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Fact sheet

Food mileage

How to prevent our food from travelling

Published on 

The phrase “food mileage” refers to the distances travelled by food before reaching our plates. This mileage not only contributes to greenhouse gas emissions, but also generates other, less known, negative impacts. By tweaking our consumption habits, we can limit these environmental and health impacts.

What are the negatives of food mileage?

Greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions

Much of our food arrives on ultra-polluting container ships like this.

Before being consumed, our food travels an average of 2,500 km. For example, a Mexican tomato – still a bit green when picked – travels over 3,000 km in a refrigerated truck before arriving here. A single delivery truck belches out more than 4.5 tonnes of GHG emissions into the atmosphere. This is quite the voyage, especially when you consider that Quebec has over 1,550 growers who produce vegetables for local consumption!

Équiterre released a report on how to lower emissions from transport trucks in Montreal.


To survive the trip and storage conditions, facilitate distribution and ensure its attractiveness upon arrival, transported food is packaged, and in some cases overpackaged. This requires large amounts of plastic and cardboard – so much so that food industry packaging accounts for 70% of all packaging in Quebec.

Réduction des emballages alimentaires

  • pdf  - 0.82 mb Réduction des emballages alimentaires

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Loss of freshness

Most fruits and vegetables must be picked before they ripen in light of the time they will spend in transit when imported. They ripen in the truck, not on the plant in the sun. In fact, ripening agents are sometimes needed to accelerate the process. If the travel time between producer and consumer were shortened, the food could be harvested when ripe and consumed soon thereafter.

Did you know? 🌎

The nutritional value of food begins to deteriorate upon harvesting. So imagine how much of this value remains once a raspberry makes the 9,000 km trek from Chile!

The area of origin

A food item that comes from another country or continent may have been produced in unknown or inadequate conditions. Working conditions in some countries may be very poor (e.g. low pay, poor job security, long hours over days and even weeks, inadequate equipment and few if any work benefits.

Food system that treats and pays workers fairly and makes food readily available

What’s the real solution? Eat local and especially seasonal!

Buy local to reduce your GHG footprint

By buying local products from a short food-supply chain (featuring a single intermediary between producer and consumer), you can avoid food shipped from a great distance and thereby reduce your environmental footprint.

Buying local: one way to reduce packaging

Since local products are not prone to overpackaging thanks to the short distances involved, they generate less waste. What’s more, buying local gives you greater access to bulk products and lets you choose your food.

Buying local: a key ingredient in eating fresh, seasonal food and making the most of our abundant harvests

A simple way to avoid food transported from far way is to buy local food in season – which is to say, during our farms’ peak harvest seasons in summer and fall. Buying in season has the added advantage of saving money and being able to buy larger quantities for canning, storage or freezing – food we can then eat all year long. Not to mention that when fruits and vegetables are harvested at maturity, their nutritional value is at its peak, allowing consumers to fully benefit from the food’s vitamins and nutrients.

  • pdf  - 1.69 mb Calendrier de disponibilité des fruits et légumes

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  • pdf  - 2.95 mb Guide de conservation

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Buying local helps us encourage our local businesses

Buying local instead of food that has travelled great distances helps spur the local economy, create jobs, preserve Quebec’s agricultural heritage and contribute to our food independence, to name just a few of the benefits.

Lower food mileage translates into greater autonomy

The public health crisis reminds us of the importance of food autonomy. The closing of our borders and trade bottlenecks for certain products have made us realize just how essential it is to be able to produce and process here at home a greater portion of what we consume. And one way to achieve this is to minimize the distances travelled by our food. This is well within our means.

Équiterre is committed to a more sustainable agriculture and food system.