Where Does Your Food Come From?

Posted on Jun 14 2011 - 2:33am by Mike Lieberman

One of the reasons that I started my fire escape garden in 2009 is because I learned that on average our food travels 1,500 miles from farm to plate. That’s about the distance from one coast of the United States to the center of the country.

The next time you are at the grocery store or supermarket (aren’t they the same thing?), pick up some produce and look at the label to see where it’s from. I started to do this when I was living in NYC and saw Chile, Argentina, Mexico, Peru and other far off countries. There wasn’t even anything from my country, nonetheless my state.

It got me thinking about all of the variables that go into getting that food to the store and what it means for me to purchase.

  • Oil is used to transport the food, which has an environmental impact. It also effects the rising food prices.
  • Nutrients are likely lost because it’s been harvested 3-4 weeks before it even made it to the shelf of the store.
  • Local farmers are affected because we are shipping it in from elsewhere instead of a local source.

These are what got me started apartment gardening in New York and why I keep doing it with my balcony garden in LA. When I was in NYC, I got a lot of my produce from a CSA. Now that I’m in LA, I go to the farmers market a few times a week. So I’m fortunate that most of my food is grown pretty close to me.

1,500 miles is a pretty long distance for food to be traveling and it’s not completely necessary. You can start growing some of your own and support your local farmers.

What’s your thoughts on food traveling so far? Were you aware of this?

  • http://wannabelocavore.wordpress.com Jecka

    I think it’s painfully obvious that when your produce comes from somewhere beyond a day’s drive that it’s not going to be the best thing for you to consume! One of the most disgusting things to me is going to the local chain supermarket and seeing BRIGHT GREEN chiquita bananas in the produce section! The idea of buying a green banana just to wait for it to turn yellow totally grosses me out. I rarely eat bananas anymore because the closest place a banana can come from to Cincinnati (where I live) is probably the Carribbean, Mexico, Central America, southern Florida, or Hawaii… and that means they’ll be picked when green, shipped green, displayed green in the market, and taste like garbage!

    Unfortunately, I know this is true for all tropical fruit (if you live somewhere other than the tropics, of course) which is some of my favorite food ever. I love mangoes and pineapple! I think it’s just a sign for me to move south… ;)

  • http://theguylife.tumblr.com Woolly Llama

    I’m sorry but I love bananas, papayas, mangoes, passionfruit, and guava and NONE of those are grown locally in Chicago.  Should I compromise my values and eat what I enjoy or only stick with local fruit?

  • http://www.UrbanOrganicGardener.com Mike Lieberman

    hahaha. It might very well be a sign. There is also all the politics that go into growing bananas as well, which is crazy unto itself. Another reason why I won’t buy them.

    Most of this is obvious when you say it or read it, but we’ve become so far removed from the entire process that most people have no clue or understand.

  • http://www.UrbanOrganicGardener.com Mike Lieberman

    You shouldn’t do anything that you don’t want to do. You also have to understand that those are luxuries to be able to have those and live in Chicago. It’s not a right to have access to those fruits.

    There is also lots that goes into getting bananas to our country such as slave labor and killing of workers, so we can get those fruits for cheap prices. It goes beyond the travel.

  • Melisa Anderson

    FYI, the bananas are shipped in bright green and will remain that way for a very long time. At the warehouse, they are put into giant rooms where they are gassed to ripen them (as well as some avocados and pears). I was told when I started working at a major super chain distribution center that their largest profit margin was bananas.

  • Melisa Anderson

    My thoughts are right now, my family is working toward being completely local eaters, but as a first step we’re going to USA fruit, a CSA for veggies and local farmers for our meat and eggs (what we don’t harvest ourselves). I’m just as guilty as everyone else for wanting avocados and tropical fruits (lemons, limes, oranges, mangos etc) that in no way could be grown in Iowa.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1405789832 Lee Robertson

    This just one of the factors that go into my line of thinking about why I want to grow as much of my own food as possible.The fresh strawberries we’ve been enjoying came from the flower beds out front(10 feet away if that),not from 1000 miles or more away,and most certainly not from another country.The grapes,raspberries,
    and blackberries that all ripen later will be from the backyard,not Chile.

    There are so many factors that go into grocery store food.Things like fuel,chemicals,politics,in other countries,quite often violence and crime.

    There’s a peace of mind I get from being able to step outside and harvest what’s in season,in my own yard,or being able to purchase meat directly from the farmer who raised the animal and can tell me what did or did not go into raising it.I can’t have livestock here,otherwise I would be able to cross meat off my shopping list too.

  • http://www.UrbanOrganicGardener.com Mike Lieberman

    Bananas are a blood fruit. So much craziness that goes into what keeps their costs down.

  • http://www.UrbanOrganicGardener.com Mike Lieberman

    Bananas are a blood fruit. So much craziness that goes into what keeps their costs down.

  • http://www.UrbanOrganicGardener.com Mike Lieberman

    Good for you. There ain’t no shame in the tropical fruits, but appreciate that they are luxury and not a right. Know what I mean?

  • http://www.UrbanOrganicGardener.com Mike Lieberman

    Very well stated.

  • http://www.UrbanOrganicGardener.com Mike Lieberman

    A newbie? I’m just educating myself and raising awareness about what’s going on with our current food system. I’m familiar with all those women that you mentioned and the whole Nourishing Traditions way of eating. We are all learning as we go and figuring out what works best for us.

    What works for you might not work for me. There is not right way.

    Just because food is grown in the States, doesn’t mean it’s not tainted in some form or another. Look at the way tomato farm workers are treated in Florida. It’s US grown, but still the old indentured servitude practices. That ain’t cool.

    I’m by no means doing anything new or inventing something that hasn’t been done before. Never claimed to be. I’m just giving my voice and my opinion on the matter at hand.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=624692882 Katherine Kelley

    I like what you said about tropical fruits being a luxury, not a right.  I am wondering, do people who live in tropical areas eat foods that would be considered a luxury there?  Cherries, perhaps?  Or do people in those areas just eat locally 100%?  Would be interesting.  I try to be as local as possible, but in those things that I can’t be, like coffee, tea, ect, I do try to find fair trade.  Watching the series Blood, Sweat, and Takeaways really made me think.

  • http://www.UrbanOrganicGardener.com Mike Lieberman

    When I was in Costa Rica there was a box of California grown pears in the grocery store. This f’d up food system is a global issue that stems from oil prices and the US.

    I don’t think it’s realistic to expect people to be 100% organic or local or whatever the label is, but it’s what you do most of the time that truly matters. It’s also being aware and appreciative of what happens to get the food to our plates, not only the travel, but the workers,e tc.

  • Rottenpotato261

    It’s ” affected” not effected (local farmers) sorry.

  • RonnieP

    I guess…you can grow them in SoCal. The ones in my backyard are not blood fruit….

  • http://www.UrbanOrganicGardener.com Mike Lieberman

    True indeed. The ones sold in grocery stores are though.

  • http://www.UrbanOrganicGardener.com Mike Lieberman

    Appreciate the correction.

  • RonnieP

    I swear you are the only blogger that responds to every post.  That’s why I love you.

  • Juanita

    You know, it can be almost overwhelming to try to research our food and how it’s grown and how and when we get it.  That’s one of the many reasons I am so into your blog and site, Mike.  You save us a lot of wear and tear. lol.  Not that I don’t research myself, because I do.  But it can be mind boggling.  I’ve know for decades that our food travels a long way and some of the other factors involved, which is another reason we have been growing as much of our food as we can.  Of course, it loses much of it’s nutrients in transit, as well as much of it’s taste.  This is why that tomato you pick off your own vine tastes so much different than that tasteless thing from the store.  I buy as little from the store as I can and am very choosy about what I do buy.  I go to the farmer’s markets for those things I don’t or can’t grow myself.  Grocery store is the last stop on the food route and lots of times we just pass it on by.  I love passing it by!  

  • http://www.UrbanOrganicGardener.com Mike Lieberman

    Hahha. Thanks. That’s why I have this site because I actually give a shit. If you can take the time to leave a comment, the least I can do is show some courtesy and respond. Appreciate it.

  • http://www.UrbanOrganicGardener.com Mike Lieberman

    It definitely is a lot to research and look into and that’s why most people don’t care. They don’t want to spend the time and not sure if I can blame them. We are so run down with our crappy jobs and debt that researching this can be a pain.

    I hear you on the grocery store food. Most definitely a very last resort.

  • ABCD Design

    I am glad I found your site – we are talking about the slow movement on our weekly twitter chat tomorrow (#designtv 5pm ET) and this fact will be a great contribution to the conversation!

    Thanks, @abcddesigns

  • http://www.UrbanOrganicGardener.com Mike Lieberman

    Nice. Glad I could be of help.

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  • http://certifiablesouthernorganics.com 1114organic

    My wife has a funny / sad story about this.  When she taught Pre-K, the teachers would ask this very question to see how the children thought and to see if they could back a food product back out to the farm or the baker.  The sad part is that very few could.  Most would just say the cookie came from the store, period.  No idea where their food actually came from.

    I’m thankful our children do and have their own gardens!

  • Megan

    “To tell you the truth though, I’d rather see food travel from one coast of the US to the other, rather than buy foods which have come all the way from Brazil and Peru.”

    I agree with you completely. But there is a slightly seedy underbelly to this as well. Today I bought broccoli from farm here in my city, only to find out that the broccoli that you buy in the grocery stores is mostly from California (I live nowhere near California). I think it all comes down to minimizing travel times. Instead of buying produce from Chile, buy it from California. But if you live in Nebraska (just an example) and can buy broccoli FROM Nebraska… you sure as heck should buy it from a farm in Nebraska and not California.

  • Megan

    I’m also from the midwest and know what you mean. I think the better way of thinking about it is…. why eat a (fill in the blank fruit) from a south/central american country, if you can buy it from anywhere in the United States. You can buy mangoes from Florida, and that’s better than buying them from South America. Like Mike said, a lot of pain and suffering goes into the fruit trade, especially with bananas. But if you’re a smart consumer, you can find what you’re looking for within the US. :)

  • Cedar Chest

    Well, yes, I try to buy locally whenever the Farmers Market is open, but as I stated above, our weather has been anything but suitable for growing things this year.  In fact, just yesterday and the day before we’ve had hail the size of golf balls to baseballs, and it stripped all the leaves off the tomato plants and pulverized most everything else in people’s gardens.  I don’t see the FM being a good bet this year. 

    The way to tell where your food is grown is to look at the numbers on the stickers on the produce.  A 9 is organic, and 8 is GMO (I think) and a 4 is outside the USA, etc.  There are places online where you can locate this information, I just don’t have time to do it right now or I’d post a link for you. 

  • Cedar Chest

    A lot of people are trying to start eating a hunter-gatherer type diet (meaning you only eat what grows locally in your area of the county).  If you live in the sticks, like I do, you could probably even get away with that and live well even in the winter.  The Native Americans did ok until the white men changed everything about the way they lived and survived for centuries.  Eating what is called a paleo diet just means not eating any grains, for the most part, and that is called a hunter-gatherer way of eating, but really it’s not even close.  I don’t think many people understand what eating locally really means.  I’d love to grow bananas in my backyard but it’s not going to happen where we have less than 90 days for a growing season.  Some tomatoes and a few other veggies barely have time to grow much less ripen!  We do get some good berry crops, though.

  • http://www.UrbanOrganicGardener.com Mike Lieberman

    That’s awesome. Gotta get them started when they are young and engrain the good habits.

  • http://www.UrbanOrganicGardener.com Mike Lieberman

    Thanks for the info, but the 4 doesn’t mean that it’s grown outside of the US. The 4 means that it was grown using conventional (chemical) methods.

    The bigger problem is that we have used so many chemicals to degrade the land that when bad weather hits, it suffers even more. We rip the land of nutrients instead of replenishing them.

  • Cedar Chest

    Yeah well, like I said, I was taking it from memory.  Still people need to be aware that a 4 for the beginning number is something to avoid, and a lot of times if the number begins with a 4 it will also give a country of origin right on the label, as well.  Brazil, Mexico, Peru – - – whatever.   And no, it doesn’t always mean it was grown outside the US. 

    Pretty soon country of origin will be left out of the equation entirely, I’m afraid.  You won’t know where anything comes from (including US fruits and veggies) and I’m not sure I believe the labeling now, either.  The food supply has been messed with to the point of it being a game now to trick “the people”. 

    Sustainable growing conditions are do-able on small farms, but largely not considered for the big operatives.  They could care less what’s on or in the food, as we well know.  The latest round of ag bills is now calling for such strict production rulings that small farmers will be choked out, which is exactly what the bigfood dudes are after.  They know small farmers produce LOCAL foods and that’s something they want to get rid of entirely, giving the public no choices at all. 

    The seeds will also soon be completely bastardized.  Saving seeds from one year to the next will become impossible because they are now selling “seedless” varieties of everything.  Monsanto has a plan, and has had for at least 10+ years already, to eliminate the ability of people to grow their own foods, making them reliable on bigfood agendas.  It’s scary.

  • http://www.UrbanOrganicGardener.com Mike Lieberman

    Scary ain’t the word…

  • Farmerfanny

    Even though our food is grown here it is still green picked. There are over 200 phytochemicals that our bodies need to live on that aren’t in a green picked food.

  • http://www.UrbanOrganicGardener.com Mike Lieberman

    Interesting.

  • Guest

    I have never thought about the distance, but i am concerned about how my food is made.

    Does anybody know a website that is devoted to analyzing different food brands and pointing out the healthiese or the worst brands?

    Ex: Milk brands (which ones are grass fed, antibiotic free, etc.)

  • http://www.UrbanOrganicGardener.com Mike Lieberman

    That’s a good question and not sure if such a resource exists.

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  • Kel

    Thank You for this!! I live in FL and believe it or not, Stores carry (hold on to ur seat)..California Oranges!!!!…..Why?

  • http://www.UrbanOrganicGardener.com Mike Lieberman

    Exactly. Why?!!?

  • Sprout Girl :)

    Hi. Luv you Mike. Think your fire escape garden is so cute with it’s pop bottle planters and that. Your mind is beautiful. I wish the majority of us had at least some of your views. I’m finding like most others have stated here on your blog that many people haven’t a clue as to what’s going on.  I’m pretty new to this, as in this week. Though I think it’s in my blood.  When I was about 14,  just out of the clear blue sky I started refusing to eat meat. I remained vegetarian for nearly a decade until I was forced out of it. I won’t go into that. During that time I won’t say I didn’t eat more than my share of ice cream. So I don’t think it was a health issue at that point. Tried going raw. That lasted about 2 seconds. Have had a balcony garden, a backyard garden,  now an indoor garden, and in future a greenhouse garden.
       It seems I have been hearing the term genetically modified all my life. I never paid much attention. Thought I was avoiding it by passing up Broccoflower and purple cauliflower. You never think these things look so normal. I’ve really wanted to go all organic for health. I have been sprouting my own seeds. Looking for seeds I stumbled upon a seed bank and a trail that led me to an article about a farmer. This man was being sued by “the big M” for having their GMO canola plants growing in a ditch on his property. If I understood it, The judge said it didn’t matter how the canola got there. Be it by wind, birds, flood etc. The suit was legit. That gave the big M the right to go onto his property for years. Crack open his silos, check his fields, confiscate his seeds… Read another article about TERMINATOR SEEDS. These GMO that are sterile or become sterile in a few generations. The author wrote that basically none of us will have grandchildren. That consuming these GMOs also causes sterility in humans after a few generations. Some sort of master plan to whittle the global population size. Only the bloodline of the wealthy will continue.
       Could this be true? It seems like paranoia but I don’t put it past them. Have a friend who told me we are being videoed in our homes by these new digital flat screen TVs.  Paranoia? I don’t know, they video us everywhere else. On the bus, intersections, stores, and freeways. They have the capability to turn on the microphone in your cell phone and listen to whatever is going on in your house. They listen to and record our phone conversations and save a copy of every email ever sent by any and everyone. Last census they asked us to supply the GPS location of our homes. As if tracking us by the GPS in our cars and cell phones was not enough. They have taken our privacy and they are taking our FREEDOM. This is not the land of the free. This is the land where they tell us who and what to be. I know I never consented to being sterilized.
      If they can take that farmers seed they can take yours and mine. That’s where it’s heading. I think they will eventually stop seed sharing. Heirloom will cease to exist. I shouldn’t be afraid to live on my own planet. There are more of us than there are of them. It seems somehow we could stop them.
    ~ Sprout Girl

  • http://www.UrbanOrganicGardener.com Mike Lieberman

    I don’t think you are crazy at all. We live in a country with a false sense of democracy and BS freedoms…

  • Angie S.

    I’m on a similar journey. :)

  • Angie S.

    I agree. It may seem “obvious” – but it is not obvious to 99% of the population. It wasn’t obvious to me even after years of eating what I thought was an extremely healthy diet – tons of fruit & veggies all year long. I have really been pondering & experiencing the way nature works, and it is finally making sense to me to eat with the seasons & the climate: more fruit & veggies in the summer & meats in the winter, but still – tomatoes & squash & raspberries & butter versus oranges & pineapples & coconut oil. It occurs to me that Mama Nature knows what she is doing, and I’m wondering if we’d enjoy an even greater level of health by eating what she provides for us in our own ecosystems…

  • Shorty

    U.S. Mangoes are garbage. The best are from countries around the Mediterranean. South American ones are acceptable. But if you buy an American version of them, you are just wasting money.