miles in Australia: A Preliminary study of Melbourne, Victoria” researched and written by Asha Bee Abraham and Sophie Gaballa estimates the distances travelled for food items found in a typical Melburnian's shopping basket and the resulting greenhouse emissions from this transportation.

CERES Chairperson Robert Larocca said that the community understands the link between greenhouse gas emissions and personal transport and energy use, but is only now coming to understand the amount of emissions that result from the production of our food.

The study aims to open discourse in Australia about the sustainability of our centralised food systems and food production and take a proactive stance on forecasting future emissions. Co-author of the study; Sophie Gaballa said “With the current urgency required to respond to climate change and peak oil challenges, the study highlights the need for Australia to respond accurately to the role our current food system plays within these issues.”

“The study revealed that food items like oranges, sausages, tea, baked beans etc with ingredients sourced from overseas have seen more of the world than most people. In fact, the report estimates that the total distance travelled by 29 of our most common food items is 70,803 km—that's nearly two times the distance around the Earth!

“Calculating road transport alone, our shopping basket has still travelled 21,073 km, almost the whole way around Australia's coastline. The resulting greenhouse gas emissions estimate for all food transporting trucks carrying these 25 items on any given day is the equivalent of 4,247 cars driving for a whole year! And that's just for one shopping basket of 25 items.

“Taking into consideration how far our food travels is only part of the Food Miles story. To further assess the environmental impact of food items you need to also look at how they are transported, processed and packaged to gain a more complete picture of the energy footprint of food systems,” Ms Gaballa concluded. The research was sponsored by the Finkel Foundation with the aim to develop a food education program that will inform and empower primary and secondary students through their food choices.


Below are two tables of results from the study. The figurs represent the food miles (kilometres!) and greenhouse gas emissions (for road transportation) associated with a typical basket of food purchased in a Melbourne supermarket.

[1 km = 0.62 miles]

Table 1: Food Kilometres and Emissions Estimates for Fruit and Vegetable Food Items

Table 5: Summary of Results for Food Categories of Food Basket Items

Thanks, this is pretty interesting reading.

You naturally have to make a slew of assumptions in a study of this sort, but some of them just seem a bit off to me. For example, tomatoes look bad because they come from interstate for half the year, ignoring the fact that far fewer fresh tomatoes are actually consumed during that period (because they tend to be more expensive).
Unweighted averages are also used elsewhere when it would be easy to make an intuitive better that nothing guesstimate. Another example - the potato chip company wouldn’t say where they source their potatoes from, so the pre-factory distance was assumed to be zero. Not really much point in calculating the distances to two decimal places when you’re fudging numbers like that. I’m nitpicking though…

I do wonder what the numbers would be for a more typical food basket that I see people buying (i.e. one that contains more processed foods) ? And I’d wager that the energy footprint of our food is actually getting worse – more and more shelf space at the supermarket seems to be devoted to increasingly processed foods these days - a good reason to give this issue a lot more attention.


There are some very serious people who disagree completely about the food-mile concept.

Why do you say these guys are wrong?

I don;t understand those guys - they are objecting to locally grown food as if it is some kind of sacrifice. Sure, if there is nobody around where you live that knows how to grow vegetables or raise livestock then you have no choice but to depend on other countries for your food. Or, if you eat Mcnuggets you won't be able to tell the difference of how the "chickens" were raised.

But, I personally find the tomatoes and other products i can get at my locally-grown farmers market to have much better flavor than the store bought stuff (which often has no flavor). You can even get tomatoes out of season (hot house) at the farmers market but they aren't as good.

So for me, it is about quality as well as being more locally self-sufficient and secure.


The idea is that if you grow your food locally, you actually use significantly more energy/resources.

Plus that it makes you poorer.

I haven't seen any compelling proof of that, but I will not pass judgment on that aspect.

My point was that I eat better food by eating locally grown/raised food and I get to know the farmers and learn from them which is an added benefit. There are many meanings of being "poorer".

Well, the kind of poor we talk about here is the 'less money' kind of poor.

I see. Around here, we include happiness, friendship, education, security and health etc as important things you can be poor in as well.

Fair enough. But how about: not enough to eat?

You cannot expect the world to localize and still have enough to eat. That is a very unrealistic assumption.

So yes, I agree it is important to know your neighbor, but I would suggest it is slightly more important to eat.

As a token, be it incomplete, of proof: all present day localized societies are dirt poor.

At least, that's how we around here think about it.

Fair enough. But how about: not enough to eat?

That would be covered under "health" -LOL!

all present day localized societies are dirt poor.

Yes, this the the key -energy/climate cataclysm. Present day energy conditions are not like they were 100 years ago and beyond and present day conditions are about to undergo accelerating change. It's a matter of what systems are most robust under these changing conditions. Fortunately for me, the more robust arrangement of reasonably scaled systems (locally scaled in terms of just about everything - food, goods, retail, education, governance etc) yields what I consider a better quality of life as well due to what I value.

Yeah - add me to the list of people who think trying to stop trade in food is basically a bad idea (mitigated only by the fact that there is no chance whatsoever of it being adopted at scale, so if a few folks want to do it, it's harmless enough).

Who is trying to stop trade in food ?

I guess I can come out and say I have never understood relocalization either.

I think most people have very little clue how much more efficient mass production methods are. It's cheaper because it's more efficient. Doing things locally will be less efficient and more expensive. The only advantage of local production would be redundancy, but this is a cost people are unlikely to want to pay for.

Specialization and trade arise naturally from economies of scale. Let's say you have Village A and B, and both are capable of pots and baskets. It becomes more efficient for Village A to produce only pots, and B to produce baskets, and then trade.

We have developed that over thousands of years, it's now impossible for it to be unwound to any meaningful level.

I guess I can come out and say I have never understood relocalization either.

It's definately one of those things that some people don't get at all. Some people put *everything* on the cheapest price (and typically, larger consumption) and don't consider any other factors. These people will never understand why I would eat a burger at a local restaurant while they eat more for less at McDonalds. They won't understand why I enjoy locally grown airloom tomoatoes and fresh herbs grown by me while they eat at McDonalds for cheaper. I could go on about how some don't understand why I prefer smaller, local schools rather than more 'efficient' mega-schools, or mega-stores, mega-supermarkets because I like to know my kid's teachers, the shopkeepers and butchers. It makes me feel better. And some can never understand that.

So basically it's a lifestyle choice. I can understand that, I just haven't seen it expressed like that. I got the impression there was more to it.

What more is there than lifestyle choice ?

The tricky part comes in when people who have made the poor choices begin to suffer the consequences, what burden will be forced onto those that have made wise choices.

Maybe "lifestyle choice" was the wrong expression. What I meant it that some people buy designer clothes because it make them feel better, i.e. it's an expression of personal freedom of little consequence.

However you are now apparently contradicting yourself, by saying it's also about sustainability. I would say that is a lot more than just "feeling good".

There is no contradiction. It is about both.

Just like I can decide not to smoke cigarettes and stay in shape because it makes me feel good. If you elect to smoke and be a couch potato, eventually you will suffer the consequences.

Everybody want to 'feel good' I think. It's about taste to some extent and some other thing that is harder to describe.

The taste aspect is simple - the locally grown vegetables and meats and dairy have better flavor. My local diner makes better hamburgers and omletts than McDonalds. Some people may not have a better choice than McDonalds or they may not care as long as it is cheaper and they get more.

Another aspect of feeling good is as I said, harder to describe. It has more to do with a sense of accomplishment, self sufficiency, security, and acknowledgement of the future.

Well you confuse me there because smokers say they smoke because it "makes them feel good". To be honest, introducing subjective judgements about taste and longevity is muddying the water and confusing the real issue.

Presumably, if local produce was less sustainable, you would not "feel good" about it. The fundamental point is that local production is considered more sustainable. All the other stuff you mention is window dressing designed to "sell" sustainability.

That's just it, and why the public process can be so confusing as well - people value different things on a whole range of issues. If this isn;t realized, then the whole discussion becomes muddied.

As to sustainability, some value the future (why I do not know, but I do) and therefore care about sustainability and think it's generally a good thing, while others put less value on future conditions and therefore are at least neutral on sustainability.

Those guys are serious alright: seriously confused. Or perhaps this is just another exercise in deliberate obfuscation in defense of the gods of economics. (Hint: when all the comments include epithets like "green zombies" and "moron" without any further explanation, you know you're dealing with a very opinionated bunch, not reasoned scientific discourse.)

Let's examine the three reasons given for the "absurdity" of relocalization:

It doesn't work. The total energy used for transport, say of food products, is a small percentage of the total energy used in the total production process. The energy transportation budget is generally smaller than efficiency gains from scale or from optimizing location. For example, a wheat farm in Arizona on 50 acres is going to use a lot more energy (and water, and fertilizer, and manpower) than a wheat farm on a thousand acres in North Dakota.

Localization isn't just about the energy cost of food. It's also about being able to get food at all, particularly well after the peak, when you'd be happy to get anything to eat regardless of its energy inputs. But these are clearly True Believers in economics, so they wouldn't buy the premise of the non-availability of food due to peak oil in the first place, which makes their perspective seem rational. For them, peak oil is a non-issue, and globalization will go on forever, and it's always and only about the cost of production. Thus the completely nonsensical idea that someone would try to grow a wheat farm in Arizona, which no self-respecting Arizonan farmer would do.

Localization doesn't mean that everybody tries to do everything--that would be an idiotic reading (or perhaps a deliberate misreading) of the endeavor. In fact, it means trying to make do with what each locality can best produce, eating local foodstuffs in season, etc. In that sense, it's no different than what was typical of daily life only 50 years ago.

It leads to poverty. Our modern society, our lifestyles, our lifespans all are a result of the fantastic increases in efficiency we have reaped from the division of labor. A push to localize all production reverses the division of labor. Many products, such as semiconductors, become outright impossible on a local scale.

The first two statements are patent falsehoods, and the third is a canard (this is the first time I've seen localization and semiconductors used in the same context, for obvious reasons...nobody's trying to relocalize them). It would be far more accurate to say that our modern society, our lifestyles, and our lifespans all are a result of fantastically cheap energy than of the division of labor. And localization (again, nobody is talking about relocalizing "all production") does not "reverse the division of labor" in the slightest--it changes the location. Again, this looks like a deliberate misread to me. If it were about division of labor then it would be called "reunification" or something, not relocalization.

It leads to starvation. It is hard for us to imagine famine in the wealthy nations of the world. Crop failures in one part of the world are replaced with crops from other parts of the world. But as recently as the 19th century, France, then the wealthiest nation on earth but reliant on local agriculture, experienced frequent crop failures and outright starvation.

Actually, quite the opposite. When the loss of energy makes it difficult or impossible to ship foods hither and yon, only those with locally grown foods will not be facing starvation!

It's also strange to use the 19th century, in which transportation was largely done by animal power and most goods were only shipped short distances, as a proof of their point, right after implying that fuel for long-distance transport would never be an issue. If they believe that foods will always be transportable, then surely localization poses no threat to starvation due to local climate factors?

In short, I find it hard to regard the Cafe Hayek gang as serious observers. Looks to me like they just have an ideological axe to grind in defending BAU.

Energy analyst, blogger, journalist

ya, what he said


There are some very serious people who disagree completely about the food-mile concept.

Why do you say these guys are wrong?

Why these guys are wrong goes back to the joke someone posted on TOD recently about two neoliberal economists who accidentally lock themselves in a pitch-dark basement. As they begin to grow hungry, both smile, confident that their hunger (demand!) will create sandwiches. Or, to paraphrase another quip seen here on TOD, anyone who thinks infinite resources can be extracted from a finite planet must be either a madman, an economist - or a rightwing blogger.

Adam Smith's quaint "invisible hand", the theory of comparative advantage and the power of scaling touted over at Cafe Hayek and Coyote work only in a world where resources are infinite. As the voracious appetite of American consumers - and increasingly the 2.3 billion Chinese and Indian consumers who wish to emulate our wasteful lifestyle - deplete oil, water and topsoil, globalization begins to sink beneath the weight of its naive belief in exponential growth without exponential consequences.


I wouldn't write off the invisible hand just yet.

While the infinite resources crowd are deluded, so is the idea that markets can't allocate scarce resources - that is their only function (though they can be manipulated of course, and the the allocation is rarely "fair").

I think the outcome of peak oil (from a rational markets point of view) is that we develop substitutes as energy prices climb. This means some filthy fossil fuel alternatives (tar sands, coal to liquids, maybe shale oil if it can ever acheieve a positive EROEI), another energy source with many drawbacks (nuclear) and a raft of renewable energy alternatives...

Its not growth that is the problem, its unsustainable growth.

The market will eventually figure out that the key to achieving "growth" when resource extraction limits are reached is creating closed loop industrial systems...

I don't underestimate the value of free markets in allocating resources efficiently. I just worry about social inertia and the ability of those who benefit most from it (oil company CEOs pulling down $400 million annually, for example, and the massive PR operations they have at their disposal) to obfuscate the risks associated with overconsumption as we hurdle toward various economic and environmental tipping points. Whether the invisible hand succeeds in creating closed-loop industrial systems before its perfectly rational allocation to filthy fossil fuels flips the switch on catastrophic climate change will be an interesting question.

In that light, localization seems perfectly benign to me - a prudent attempt to anticipate what products will be available when resource depletion begins to choke off access to far-flung markets. Also a welcome antidote to the plague of cornucopians appearing daily on CNBC. Of course, my admiration for the concept hasn't stopped me from enjoying produce from Argentina this winter while I can still afford it. It's hard to argue with the invisible hand when it's cradling a mound of succulent blueberries . . .

Mmmm, blueberries :-)

I don't have a problem with relocalisation per se - it has many benefits other than economic ones, as discussed elsewhere in the thread.

I'm just saying (irrational market fundamentalists and corrupt giant organisations notwithstanding) that markets aren't the problem - they will deal with fuel scarcity in their usual way and its best to try and work out how to make this process as smooth and positive as possible rather than imagining that free market economics will just disappear shortly after the peak - as they probably won't.

I'm just saying that markets aren't the problem - they will deal with fuel scarcity in their usual way...

That "usual way" won't go far. I expect market forces to weed out unnecessary transports first. A lot of the same food is transported in opposing directions, and studies have been done in Europe on this waste.

But when the crunch time comes, that is when physical shortages at filling stations appear and oil production decline rates approach 4% pa as calculated in "Did Katrina Hide the Real Peak in World Oil Production? And Other Oil Supply Insights"
market forces will no longer work as a substitute for oil cannot be mobilized in the required quantities, especially not under the prevailing PO denial mode which makes preparations for PO impossible. Those from the anti-food-mile web sites can make as many model calculations on how to bring sheep from NZ to UK as they like if the fuel isn't there those transports won't happen. Only when shortages start will we realize where oil is really needed. Governments will have to step in and first allocate fuel supplies to essential services: police, army and emergency vehicles, fire brigades, maintenance trucks for energy supply systems, diesel locos and buses, essential food transport, etc. Only the rest of oil supplies will be available on the "free" market.

Car pooling will also help us for some time until fuel rationing will be necessary, together with price control, for equity and inflation reasons.

The only market which will work then will be the black market.

But back to the food mile:
"The well-travelled yogurt pot"

The market-dictated post-PO UPS/Fedex delivery vehicle?;-)

I actually owned a couple of this company's passenger models for a time. Had so much fun it should have been illegal, but we weren't far enough down the PO slope to make it more than a rather expensive hobby.


Hi Matt,

You're assuming we can't come up with substitutes for oil (electric transport, more efficient vehicles, some biofuels, some dirty fuels) as we pass the peak, which isn't a view I share (although I try to consider all likely scenarios).

You're also assuming governments would have to dictate quotas and rationing - whereas an alternative is to just raise fuel taxes so the government can outbid the private sector when it needs to (this is a still a market mechanism from my point of view - taxes exist, whether the hard core Libertarians like it or not).

I doubt price controls are likely to occur - they just don't work.

I doubt price controls are likely to occur - they just don't work.

Big Gav,

I agree completely that price controls don't work, but I can envision them being implemented anyway by a desperate incumbent facing re-election. Think Nixon.

Rationing also may have to happen. I wouldn't be happy about it, but if that's the only way to assure that gas gets to farm machinery and freight haulers rather than soccer-mom SUVs, then so be it. I have grown accustomed to eating.



Why would the invisible hand not work for depleting oil resources? It even worked when we didn't use oil at all.

I guess it all boils down to the following question:

The world is currently producing 85 mbpd and this is depleting. When do you thing we have the first serious famine in the western world?

1) 85 mbpd
2) 60 mbpd
3) 40 mbpd
4) 20 mbpd
5) 10 mbpd
6) 5 mbpd
7) never


When do you thing we have the first serious famine in the western world?

I wish I knew! Combined with drought - which took down the Mayans and Anasazis - it could be somewhere north of 60 mbpd.


These very serious people are the so called Austrian school of economics. They believe that private enterprise is always good and that government intervention is always bad. I do not want to get into a discourse here about the merits or otherwise of the free market. Just to place my own views on record, I personally am a free market person, though I am concerned that there has been significant market failure, which the Austrian School seem unable to grasp. This market failure encompasses oil, natural gas and climate change.

Austrian school economists are not able to accept or understand peak oil. They believe price, on its own, will solve our energy dilemma. What they fail to comprehend, even though the maths is so simple, is the combination of field decline rates and the laws of theremodynamics. It really just requires an open mind free of market dogma. Ask any of them why the price of oil is up by a factor of 10 in 10 years and they have no answers.

Their point is that the market must be left to make these decisions. Our point is that the market will not make these decisions in time and things are going to get very difficult. Some are even concerned about mass starvation. I personally tend to fall in the latter camp. My own "solution" is an across the board switch to the taxation of energy instead of labour on a scale sufficient to price in the true scarcity value of energy and the externality cost of CO2. This would very rapidly change behaviour, giving us years more to sort out these problems.

Unfortunately, like lemmings dashing for the cliff, we seem doomed to crash and burn.

Hi SailDog,

I was wondering if you have put down your thoughts on how all this might pan out in the next couple of decades? (I have and would like to "compare notes"... :o)

Regards, Nick.

Unfortunately, like lemmings dashing for the cliff, we seem doomed to crash and burn.

In defence of lemmings, they don't run off cliffs, nor commit mass suicide of any sort. That is a myth created by Disney film makers.

Mr Keene.

He said domestic market demand for grain remained strong during the year and as a result GrainCorp would carry in only 1.2 million tonnes into 2007/08, the lowest level on record.

My Edit-Watch for the ABARE December Quarterly coming out
at anytime. The Ozzie crop will be less than 9 million tonnes and Australia has no buffer stock this year.

Mr Keene said the company's strategic plan was on track, with GrainCorp increasing its domestic market share from 44 per cent to 50 per cent.

where your wheat will be coming from this year:


"According to preliminary data, a record harvest of 22.6 million tonnes in initial weight has been reaped this year, which is 22% more than in 2006. We believe the gross harvest of grain in bunker weight should total about 20.1 million tonnes, including 16.6 tonnes of wheat, and the export potential should amount to at least 10 million tonnes," Kurishbayev said at the 2nd Kazakh grain forum in Astana on Thursday.

"Thus, the production of wheat per capita has reached 1,078 kilos, which makes Kazakhstan the world leader in this respect this year ahead of Australia," he said.

Did the authors consider that when a trunk transports an apple, say, they don't have just 1 apple in the truck, but hundreds (or thousands)? For the CO2 emissions, you can't just count the distance traveled, but you have to divide the emissions among every piece of food being transported.

I'm probably wrong, as I can't imagine them making such a ridiculous mistake.

No, you're right, it's a ridiculous mistake. Food miles is a really important issue, but these calculations are complete nonsense. The idea that one food-basket is responsible for 16,989 tonnes of CO2 equivalent.... these people should go back to school, not publishing their report!

what's worse than making comments about something when you're not fully informed???!I found the report via the website: It's worth a look as all the assumptions are listed and descriptions of results put it in the right context..

No they did not make a mistake, that is alotta of food miles for one basket of 25 different items, it would also be correct for 1500 of each of those 25 items, assuming your not transporting one apple at a time, yes it is cheaper more economic, but not efficient at all energywise. But if you increase your transportation cost it makes more and more sense to grow closer to home. Also that doesn't mean you still can't export your surplus to other cities with crop failures, they would be willing to pay for the favor I'm sure. In a post-peak economy it's only logical to become more self sufficient because nobody is going to be around to help you much without extremely high cost , i.e. another city/country, because hydrocarbon transportation is unreliable in a post-peak world. Also It's about self sufficiency, food is a requirement for life, you don't let another man keep your manhood 100 miles away at his house, because for some reason it's cheaper. There is the hidden cost of not being self sufficient when you really need to.

Perhaps I am being a bit naive here.

Why not just tax fossil fuels like hell and remove all other taxes (except for harmful addictive things like booze and tobacco).

This would soon sort things out.

Why stop at booze & tobacco?

I don't think it's naive - I've heard David Suzuki argue for the same thing (i.e. Taxing bads, not goods). Phase it in gradually of course. Imagine the efficiency gains if the only tax companies had to pay was a hefty percentage on fossil fuel costs.

"Why not just tax fossil fuels like hell" ?

I couldn't agree more - institute carbon taxes and give everyone offsetting tax cuts elsewhere (Al Gore amongst others has called for this repeatedly as a relatively politically acceptable solution to global warming).

I don't think you could get rid of "all" other taxes though - especially as the move away from fossil fuels gains momentum.

Hi , I am an aussie. I agree with all the P.O believers in this thread, and the article provides some useful info about unsustainability. While a nation obsesses about keeping lawns mowed, food repices begin to soar. There is no argument that food should be produced locally and as close to the consumer of that food as possible. Peak Gas and Russia's Putin holding militant control over much of the worlds gas (which ofcourse also includes fertiliser produced from gas) and the other powers all vying to control oil, uranium and other energy commodities. The question I ask the economits (non believers of oil depletion) is: Are wars part of the balance needed for a healthy economy? Should we take from the poor to feed the ignorant and aggressive? Peak Oil is here. The only thing that is going to keep energy prices down, from here on in, is demand destrcution. The west is effectively starving the poor and developing nations with ideas like - The American Way of life is non - negotiable!

I must make the quote from the movie "Twins" where Danny Devito states to the crook on the phone "EITHER WE NEGOTIATE _ OR WE WITHER AND DIE!!!"

"There is no argument that food should be produced locally and as close to the consumer of that food as possible.". Yes there is. Doing so will produce much less food, since you'll be trying to grow things in unsuitable climates. Better to let farmers specialize in what makes sense for the climate, and then trade and transport (since transport is a small part of the total energy budget for growing food).

I would expect that there might be some things that might get too expensive to do post-peak (moving lots of food by airplane comes to mind). But the bulk of food has to be produced more or less the way it is, or there's probably going to be mass starvation.

your one of my heroes
I don't understand why you can't get your head around this. If I remember correctly you've grown food on a market level (sorry, more than a year ago, lotsa beer) I'd think that the issue of seed diversity would get your tail feathers ruffled . Don't get me started about sustainability. It's not just about economics man
edit: sorry all, I realize this take the focus off food miles and places it on food issues

Doing so will produce much less food, since you'll be trying to grow things in unsuitable climates.

Only if people are unwilling to change their eating habits. That's why these studies are useful - so consumers can choose foods that are a little less well traveled. e.g. Victorians should eat fewer pineapples and more stone fruits/apples whatever. No one is suggesting we try to grow pineapples in Victoria.

But, the way we produce food now, many crops are grown in unsuitable climates. For example, almost all the farmland in the U.S. west of 100W is worthless for anything other than grazing and highly drought-tolerant crops. The only reason there is agriculture in places like the Imperial Valley is massive irrigation, which is starting to cause intractable problems like soil salinization and aquifer depletion.
We would expect that if transportation starts to add a significant cost to food, local farms will start to expand and diversify (the market in action), but this would happen very slowly. For example, there is plenty of good farmland here in New England lying idle. But how many people in New England today would know how to run a farm if the opportunity presented itself?
Market forces and energy aside, there are still very good arguments against the way we produce food now. For one, if a region only grows one or two crops, it is easy for a natural disaster to ruin the crop, put farmers out of business, and cause a shortage of that item. Also, monoculture exhausts the soil, necessitating use of large amounts of fertilizers, which of course use fossil fuels as feedstocks and cause environmental degradation. The more diverse a farm is, the easier it is to rotate crops, pasture, and fallow land, which keeps the land more productive over time.

But the bulk of food has to be produced more or less the way it is, or there's probably going to be mass starvation.

Yes, this may be true. This sums up just how dire the hole is that we have dug. Some just want to continue digging.

Re: wasted sunshine
You say: "Peak Gas and Russia's Putin holding militant control over much of the worlds gas"
I say:
Well, sure, USA will gladly let China to drill ANWR for oil/gas, they should only ask:)

Maybe I'm missing something, but is this calculation assuming that when these various food stuff were transported to the grocery store, that they only brought enough for one person?

The scales of efficiency come from transporting food in bulk. If a truck brings 10,000 bananas 2,500km with minimal extra fuel for the weight of the bananas themselves, then they each have really only traveled 4km each. It's like carpooling for food.

One can argue that they should be transported on freight rail rather than trucks for even greater efficiency, and that food should be grown closer to home, but let's not forget that scales of efficiency save fuel too.

An recent article in the Economist , Voting with your Food Trolley challenges many of the local food saves energy assumptions, A sample paragraph.

The DEFRA report, which analysed the supply of food in Britain, contained several counterintuitive findings. It turns out to be better for the environment to truck in tomatoes from Spain during the winter, for example, than to grow them in heated greenhouses in Britain. And it transpires that half the food-vehicle miles associated with British food are travelled by cars driving to and from the shops. Each trip is short, but there are millions of them every day. Another surprising finding was that a shift towards a local food system, and away from a supermarket-based food system, with its central distribution depots, lean supply chains and big, full trucks, might actually increase the number of food-vehicle miles being travelled locally, because things would move around in a larger number of smaller, less efficiently packed vehicles.

Translation: The biggest reduction in food chain energy costs would come about by customers of supermarkets using more efficient cars and consolidating their shopping trips,

Another "biggest reduction" would come from changed expectations ... not expecting to have foods that are out-of-season locally, or foods that are not native to the region.

In the 1950s a truck (small by today's standards) would bring potatoes - fresh after the harvest - from a nearby farm (10 kms) to town and supply a dozen of families with a couple of bags of potatoes each. In Hessian bags, not plastic bags, to be returned empty to the truck driver. Potatoes were stored in the darkest and coolest corner of the basement, to last for many months. That of course was the time of corner shops, the milk man, the bakery around the corner, no TV and a 2 km walk to the nearest train station.

The proper measure for food transport is of course the product of mass and distance, ton-km.

I walk to the grocery stores and specialty shops (butcher, fish shop, bakery, green grocer, etc) with a little cart. Probably costs about 100 calories all told on my trip

Another option here is the occasionally derided online ordering and delivery by the supermarket - as fuel costs become an important consideration they can optimise delivery schedules so that they get a maximum amount of groceries delivered for the amount of fuel used.

This would probably have even more impact than shoppers reducing their number of shopping events per week (and the best effect would be obtained if the two options were combined).

But more would be saved if Britons just agve up tomatos in the winter full stop than to import them from anywhere!

As I choose to see it this debate is substantially about developing a distributed food production system or continue to rely on having a few large farms supplying our needs. I live in a state in the USA (Vermont) where lots of small growers have picturesque New England farms where everything is tidy and lovely. Words and phrases like “localvore”, “Farm to Family”, and “Eat Local” are commonly heard. I recall that this summer some politicians decided to attempt to “eat local” for a week of so. And the did. They also found that it was more costly than buying at the super market. So for now, the “magic of the marketplace” Ronald Regan so loved is in the drivers seat.
I do buy from the local growers; I sort of see supporting them as akin to making my quarterly donations to Vermont Public Radio. I want both of them to continue so I pay.
Sure, the local growers do charge more, but I know what I'm supporting. Lots of them are friends of mine and I know their families, aspirations, their debt load and I know that they don't exploit other workers or the planet. It's really costly to purchase a farm, buy all the equipment needed and live through the years when you don't sell anything. But when they finally do succeed in growing a beautiful organic crop and have it laid out at the Saturday Farmers Market where everything is harmonious and lovely it is worth it to me and I gladly pay.

I'm developing a homestead of my own where I'm developing garden spots, small grain fields, building needed structures and so on. But I can afford to. Most folks cannot. They not only don't have the money they don't even know where to start. I subscribe to a number of the “back to the land” flavored magazines but overall I think that can be very misleading. There's seldom any stories in these about crop failure, predators getting into the chicken flock, arguments with neighbors when your cows get into their corn field and so on; it's all just rosy as can possibly be. I can tell you that crops do fail, chickens do get carried off by hawks, and the cows always get out at night when the temperature is about 33 and its raining.
However, if someone does foresee a possibility of interruptions of the food supply they having a fall-back may be right for them. The problem is that you can't wait until the supply is interrupted and then whip out a crop of enough grain and vegetables to keep the motions of live going. You have to spend some time learning and developing well before that event. An event that may not come for some time if ever. Or you may decide that paying a premium from the local grower is a way of preparing for the future.

It's worth noting that in the EU (especially France) there are many small farmers, but they are kept alive by massive subsidies.

This might be good for France, but makes it very difficult for developing nations to compete.

It's a relief to know that this group is so confident in their calculations that they can report the CO2 emissions in Table 5 to 4 decimal places. . . . . .

There seesm to be an assumption that everone actually deserves to be have absolute choice of produce from a globalised menu and that anything less will see us all starve.

Many will go hungry but not becasue they can't get there lamb from New Zealand or tomatoes from Sapin in the winter. It will simply be that fertilizer and fuel for the tractors will become too expensive as the supplys deplete further and further into the future, and this will have a reduing effect on the avaialble surpluses to be exported. At some point, well before these surpluses actually disappear, the economies of scale will actually collapse, as the infrastructure required to transport both the inputs and the finished food cannot be efficiently operted at small volumes.

Take the rice industry for example. The drought has now killed this industry in Australia because one vital input, water, has declined in the last decade. The infrastructure that was built to handle many millions of tonnes has sat idle for many years and is now at the point where it is being permannetly abandoned. Even if the waters arrive next year, the infrastructure for processing a bumper crop is gone and therfore the total amount of food avaialble in the world will be reduced.

With Peak Oil, a vital input that is needed at every stage of production and delivery will be reduced and this will eventually have the same effect as the drought. Whole agri-business systems will reach a point of collapse because the cheap energy that made the masssive scale possible will no longer be avaialable.

The market purists will assert that people will just pay more for food and that will somehow make the producers find better and efficient ways to deliver the product. There will be much innovation I am sure and a great deal of effort will go inot trying to restore the way things were. What these guys really don't understand is how money represents energy.

Money is way in which the market allocates energy to those who can most effectively and employ it. All the worlds money reresents energy at it's base leveland the ability to grow the economy is function of the abiltiy to grow the energy supply. But all types of energy are equal. Oil has given us the ability to unlock vast and powerful energy sources that would have been impossible without it.

Agriculture is exhibit A in this ability to capture vast energy sources. Food is a major way of capturing solar energy on a masssive scale that is available at the most basic human level. Without it we die so it is pretty important that we keep up this aspect of solar capture. Waht is in question is that without oil, how can we achieve anything like the economies of scale that we have seen since the green revolution?

Hi Phil,
Nice to see you working on TOD from the sunny south instead of rainswept Aberdeen. One comment on the food miles lies in the concept itself: it's not just miles over the surface but also vertical miles - this can really make a difference as the oil and greenhouse impact of airfreight is rather high.
I also wonder if CERES has done any 'food fertilizer', 'food pesticides' or 'food processing' analysis to go along with food miles. From available data such as the FAO report "Livestock's long shadow" the climate impact of meat and dairy products, for example, is dominated by the effects of fertilizer and overfeeding livestock with high proteine animal feed (generating extra methane). According to the FAO livestock pruduction is responsible for 35-40% of the world's human influenced methane emissions, 64% of the human influenced ammonia and 65% of human influenced nitrous oxides. The last two through the inherent inefficiencies of artificial fertilizer in feed production. In Peak Fossil fuels terms: it's natural gas, stupid!
Anyway, I think that by adding these aspects to a food miles calculation one could get some kind of energy/climate indicator to the food basket that can be very useful.