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Sustainable Life: Eat Local and Fresh

Mia Swainson

Feel good about what you can do, not guilty about what you can’t.

Most of us like to eat with a little gourmet flair. We love Italian pasta, French cheeses and Japanese miso soup. We like watermelon, tomatoes and cucumbers in August, even though these plants don’t survive Canberra’s frosty winters. We like to be able to entertain friends with the meals that we choose to cook, any time of the year.

What is the cost to the planet of our gourmet cooking? Do we need a food mile diet?

The CERES Community Environment Park in Melbourne published Australia’s first food miles study* in 2007. They found that a typical Australian family’s healthy food basket from the supermarket with fruit, vegetables, bread, eggs, meat, cereal and some treats will have travelled a total of 21,073 km, almost the same distance from Canberra to Hollywood and back.

Now here’s an opportunity to make a real difference for our planet. I’ve taken up the challenge and put myself on a food mile diet with two simple steps.

Step 1: Source locally grown fresh food

We’re lucky here in Canberra to have one of Australia’s best farmer’s markets right here at EPIC – the Capital Region Farmers Market – every Saturday morning (7:30am – 11:30am). I now buy my weekly fruit and vegetables here and feel the passion that farmers like Bill and Sandra Karafistan put into growing my vine ripened tomatoes, luscious strawberries and fresh baby spinach.

We share our weekly stories of crazy kid things, weddings and broken bones. If EPIC doesn’t suit you, try the Southside Farmers Market, on at the Woden CIT campus, 8:00am – 11:30am on Sundays or the Eat Local Friday markets at the Australian National Botanic Gardens, 2:30pm – 7:00pm Fridays in the top car park. If you’re not around on weekends, there’s also the farmer’s outlet stores Choku Bai Jo located at the North Lyneham and Curtin shops.

As well as knowing my fruit and vegetables are regionally sourced, the quality and freshness is fantastic. I just can’t go back to limp, drab supermarket vegetables. I like my apples with real crunch, without wax and without those annoying little stickers on them. I like meeting the people who grow my food, however, I found this the hardest step in my food miles diet because it changed my weekly shopping routine.


Step 2: Reduce the amount of processed food that I buy

Processed food usually includes more than one ingredient. So, all the ingredients have to be transported from where they were grown, to the processing plant. Then, they’re transported again to your local shops. This makes a big difference to the food miles in the finished product. A 2005 study** by the Leopold Centre in America found that the milk, sugar and strawberries which go into a carton of strawberry yoghurt collectively journeyed 3,558 km to get to the processing plant, that’s about the distance from Canberra to Perth.

So, I’ve swapped breakfast cereal for muesli that I make at home. I’m eating more porridge oats this winter too, as they have just the one ingredient. I also make my own yoghurt from milk and a small starter culture. For kids’ school lunches, I bake carrot, zucchini and seed muffins and pop them in the freezer so that they’re a ready-made addition to their lunch boxes. You could also try baking your own bread or making your own pasta and curry sauces in bulk.

We can all shake off some food mile weight. I took two simple steps and have put myself on a food mile diet. My taste in gourmet food hasn’t gone away and my passion for good quality, fresh ingredients has deepened. This is a diet that I want to stick with – the food tastes better and the seasons inspire creativity in my cooking.


*Gaballa, Sophie and Abraham, Asha Bee ‘Food Miles in Australia: A preliminary study in Melbourne, Victoria’ July 2007, CERES Community Environment Park

Accessed online 23 July at: http://www.theage.com.au/ed_docs/food_miles.pdf

**Pirog, Rich and Benjamin, Andrew ‘Calculating food miles for a multiple ingredient food product’ March 2005, Leopold Centre for Sustainable Agriculture Accessed online 28 July at: https://www.leopold.iastate.edu/sites/default/files/pubs-and-papers/2005-03-calculating-food-miles-multiple-ingredient-food-product.pdf


Mia Swainson

Mia Swainson is passionate about creating a more sustainable world and believes that everyone can make a difference. Trained as an environmental engineer, Mia has worked in sustainable development with the Australian Government and community sector for more than 15 years. Mia’s work has taken her around the world to Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands and back to Canberra. She currently tends her kitchen garden, cares for three young boys and is growing her executive coaching consultancy (miaswainson.com.au/wp). More about the Author

  • Eve Kelly

    So many great ideas! Thanks Mia!