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Case Study

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How many miles go into Icebox cookies?

It’s the holiday season and you’re making cookies for the family Christmas party. How many miles go into your favorite Christmas cookie, or any cookie? The grocery choices you make affect the greenhouse gas inventory. Food miles are one way to get an idea of the CO2 cost of cookies. 

When you make cookies the first step is to choose your cookie, then collect your ingredients. The cookie for this example will be a traditional Swedish icebox cookie.

The ingredients in icebox cookies are:

  • All-purpose flour (1 3/4 cup)
  • Butter (3/4 cup)
  • Sugar (1/3 cup)
  • Vanilla extract (1 tsp)

The next step in finding how many food miles are in an icebox cookie is to find out where all of the necessary ingredients come from. Below is an organized table of each ingredient and where it comes from. These locations were determined from the cookie ingredient powerpoint presentation

Ingredient

Location of ingredient source: Option A

Location of ingredient source: Option B

All-purpose flour

Minneapolis, MN

New Hope, NY

Butter

Arden Mills, MN

Potsdam, NY

Sugar

Brazil

Hawaii

Vanilla extract

Madagascar

Mexico


Once all the locations for ingredients are known they can be plotted on Google Earth using the pin feature, then connected to your hometown with the ‘add a path’ feature. This will give the distance (as the crow flies) from the source of the ingredient to the place where it will be used. It should also provide a good visual aid.

Below is the completed table with distances, accompanied by an image from Google Earth

Ingredient

Option A Distance (miles)

Option B Distance (miles)

Flour

964

90

Butter

971

15

Sugar

4907

4261

Vanilla Extract

8601

2184

Google Earth Paths and Pins

Once the individual distances are found using Google Earth they can be summed to find the total food miles associated with making Icebox cookies.

Food Miles

Option A

Option B

12,862

7,196

Optional step for older students: The number of miles and the amount of each ingredient was entered into the provided MS Excel worksheet, Calculating CO2 worksheet.xls and the amount of carbon dioxide emitted from the miles each food traveled is calculated. The results are shown in the example tab of the MS Excel worksheet.