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Buying power: Food

Where does your food come from?

What are food miles?

Over the last fifty years, there have been major changes in how food is produced and how it is supplied to the UK’s supermarkets. There have been changes in the source of food supply to meet our demand for year-round supply of produce such as fruit and vegetables with food imported from overseas. There has also been a switch from frequent food shopping (on foot) at small local shops to weekly shopping by car at large out of town supermarkets. These trends have led to a large increase in the distance food travels from the farm to consumer, known as food miles.

How far does the average Christmas dinner travel before it reaches your plate?

The food you eat may have travelled a long way to reach you: from the field to the supermarket can be hundreds of food miles – sometimes even as much as all the way around the world!

The travels of a strawberry

Follow this strawberry’s journey to find out how it may reach your kitchen.

Download the diagram of the Journey of a strawberry

These strawberries have travelled many miles. Why do you think many people may be concerned about this? Discuss your ideas with a partner and share your ideas with the class.

The journey of a fish

Download this map of the UK 

Using the information given in the table below, can you plot the route of the fish from the North Sea to your dinner plate?

Use the map to plot the information below and work out the distance travelled for each part of the journey.

What has happened? Where has this happened?
The mackerel is caught by a fisherman The North Sea, off the east coast of Scotland
The fisherman takes it to market Aberdeen, Scotland
The buyer sends the fish by aeroplane to China, where it is processed. Shanghai, China (from Aberdeen to Shanghai is 8855 km)
The Chinese factory sends the fish by aeroplane back to the UK, where it is bought by a supermarket chain in your local area Sent by plane to London, England and then sent by lorry to your nearest town.
You buy the mackerel from the supermarket in your local town and take it home for dinner. Your house!

1.How many kilometres has the fish travelled from the sea to your plate? Use the given scale to calculate the answer to the nearest kilometre.
2.But that’s not all! This may be the distance the fish has travelled, but can you think of any other ways that energy has been used in getting the fish to you? (think about before the fish was caught and after you ate it too!).

Where does your food come from?

Take a look in the cupboards and fridge at home. Where does the food you buy come from?

Complete the table below for a range of products. Use this distance calculator to find out how far the products have travelled. You may have to carry out your own research to find out if these products can be grown in the UK.

Download the grid 

You could use the data to produce graphs, for example, the distance travelled (highest to lowest), or the country with the most produce.

Home cooking

Discuss with your class the foods that had the shortest food miles. Can you design a menu – a starter, a main course, a dessert and drink which includes the food with the shortest food miles?

What food will we buy? Seasonal shopping

Do you know which season these fruits and vegetables belong to?

  • Cabbage

  • Apple

  • Cherries

  • Rhubarb

  • Brussells Sprouts

  • Asparagus

  • Stawberries

  • Blackberries

  • Carrots

  • Tomatoes

  • Broccoli

  • Courgette

You can download the answers below

Is it better to buy seasonal, locally produced food, and does it taste better?

Feeding frenzy: a food miles debate

Read the following statements about food miles. Decide which ones are supporting buying seasonal, locally grown food and which ones are supporting food being imported from overseas.

"If we grew things in the UK for sale here, we British farmers would earn more money." British farmer

"Vehicles that transport the food emit greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide, which is believed to contribute to global warming." Eco protestor

"I only eat raw food because so much energy is used in the cooking process – much more than the energy that is consumed during production and transportation." Vegetarian

"We need to think about how the food is grown - it is likely to be more environmentally friendly for tomatoes to be grown in Spain and flown to the UK than for the same tomatoes to be grown in greenhouses in the UK which require electricity to light and heat them." Environmentalist

"Some foreign countries have more efficient farming methods than in the UK and therefore use less energy. Here in New Zealand we tend to apply less fertiliser to our crops. This is good because fertilisers require large amounts of energy to produce and cause high CO2 emissions" New Zealand farmer

"Many flights used to transport food are passenger flights, which would have flown whether they contained the food or not. The CO2 produced by transporting these foods is therefore only the extra produced by the plane due to the food's weight, not the CO2 produced by the whole flight." Pilot

"Food doesn't have to travel from an exotic location in order for it to clock up food miles. UK grown food can also travel a long way. Sometimes taking locally grown, organic food to the market can end up causing high emissions as less food is taken in a van than the large lorries that take food to supermarkets." Supermarket manager

"If food travels a long way before it gets eaten, it loses its freshness and many of the vitamins it contains too." Chef

"I think it's cruel to have cattle travel a long way, often in poor conditions, before they are slaughtered" Kindly scientist

"We have seen many more people who suffer from health problems such as asthma, and this is due in part to the air pollution caused by lorries and planes" Doctor

"I find that there is not a wide choice of fruit and vegetables in my local shop. I think this is because the shop only buys in those with the longest shelf life and that can travel long distances without becoming damaged." Concerned shopper

Download the grid to record your answers.

Food findings

Find out what’s happening in your local area. Are the big supermarkets importing most of the fruit and vegetables that are for sale? What is happening to your local shops in the high street? Are farmers’ markets becoming more popular in your local area? Carry out an opinion poll and find out where people do the most of their shopping and the reasons why – are you going to persuade them to buy local?

Download facts about the Co-op Group to discover what it is doing about reducing its impact on the environment.

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Buying Power: Food Feeding Frenzy: A Food Miles Debate


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Buying Power: Food Feeding Frenzy: A Food Miles Debate (1)


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Buying Power: Food Food Findings Co-op Facts


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Buying Power: Food Food Findings Co-op Facts (1)


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Buying Power: Food Food miles grid


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Buying Power: Food Journey of a Fish


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Buying Power: Food Journey of a Fish (1)


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Buying Power: Food Journey of a Strawberry


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Buying Power: Food macker 2


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Buying Power: Food Seasonal Shopping


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Buying Power: Food Seasonal Shopping (1)


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Buying Power: Food Teachers' Notes


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Buying Power: Food Teachers' Notes (1)


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Buying Power: Food Where Does All Your Food Come From? Grid


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