What Are ‘Food Miles’ And How Can You Reduce Them? Written by Beth Howell Updated on 26 January 2023 Want to reduce your carbon emissions but on the fence about, for example, paying the cost for solar panels? Try eating more seasonal food.A few decades ago, we all ate seasonally – because we had to. Our plates were full of fresh fruit and veg that had been harvested from a local farm, or at the very least in the same country.Fast forward to today, and seasonal fruit and veg has gone out the window. We can get any food we want, at any time. And although it’s convenient, it’s costing the planet.Never realised how much impact your food has on your carbon footprint? Let’s take a closer look at food miles, what this term actually means, and how we can all do our bit to reduce them. What’s on this page? 01 Food miles explained 02 How bad are food miles for the environment? 03 Are food miles the biggest part of food’s carbon footprint? 04 Are there any advantages to food miles? 05 Which foods have the most food miles? 06 Three ways to reduce food miles in the UK Food miles explainedThe term ‘food miles’ refers to the distance food is transported before being consumed – from the moment it’s produced, to the second it hits our plates.This is usually calculated by multiplying the weight of food items in tonnes by the distance travelled in kilometres.Although we might not always realise it, most food products are imported from around the world. And we’re not just talking about exotic fruits and vegetables – like avocado, papaya, and mangos – but common items like apples, leafy greens, and even meat and dairy produce as well. How bad are food miles for the environment?When food is shipped or flown around the world, it generates a lot of emissions – just like when we travel to go on holiday. And the more emissions we generate, the worse climate change will get.Food transportation is responsible for 25% of all miles covered by heavy goods traffic in the UK.A recent study also found that global food miles are generating 3 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e) each year – with “high-income nations” responsible for 52% of international food miles, despite only representing about 12.5% of the world’s population.It’s bad enough thinking about these miles for one item of food, but it’s even worse when we consider what impact that has on the carbon footprint of products with multiple ingredients. For example, No Blue (a British consultancy firm), estimated that one Snickers bar accumulates 50,791.5 food miles before it reaches UK customers.These food miles need to drastically decrease if we want to improve the state of the environment.The fewer food miles you can accumulate in your diet, the better – an aspect which is often overlooked when people consider being more environmentally friendly.Does the mode of transport affect the impact of food miles?When it comes to food miles, the mode of transport really makes a difference.Flying food via air freight typically creates around 10 times more carbon emissions than road transport – and around 50 times more than ocean shipping.Thankfully, air freight only accounts for 0.16% of food miles, as it’s only widely used for high-value, perishable products, such as out-of-season berries and green beans.Data from Our World In Data, 2018 Are food miles the biggest part of food’s carbon footprint?Although food miles produce a lot of emissions – especially given the sheer volume of food we transport today – it only makes up a small portion of food items’ overall carbon footprint.Our World In Data suggests that transport emissions only account for 6% of the carbon footprint of food, on average.Of course, this depends on the weight of the item, and where it’s shipped from, but generally it’s a pretty low percentage of the item’s overall carbon footprint. For example, shipping one kilogram of avocados to the UK from Mexico would generate 0.21kg CO2e – only around 8% of the avocados’ total footprint.Our World In Data also states that, even when a food item is shipped at great distances, it releases far fewer emissions than locally-produced animal products.Want to know more about the environmental impacts of avocados? Read our page, Are Avocados Bad for the Environment? Are there any advantages to food miles?No, there aren’t any advantages to food miles. Transporting food from one part of the world to another is bad for both the environment and human health. Not only does it increase the amount of CO2e in the atmosphere, but it also reduces the nutritional value of the food itself.For example, one study found that broccoli could lose up to 70% of its vitamin C and beta-carotene, and 50% of its antioxidant activity, just six days after being harvested. Which foods have the most food miles?It’s difficult to estimate which foods have the most food miles because it varies drastically from country to country.To give you a rough idea of how far food typically travels, we’ve outlined ten of the furthest-travelling food items in the UK.Popular food item in the UKPrimary countries exporting food to the UKAverage number of miles from most popular exporter to UKBananas Colombia, Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Belize5,272Sugar Belize, Guyana, Brazil5,230Chocolate The Ivory Coast, Ghana4,654Strawberries Spain, Israel, Morocco, Egypt1,073Beef Ireland and the Netherlands371Eggs Ireland, France, Germany, Netherlands, Italy371Apples France, South Africa, New Zealand, Italy, Chile291TomatoesThe Netherlands, Morocco, Spain260Onions The Netherlands, Spain, Poland, Egypt260Poultry Netherlands, Poland, Ireland, Germany, Belgium260It’s also worth noting that some foods might not travel as far, but are more carbon-heavy because they have to be flown rather than shipped. This typically includes perishable products like out-of-season berries, asparagus, and green beans. Three ways to reduce food miles in the UKThe idea of reducing your food miles might seem like a daunting task, especially if you check food labels at the supermarket and see how far items have travelled to get there.Almost everything in mainstream supermarkets is imported from another country – sometimes even when that particular food is in season in the UK! But if you want to reduce your food miles, there are three key things you can do – it won’t cost you extra money, either.1. Shop locallyInstead of heading to a major supermarket for your next big food shop, try getting your food from a local independent store, a farm shop, or a farmers market. Unlike supermarket chains, these outlets tend to supply food from local farms, which means they won’t have to travel very far.This won’t always be the case, however, so it’s worth doing your research or asking employees to see where their food produce has come from. Generally, you’ll find that employees at farmer’s markets and local shops are happy to talk about where their food has come from – it’s usually one of their main selling points.2. Eat seasonallyHistorically, we were only able to eat fruit and vegetables that were in season, because it’s all that was available to us. That meant no berries in the winter, no root veg in the summer, and no exotic fruit.If you want to reduce your food miles, returning to this seasonal way of eating is a must. It’ll mean you’ll avoid eating food that has had to be shipped in from across the world, where that fruit or veg is actually in season.Although it might take some time to adjust to this more restricted eating regime, you’ll be able to reduce your emissions, and will be eating more nutrient-rich foods.3. Grow your own foodIf you want to go one step further, try growing your own fruit and vegetables from the comfort of your own home, or from a local allotment.If this seems a little intimidating to you, why not just start with a few herbs? They’re easy to grow and maintain, and all you have to do is snip a bit off whenever you need some for cooking.Once you’re feeling more confident, you can get stuck in with growing all sorts of colourful goodies. To help you get started, check out our helpful guide on How To Grow Your Own Food At Home.SummaryAlthough food miles only make up 6% of the average food items’ carbon footprint, the sheer volume of food we get through now means they’re still producing a lot of CO2e emissions – 3 billion tonnes a year, to be exact.Food miles aren’t typically the first thing people think of when they consider ways to reduce their emissions, but it has a huge impact on the planet.Want to reduce your food miles? Try our three simple steps to get a head start – you’d be surprised how much of a difference it can make. Written by: Beth Howell Content Manager Beth has been writing about green tech, the environment, and climate change for over three years now – with her work being featured in publications such as The BBC, Forbes, The Express, Greenpeace, and in multiple academic journals. Whether you're after a new set of solar panels, energy-saving tips, or advice on how to reduce your carbon footprint, she's got you covered.