Fife Diet demonstrates the huge cuts that can be made to carbon footprints, says Joanna Blythman

The local food movement is on a roll.

It appeals to people at an emotional level. There seems something right and natural about favouring the food produced near where you live. Our supermarket food system, with its very long supply chains that fly in the face of the seasons, creates a hunger for food with a sense of place.

Now there's evidence to show that the benefits of reducing food miles are more than whimsy. The Fife Diet, the UK's trail-blazing experiment in 'locavorism', is producing fascinating results.

Currently, more than 1,000 people there are eating a diet that consists of 80% local food and 20% not local. The benefits of this 80:20 approach have just been quantified in a report measuring the carbon "foodprint" of 72 Fife Diet households.

What has emerged is that, on average, the Fife dieters have a carbon footprint 27% below the national average, while the keenest participants are reducing their carbon impact by 40%.

How are these substantial carbon savings being made?

The study found that the most important strategies for carbon reduction were, in decreasing order of importance, eating less meat, eating organic, eating local, composting and growing your own.

The report acknowledges that its meat calculations were not refined enough to distinguish between factory-farmed and free-range, pasture-fed livestock. It points out that the latter would certainly have a much lighter carbon footprint in which case, eating organic may be the number one message for carbon reduction.

The researchers suggest that the opening strategy for encouraging us to reduce our food carbon footprint would be eating local organic food and composting waste. Once we had taken these on board, then eating less meat, and wasting less of the food we buy, are the next strategies we need to take on board.

Cynics cynically dismiss growing interest in local food of good provenance as folksy and irrelevant to the main business of globalised food chains and mammoth retailers. But this report quantifies the breathtaking carbon savings that can be made from jumping off that treadmill. It flags up the direction that we need to take if our food system is not to land us in very hot environmental water.

Can we do it ? We can't afford not to.

Joanna Blythman is a food journalist and author of Bad Food Britain.