I've been thinking idly of getting a CSA box for some time for a variety of reasons. One, I think it would force me to eat more vegetables and to become more adventurous in my meal preparations. Two, I like the idea behind Community Supported Agriculture and would like to support it. Three, it's just so convenient. To have produce delivered to my door seems like such a luxury.
Plus, it's good for the environment right? Isn't that what everyone's saying?
Well, after reading this article, I'm not entirely sure anymore. According to Stephen Budiansky, food transportation, fertilizers, and chemicals only make up a small share of food's energy use. Instead, Budiansky says, "The real energy hog, it turns out, is not industrial agriculture at all, but you and me. Home preparation and storage account for 32 percent of all energy use in our food system, the largest component by far."
Now I have no idea where Budiansky got his statistics from. And frankly, I'm not really sure how meaningful they are ... are his statistics on industrial agriculture solely about crops? Is meat included? And, if so, can we conflate growing lettuce with producing hamburger patties in one statistic?
But Budiansky does have a point when he notes the energy costs required to drive five miles and back from the grocery store or farmer's market. (Note: I've never had to travel five miles to get to a grocery store. Farmer's market, maybe. Grocery store, definitely not. Does this mean I'm spoiled living in the city or is five miles a sort of weirdly large estimate?)
So I started thinking about it. Right now, we get our produce from Whole Foods which is blocks away from our house. Generally speaking, my boyfriend is able to pick up things we need on his walk home from work. We go through produce, especially fruit, very rapidly, so we shop several times a week, and don't use any transportation energy to do so. At Whole Foods, we buy primarily organic, and usually local/in state. The organic is a deliberate choice, the local partly choice, partly happenstance. Since California is the heartland for Industrial Organic, most of our produce just winds up being local. Earthbound Farms spinach? Local. Driscoll's berries? Local. We're lucky. I've been to Whole Foods in Florida and they carry the same Industrial Organic from California that we have in our Whole Foods. As for the produce taste itself? I have to say, I'm extremely happy with it.
Our other options would be farmers markets or CSA. Since we don't have a farmers' market in walking distance, either of these options would require us to expend some form of transportation energy. There are several farmers' markets within a half hour bus ride. But they are generally only once a week or in working hours, so we would either need to buy a lot and hope stuff didn't spoil, or supplement our farmers' market purchases with grocery store produce. Not ideal.
With a CSA, we'd have the convenience factor, but it would come at a cost. I don't know how much energy CSA trucks expend delivering grocery bags across the city, but I'm sure it's a decent amount.
All of this leads me to believe that actually Whole Foods may actually be the most efficient choice for us: efficient in terms of energy and also our time. It seems a tad heretical ... (but it's INDUSTRIAL ORGANIC!! WHAT ABOUT THE SMALL FARMERS?!!) And yeah, I know there are other things to consider. In an ideal world, I would support the small farmers. I would go visit exactly where my food was being produced. I would form a personal connection with the people growing my food. And I'd figure out a way to support small farmers in an energy efficient way.
But, I don't live in an ideal world, I live in a world with a lot of resource constraints. And when I'm thinking about the best use of my limited resources, Whole Foods just seems like the better option.
5 days ago