That food reaches our plates is a logistical feat in the UK, where less than 2% of people grow it and many ingredients come thousands of miles.
Food accounts for 25% of the distance travelled by lorries in the UK, and 12 billion miles driven a year by consumers. The social and environmental costs of food transport - including significant GHG emissions - are £9 billion a year.
Our food distribution infrastructure cements production, consumption and trading practices that destroy the environment, harm animals and are deeply unjust.
Problems with products that have long supply chains include their contribution to climate change, compromised animal welfare standards, and a deeper industrialisation of food and food culture.
But efforts to shorten ‘food miles’ can neglect the social and economic benefits associated with trade in food, especially for developing countries. And while consumers are rediscovering local, seasonal produce, they still want diversity and choice.
The relationship between food and sustainable development is complex, and ‘food miles’ is a just one variable. Others include workers’ health, community well-being and rural development. However ‘food miles’ is important as it captures a wide range of concerns about our food system.