FREAK Shots: Far-Flung Nuts

Flickr user somebody 3lse chose this $4.99 package of almonds at a store in Canada “because it was the cheapest.” Going by the information on the label, the almonds, she estimates, traveled approximately 22,000 km. during processing and packaging (California to Vietnam to Canada).

DESCRIPTIONPhoto: somebody 3lse

So does this make you want to go locavore, since so much fuel was likely used in transporting them around the globe, and maybe they’re not the freshest almonds? Or does it support the global food economy: fuel costs are a small part of the production budget, and packaging them in Vietnam probably kept down the price.

Imad Qureshi

If packaging in Vietnam reduces the price, so be it. I'll buy these almonds.


Assuming no lead or other substances was added during the processing, almonds probably travel ok. For for more perishable produce (e.g. asparagus) it's better to buy local and in season if possible.


Of course, fuel is currently underpriced because we aren't paying upfront for the negative externalities from burning fossil fuels.

Mike B

Local eating people need to realize, at least where human processing workers are involved, that it is better to employ someone in Vietnam because that person uses far fewer energy resources than a first world worker. To put it another way their slavings result in CO2 savings :-D

Of course the best solution is to invent a durable machine that can do the work automatically because an inanimate machine consumes less resources than a person.


There's a lot of misinformation when it comes to the fuel efficiency of container shipping. Nevertheless, these nuts probably wash down nicely with "Fiji" water.

I understand the Mormon church owns a significant percentage of world nut orchards (mostly in cashews, but I understand almonds as well); could they use followup processing as a carrot with otherwise intransigent governments to allow access by missionaries? If that's the case, then the bottom-line economics may be secondary to other missions.


Soon we will have less choice given peak oil.

We're undermining local food production and processing.

What will we then eat?


I will go locavore when externalities such as greenhouse gas emissions are priced in.


It reminds me of Nishiki (Japanese) imported rice, grown in California, I like to buy here in the East Coast of the USA. The price is much more dear than a local brand of domestically grown rice. I would think fuel costs matter significantly when hauling 20lb bags of rice freight (California -> Japan -> New York).


This is precisely the reason that I just buy bulk unpacked nuts and reduce the wated packaging and localize the packing labor to myself.


there is almost the same capital outlay required to install the packaging line in either California or Viet Nam. If process is substantially automated, the labor savings amount to peanuts. There are also increases in working capital, customs brokerage and transportation costs.

Are there substantial agricultural subsidies when shipping goods outside NAFTA? These seem the only logical "savings".


The question is why is it so much cheaper to ship these nuts to Vietnam to be packed by a human, when there are humans perfectly able to pack them where they are grown?

Is there something intrinsic about the humans in Vietnam that allows them to pack them for so much less money than those in California? In a perfectly efficient market, wouldn't the cost for labor in Vietnam be the same as the cost for labor in California?

The inefficiencies in the marketplace are causing us to waste for more resources than we would otherwise. Of course, those same inefficiencies allow the standard of living in the US to be so much greater than other parts of the world.


Or may be "California Almonds" is just a name of the sort of Almonds? Does not necessarily mean that the almonds came originally from California. Much like the "home made" burgers you find in RESTAURANTS ;-)



The capital outlay for a factory is likely far less in Vietnam than California. California has much stricter air quality, zoning and labor laws.


Populations centers are the enemy.

Cities are packed with people and almost zero tillable acreage.

If people from the city moved evenly across the central plains of the US, less shipping would be necessary to get the food from fields (central plains) to the people.

If people moved out of the cities, everyone could buy local and not need to package it for shipping and retail.


I think people are focused on the California to Vietman to US issue. The reality is, this is obviously a globally distributed item and the percentage of product that returns back to the States is probably very small.

The California grower likely already sells locally in bulk and to other local packagers.


Locavore is a crock.

For one thing, there's a lot of local-source labeling but not a lot of local sourcing. Do they grow Oranges and Limes in Chicago? I think not, but here they are:

Second, driving a small truck to a local farmer's market is not necessarily cheaper than shipping a railcar cross county and then using a large truck to deliver to the store.

Third, when we ate local, the winter consisted mostly of root vegetables and canned stuff. Was that really better, by any reasonable definition of "better"?


Due to Salmonella outbreaks, the FDA mandated in 2007 that all California almonds be pasteurized, which would obviously add processing cost to the almonds. Packaging in Vietnam may be a way to circumvent the pasteurization requirement, thus saving production costs (and keeping the raw foodists happy).


@14: Don't forget to consider the increased cost of final distribution to the consumer when consumers are not located closely to each other. Do you think it would take more fuel/money to send 10,000 ears of corn grown in Nebraska to 10,000 customers evenly distributed across Nebraska, or to 10,000 customers equally far away in Manhattan?

Additionally, different areas are better for growing different items. The common argument (not necessarily said here, but I've heard it often) that more evenly-distributed populations could feed themselves locally is impractical when any given area produces only a small proportion of the variety of foods we eat. We'd end up shipping most of it to each other anyway, and that's the beauty of a global economy.


Shipping by water is very, very cheap and energy efficent. It probably cost less to ship the almonds from LA to Vietnam to Canada, than to ship from the warehouse to the grocery store.

Bobby G

If packaging it in Vietnam and shipping it thousands of miles to sell it in the US is cheaper than paying Americans to pack it, then there is something flawed in the US system. I'm thinking unions, but the above mentioned pasturization is probably another source. Yay for government interference.