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Broken 2400 Kilometers

May 19, 2012

From CalebThe Space of Food

I was contemplating how to depict the distance the average distance food travels in the United States.

It seems appropriate to make this description using food. Spaghetti seems an appropriate choice, since it is essentially linear.

The average length of a strand of thin spaghetti is 25 cm.

A typical box contains 775 pieces, or about 1.9 km.

1263 boxes represents the 2400 km.

It is also a tongue-in-cheek homage to Walter Di Maria’s Broken Kilometer. It would be nice to array all of that spaghetti on a floor (all 96 million pieces), but I hate to waste food, even in the name of art.


At first, I thought to describe it with lines on standard letter size paper.

Each line is 25 cm long.

Each sheet holds 400 lines, thus 100 meters.

10 sheets = 1 km

24,000 sheets = 2400 km or 1500 miles

12,000 double sided are needed to represent 2400 km.

A ream is 500 sheets.

That means 24 reams.

It is an often stated stat that the average meal has traveled 1500 miles (2400 km) to be on your plate. I’ve seen a lot of studies that show that even though this distance may be correct, that transportation only accounts for a small percentage of the overall energy cost of our food. Other studies indicate that the large wholesalers aggregate food and ship larger quantities, maximizing the potential for vehicles.

Whatever the study, there are bizarre facts: California accounts for some 75% of US produce, and 15% of agriculture as a whole; we eat tomatoes in February flown from Israel or heated glasshouses in Canada; New York, the third largest apple producing state in the nation, imports apples from Washington, Chile, and New Zealand. In the search for the lowest possible price, cheap energy allows for global markets for what should and could be a local product.



What I enjoy most about buying from the people who grow or make the food is the conversation. I learn about the soil for growing greens; the chickens that laid the eggs; the wheat grown near Ithaca used to make the gin. 1500 miles is a spatial abstraction. We can perhaps conceive, with the aid of this study, the physicality of the abstraction of distance, but we cannot achieve any concept of the actual space of production – we don’t even know from what part of the country that cabbage originated. With local food, however, we meet the farmers, we see pictures of the farm, we can take a trip and visit the farm. Because it is fairly close, we can picture the landscape. We have a different spatial relation to our dinner.

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