The Meal From Timbuktu

Once upon a time, our family dinner tables were adorned with in-season dishes made from backyard gardens or a neighbor’s farm. This simple way of eating has vanished, replaced by a highly complex food system designed to provide convenience and year-round food availability.

While it’s nice to mindlessly pop into a supermarket and not have to think about what food is in season where we live, this lack of awareness comes at a price. Many of the items we purchase from the supermarket have traveled thousands of miles (usually from another country) to get to us. They’re also not fresh. The dizzying array of chemical tricks we’ve developed to keep food looking good (can anyone say “1-methylcyclopropene”?) means that a “ripe” apple in the produce section may actually be months old.


Why should we be worried about our complex food system?  Our food purchases make a impact on our environment, health, and local economy. The Center for Urban Education about Sustainable Agriculture estimates that most of our meals travel 1500 miles to get to our plates.

1500 miles. Let’s illustrate this. Here are some of the things I might shop for in a typical day:


Dominican Republic to Little Rock: 1749 miles

Avocados (because, guacamole)

Mexico City to Little Rock: 1445 miles


Columbia to Little Rock: 2,380 miles

I’m going to stop there, because those three items alone have already traveled over 5,574 miles to get to me (because we haven’t even factored in the distribution centers for Supermarkets). By that time, my food might has well have come to me from Timbuktu. Literally.



This means that each of our meals costs WAY more than the number on the grocery bill, because we have to factor in the economical and environmental cost of the fossil fuel burned and carbon emissions over those 1500 miles. A study by the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture in Iowa estimated that “growing and transporting 10 percent more of the produce for Iowa consumption…would result in an annual savings ranging from 280 to 346 thousand gallons of fuel”.


When we make a conscious effort to source more of our food locally, it’s better for everyone. It doesn’t have to be difficult either – Little Rock is home to some fantastic farmer’s markets and CSA’s (including ALFN’s Little Rock Food Club!). Here’s some examples of how far the food at our market travels to get to your home in Little Rock:


Lonoke to Little Rock: 27 miles


Center Ridge to Little Rock: 63.4 miles


Atkins to Little Rock: 57 miles


Vilonia to Little Rock: 37.6 miles

Let’s make an effort to improve our communities, our health, and our environment by choosing to eat more local foods!


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