In reflecting on the causes of rising levels of Greenhouse Gases (GHGs), we instinctively focus on direct sources of pollution. Power plants, vehicles and factories are images which typically come to mind. What we tend to overlook is the need fulfilled by these sources and the opportunities to modify the ways in which the needs are met. We don’t need power plants; we need electricity to power our homes and devices. We don’t need cars; we need safe and efficient methods of transport. We don’t need factories; we need products which provide utility. It is in this line of thinking which this paper intends to examine the current food systems of Los Angeles County, and to suggest a model which would reduce GHGs within the region and far beyond it.
Combined with deforestation, agriculture has recently been blamed for “36% of all anthropogenic emissions.” (DeFries and Rosenzweig 2010) Alternately, the World Resources Institute attributes 15.2% of all agriculture related GHGs, not including transportation, to agriculture. (Appendix A) Given its incredible impact, the global food system’s products and practices appear ripe for scrutiny.
Upon initiating research for this paper, my working hypothesis was that food miles were the cause of, and locavores the solution to, food-related GHGs. As often happens, research shined a light on unexpected data. Distance alone turned out to be far less important than method of transport. Additionally, food waste (Relaxnews 2011) and methods of production entered the picture as major contributors. Overconsumption and dietary choices further muddied the waters. As I waded through the available literature, the picture of a re-imagined food system began to emerge which centered on three guiding principles: properly aligned incentives, informed choices and overall efficiency. This paper attempts to detail the key factors contributing to GHGs in today’s food systems while hazarding a path forward.