Three students at the Copenhagen Institute of Interaction Design have experimented in physical representations of the environmental impacts of food. Their project, Meet the Food You Eat measures the CO2 emissions resulting from food transport and the amount of offsets required to replace that in one year through what looks like a kitchen scale. Aimed at the general public and focusing on a controversial part of a food product's life cycle, this piece is meant to make you think, not to give you scientific data.
The creators also note on their site:
"As an exhibition piece, this scale will raise questions about the food you buy, where it comes from and how it is transported. With a subject as complex as carbon emissions and the global food economy, our scale is only an entry point and is intended to raise more questions than it will answer."
How does it work?
You place your food on one side of the scale and on the other side you place glass and acrylic tree-shaped weights that represent the offsets needed for that food item.
"The scale works by looking at the carbon emitted by transporting a particular product from its country of origin to Denmark. Place an RFID tagged product on the appropriate arm and try to balance the scale with the tree shaped weights. The amount of trees used to balance the scale represents the number of actual trees it would take to offset that product's carbon emissions over one year. Swap items on the scale and compare different items from a particular country or similar items from different countries."
It's important to question where your food comes and generally speaking, you can probably assume that local products from local farmers have a lower carbon footprint than industrially produced products coming from far away. However, transportation can sometimes only account for about 20% of those impacts, so you really should consider all of the phases of a product's life cycle.
Take a look at Meet the Food You Eat website to watch the video of the noisy prototype.
More on Carbon Footprints and Food Miles
The Carbon Footprint of a Burger
Carbon Footprint Labels for UK Produce
The Carbon Footprint of Moving Bottled Water
Misunderstanding Food Miles
Tim Lange: Inventor of Food Miles
The Eco Diet Isn't Just About Food Miles