Janet Raloff in Science News Online:
Which is better for the environment: a meal cooked from scratch at home or a packaged frozen or freeze-dried meal cooked up in distant industrial kitchens and trucked to supermarkets? Most consumers would guess the former, notes environmental engineer Ulf Sonesson. Even many food scientists would vote for home cooking as the greener option, he says.
However, those guesses probably wouldn’t be taking into account economies of scale in food companies’ mass preparation of meals, says Sonesson.
Indeed, when he and his team at the Swedish Institute for Food and Biotechnology made calculations including such efficiencies, they found no big difference between the environmental footprints of home-cooked versus ready-to-eat fare. Each means of putting food on the table has environmental advantages and disadvantages that, in the end, “even each other out,” the researchers concluded.
A major reason the resource costs of the two different types of meals are so similar, overall, is that cooking itself contributes comparatively little to environmental costs of a meal. Most impacts instead occur around the farm or in the marketplace—upstream of food preparation—and contribute comparably to meals, regardless of where they’re cooked.