CSA and Climate Change

There’s a lengthy series in the New York Times this week about farming and climate change that includes a “How-to” guide for consumers to reduce the carbon footprint of their diet. I would guess that most TFF subscribers are already doing most of these things: eating less meat and more plants, for example.
But nowhere is there a mention of eating locally and in season, shopping at farmers markets or joining a CSA.
Our food system is focused like a laser on convenient abundance, on having everything available to anyone, whenever they want it, for a reasonable price. This convenience has a number of hidden costs, but carbon is one of the big ones. When a fruit shopper in California buys a mango from Mexico instead of a locally grown orange, the cost to them might be the same or even less. But the mango traveled thousands of miles, with the A/C on full blast the whole way.
When people talk about climate change, they have a strong tendency to blame the fossil fuel industry. After all, fossil fuels are the prime vector by which the human race has transferred millions of years worth of stored carbon into the atmosphere. But the root cause of climate change is humanity’s desire for convenience. Electricity, heat, air conditioning and cars have made many of life’s tasks easy while expanding our options of where to live, what to eat, and a thousand other choices.
Convenience is woven into the fabric of our modern lives. It has become like air — when it is lacking, we feel constrained and restricted.
Joining a CSA is not “convenient” in a 21st century way. It requires an agreement to give up a certain amount of choice, and to lock yourself into a routine that might require altering your schedule. But it comes with a substantial savings in carbon.
At some point in the near future, climate change will begin to impact the convenient abundance of our food supply. We may already be at “peak abundance”, but there’s also a chance that with a small amount of warming, food supplies could actually increase for a while. Or it could be a combination of the two, with years or periods of higher abundance followed by times of increased scarcity.
Looked at from this perspective, then, CSAs are not just a great way to reduce the carbon footprint of the food you eat. They are a good model for the future. Highly diverse farms are better protected from swings in the weather, and CSA subscribers are accustomed to the discipline of eating what is seasonally available. Children who grow up eating from a weekly CSA box may be better prepared for a world where food choices are more limited than they are currently.


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