I recently visited my parents in Charlotte, NC, and went grocery shopping with my mom. We wanted to visit a farmer's market, but we also wanted avocadoes, apples and other items that don't grow near Charlotte. Even with the local food movement taking over the nation, Americans are used to eating foods that aren't local. The miles our food travels are taking a toll on our planet, and so are the methods of transportation, whether it be ship, truck or air. A study from the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture estimates the average American meal travels approximately 1,500 miles from the farm to our plate.

I took our list of grocery store items and investigated where these foods came from and how many miles they traveled before getting to my shopping cart.

  • Milk: Even with the popularity of almond milk and soy milk, people still look for dairy milk. Dairy milk doesn't last as long as other milk beverages, so it is usually produced locally. I was relieved to find out the milk I bought was produced in High Point, North Carolina. High Point to Charlotte is approximately 78 miles.
  • Bananas: Most banana farms are in the hot, humid regions of Central America and the Caribbean. The bananas I bought were from Mexico. Mexico City to Charlotte is approximately 2,048 miles.
  • Apples: The apples I bought were from Washington State. I was excited to find produce grown in the United States, but the distance from Washington to Charlotte is longer than the distance my bananas traveled from Mexico. Interesting. Washington State to Charlotte is approximately 2,729 miles.
  • Avocados: Even though I want guacamole all the time, the growing season for avocados in California is from February to September. When we don't get our avocados from California, they usually come from Latin America. Mexico produces the most avocados in the world. The avocados I bought were from Mexico. Mexico City to Charlotte is approximately 2,048 miles.
  • Peanut butter: I know there are so many new, natural nut butters on the shelves these days, but I was shopping with my mom and she likes Jif peanut butter. According to the Jif website, all Jif products are produced in Lexington, Kentucky. To get more technical, I tried to find where Jif peanuts are grown, but had no luck. Lexington, Kentucky, to Charlotte is approximately 401 miles.

Even with such a small grocery list, these foods traveled 7,304 miles to get to my grocery store. What can we do to solve this problem?

  • Switch it up: Instead of my mom using a banana from Mexico every day in her smoothie, she can try making a smoothie with nearby South Carolina peaches. The peaches will travel fewer miles than the bananas, using less fossil fuel. Think of similar alternatives in your area.
  • Buy locally: Look up farmer's markets near your house and shop there whenever you can. Buy items that are local and in their season. To find out what grows in your area, check out this regional food map.
  • Read the signs: In the grocery store, most produce had labels describing where it was from. Choose the products closest to your hometown.
  • Start a garden: Find out which herbs, fruits and vegetables you can grow in your backyard, and start your own garden.
  • Tell your friends: Encourage your friends to shop at farmer's markets with you or start a neighborhood garden together.

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