Sustainable food

All food makes a journey from source to consumer. This journey is calculated in food miles.

Food miles

Food miles measure the distance a food has travelled to get to your plate using transport that produces carbon emissions. Some food travels from the farm it is grown on to a shop to be sold. Other foods travel to a factory first and then to a supermarket or shop.

Food that is grown and produced locally is a more sustainable option for our environment.

We have access to food products from all over the world. For example, cheese from Europe and bananas from South America. Almost anything can be imported (brought from other countries).

Processed foods

Processed foods will contain a list of different ingredients. Each ingredient will already have travelled some distance before they are all mixed together.

For example, a prepackaged fruit salad from the supermarket could contain strawberries from Scotland, pineapple from Costa Rica and grapes from Egypt.

  • Each of these foods created food miles on their way to the factory where they were prepared and packed.
  • They then gained more food miles on their journey to the supermarket.
  • Finally, further food miles would have been added if a customer travelled to and from the supermarket by car or bus.

Fresh foods

Fresh foods gain miles when they are transported from where they are grown to where they will be bought by the consumer.

For example, pears from Argentina will have travelled over 7,000 miles to reach the UK. All the energy needed to transport the pears from Argentina creates a carbon footprint (the amount of greenhouse gases produced).

Food and the environment

We need energy to grow, produce and transport food. Producing some food uses more energy than others. Lots of our energy comes from fossil fuels (coal, gas and oil) which all produce carbon emissions.

What are carbon emissions?

Carbon emissions are gases such as carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide. These are released into the Earth’s atmosphere when we burn fossil fuels to release energy. Carbon emissions are a cause of global warming and some cause pollution.

What is global warming?

Global warming is part of climate change. It means the increase in overall temperature of the Earth’s atmosphere. Carbon emissions acts like a greenhouse surrounding our Earth. They prevent heat escaping from the Earth’s atmosphere and this makes the planet warmer.

What can we do?

Our food choices have an impact on our environment. By looking out for stickers and packaging that tells us where our food has come from, we can try to reduce our food miles by buying local, sustainable food.

We can also eat less of foods that it takes a lot of energy to produce, like meat and dairy, food that is grown in heated greenhouses, and heavily processed foods.

Interesting words

  • sustainable - if a food source is sustainable it means it can continue to be used without running out. For example, if we always fish in the same part of the sea and never allow the fish population to breed and grow again the fish supply in that area will eventually run out.
  • local - a place close by, somewhere near to where you live. A shop in your town would be your local shop as opposed to a shop you had to travel to.
  • imported foods - foods that have been brought into a country from another country to be sold.
Local produce sign at a fruit and veg market

Local food

Fruit and vegetables that were grown near your home would be considered local. This is better for the environment because less energy has been used to get the food to you.

1 of 4

Try this short quiz to test your knowledge on sustainable food production.


Think about your favourite foods. Investigate where each of the ingredients came from and calculate their food miles.

Easy recipes for kids
Climate change food calculator
2nd level Sustainability

There's more to learn...

This guide
Sustainable food for Primary Bitesize

Sustainable food