For many families, it is a holiday tradition to generously fill plates with exotic foods and treats that they do not consume on a daily basis. But experts say that this way of celebrating comes at a high cost to the environment, and that households should source locally grown products and throw away less to reduce the environmental impact of the holidays.

In Greece, holiday tables are traditionally adorned with turkeys from France, pork and beef from Holland, potatoes from Cyprus, lemons from Argentina, dates from Israel, asparagus from Peru and even pine nuts from China.

All of the abovementioned foods travel quite a distance before reaching the plates of consumers, which is known as “food miles.”  Experts say that, in Greece, it isn’t unusual to find items that have travelled as far as 11,000 kilometers to reach our plates.

And the distance traveled by the items we consume can lead to tons of additional CO2 emissions related to transportation. For example, experts note that the transportation of limes from Brazil to Greece costs the environment an additional 2 tons of CO2.

Studies have shown that of the total environmental footprint of our foods, 11% of it is attributed to transport. The United Kingdom places CO2 emissions related to the air transport of food to their country at 2 million tons of carbon dioxide per year.

The 100-Mile Diet

To cut down on the impact of our foods, experts have been promoting what they call the 100-mile diet for the past few years. The purpose of the diet is not to reduce calories and lose weight, but rather it is to reduce the CO2 emissions related to the transport of our food by sourcing locally- specifically within a 100-mile radius of our house.

So what can residents in Greece do to bring down the environmental footprint of their food? Scientists at Harokopio University in Athens note that the solution is very simple and tasty- the Mediterranean diet.

Greece is blessed with a variety of seasonal fruits and vegetables and local products which are often tastier and richer in nutrients, as long trips lead to reduced freshness and vitamin loss, according to WWF.

Moreover, “buying local products not only reduces the amount of food needed to transport them, it also reduces the number of times the products need to be packed, meanwhile reducing their price,” says WWF.

Food Waste

On top of the need to source locally, experts and researchers also stress that it is important to reduce the amount of food items that end up in the trash. Over the holidays, the already high level of food waste in Greece increases an additional 15%.

Assistant Professor of Circular Economy Christina Chroni, from the Department of Economics at Harokopio University, points out that “food waste is a triple challenge- environmental, economic and social. And in fact experience shows us that during the holidays the challenge gets even greater.”

According to surveys in Great Britian, households throw away the equivalent of 4.2 million dinners. Meanwhile, between Thanksgiving and New Year’s in the US, 5 million tons of food end up in the trash.

On an EU level, 59 million tons of waste are produced every year, which averages at about 131 kg per person. According to Eurostat, 69% of food waste in the bloc stems from households, catering services and retail trade.

Research on food waste in Greece in 2020, conducted by Harokopio university, shows that Greeks throw away more than the average European, amounting to 192 kg per person. Households account for more than half of all waste, followed by food processing, primary production, catering and retail -distribution.

“Unfortunately, the problem of food waste is intensifying…at a time when 800 million people worldwide do not have access to sufficient amount of food, more than 2 million people have micronutrient deficiencies, and 32.6 million citizens of the EU cannot have a quality meal every day due to financial reasons,” says Chroni.