Month: January 2020 (page 1 of 4)

Biography

I am an Environmental Studies major pursuing a Food Studies Certificate. My interest with food began cooking with my family, but the connection between sustainability and food in my life was introduced to me by the Dickinson College Farm. Studying agriculture in India and food systems in Carlisle have sparked my interest in sustainable food production and the role of equitable food access as a piece of community resilience. I am passionate about sustainable community development and the involvement of food access within that sphere.

Assignment #1 – You and the Food System

Image result for honey bunches of oatsImage result for sweet kettle cornImage result for milk and eggs

 

On Monday January 27th, I ate sriracha chicken and french fries for lunch. I usually do not eat breakfast when I am at Dickinson. But, I started to feel a head cold coming so I went to the underground and got a Ginger Zinger juice. For dinner, I went to the Dden and bought some snacks for dinner. On Tuesday, I made dinner with friends. We made black bean chili soup, broccoli, and rice. Some of the ingredients were scavenged from the Snar and Dden, while some were store brought. We took broccoli and two pieces of chicken breast from the Snar, and to make things ~fancy~ I included some eggs, which I purchased at the Dden. Over the course of the week, I realized that I depend heavily on getting some of my food from the Dden. I live at one of the farthest points on campus, so it makes more sense for me to buy food to carry home with me for later. I also realized that I ate a lot of cereal throughout the course of the week. Cereal usually is not a staple in my diet, but I find it to be super convenient when all else seems like too much work. It is delicious and nutritious. If I eat cereal, I realize it requires milk, this is also bought at the Dden. In all honesty, I am not exactly sure where all my food traces back from. However, a lot of the stuff you can buy at Dickinson is locally grown and made. For instance, I absolutely love the kettle corn from the Dden, and found that it was a good snack I ate throughout the week, which is also locally-made and can be traced back less than 20 miles away. Same for the milk and eggs. On the third day, I went to the Snar because of it’s convenience (I was too ill to make food for myself and felt weak, so I needed some protein), I decided to buy a cheeseburger and french fries for breakfast at 3pm. Doing this assignment made me realize how sporadic and unconventional my diet is here at Dickinson. I think it is also the case for when I am back at home too, I do not really pay this much attention to what I am eating or when I am eating. I also realized that I like to snack a lot, so my diet mainly consists of easy processed foods like popcorn, potato chips and cereals. In any average week, I eat a lot of grains and starches when at Dickinson. When I am at home, my diet is very meat-heavy. This was not always the case when I was vegetarian 2 years ago. Going abroad enlightened me, and that’s when I decided that I should eat more meat. Although, I do need to stop eating as much meat as I have been since returning to the US. Wheat is the primary ingredient in cereal, but also some cereals contain a lot of sugar. I usually eat granola based cereals, such as Honey Bunches of Oats. The ingredients are corn, whole grain wheat, rice, canola oil, corn syrup, salt, honey, barley, natural and artificial flavors and BHT (preservative). I also drink coffee almost everyday, I prefer dark roast coffee from Trader Joe’s. The packaging says that the coffee came from California, which is not surprising. Most of the things we eat come from California, considering the environmental limitations of living in a place that experiences seasonality. My estimation is that the food that I consume on a daily basis traveled between 100 – 1,000 miles to get to where I am. From the production to the consumption, there was a large environmental impact in that it requires a lot of CO2 emissions to get a commodified food product from farm to table.

 

You and the Food System

Eggs

I have been eating a lot of eggs lately from many different locations. I have been in the habit of purchasing eggs from Farmers on the Square, but have not been able to the past two weeks. My eggs have come from my roommate’s egg container (Nellie’s Free Range Eggs; Lebanon, New Hampshire), purchased at Giant, or wherever our eggs from the Dickinson Dining Hall come from. I am uncertain of where those are from, as Dickinson is not transparent about it. Though Dining Services has sustainable vendors listed on the dining services website, there are a lot of other food items served with unclear origins.

With Nellie’s Free Range Eggs, they emphasize how their hens are treated with love and respect. They are not caged and there are many pictures of smiling white children cradling the chickens. Though the company is based in NH, farms are located all around the NE and Mid Atlantic. I could be eating eggs from close to home in Ohio, or even in PA. Or, they could be from much farther away than that. Most of the farms are in Ohio and PA, which is fitting because the top 4 egg producing states are Iowa, Ohio, Indiana, and PA. Therefore they are coming from most likely 460 miles away at the farthest. Caged chickens struggle to find space in confined areas, which is especially problematic and stressful when it comes time for them to lay eggs. There are a lot of discrepancies between egg producing practices that are often fairly misleading; “free range” can still mean a life of stress and exposure to parasites for chickens, because of predators and outdoor access. The meat industry allows for more loopholes in animal cruelty and “cage-free eggs”, including no space requirements. Environmental concerns from chicken raising also arise; eutrophying and acidifying emissions, as well as ghg emissions. Runoff is a huge concern for surrounding water bodies. Many caged hens are fed corn and soybeans, subsidized monoculture crops which can decrease soil fertility and require mass amounts of land to meet the growing demand. Additionally, labor associated with chicken farming can be unethical. Dealing with the smell and gross details of chicken farming, especially for lower pay, is not safe for the health of the farm workers.

Bread

The bread I have most frequently been consuming is King Arnold 100% whole wheat bread. The “sunbaked seeds” which the wheat, other grains, and seeds grow from are not mentioned, but most wheat in the US is grown in Kansas. Wheat farming requires a large amount of land, and most of it occurs in moisture deficient areas. This means irrigation is needed, which is high cost for farmers and resource heavy. Most farms use nitrogen and phosphorus fertilizer, so there is a concern of runoff into water bodies. Over time, depletion of soil due to chemical fertilizers and lack of crop diversification is a long term concern. New wheat technologies including genetic modification (which discourages saving of indigenous varieties) and high inputs also come with wheat farming.

Spinach

Most of the spinach I have been eating is coming from the Dickinson College Farm. Through the winter, we are still able to grow greens in the high tunnels, though not as much as we would be able to outside. They must be irrigated, which is a water-intensive process, and require farm labor for seeding, taking care, harvesting, and transporting from the farm. At the DCF, the farm labor is fair and ethical, but in other locations that may not be so. Additionally, spinach was ranked second on the Environmental Working Group’s 2019 “Dirty Dozen” in order of the most residual pesticide contamination. Even after being washed, spinach still holds a high concentration of pesticide contamination overall, leading to health concerns for consumers. An average of 7.1 different types of pesticides have been associated with spinach samples in the EWG testing processes. Pesticides most commonly associated with spinach are fungicides used to kill mold and mildew, a neurotoxic insecticide (permethrin), and pesticides like DDT/it’s breakdown products. Even though DDT has been banned for many years, residues were found in 40% of spinach samples. The spinach I consume could be anywhere between 7 miles away to 100, I would guess.

 

Spinach Leaves California

  1. What is the main ingredient of the food item? Note: If one of your foods is raisin bran, please look at the ingredients list on the box of cereal. The dominant ingredient is always listed first (in this case, wheat).
    1. I found that my main ingredients consisted less of a singular food item and more of a vegetable and grain-based diet. In particular, I consumed substantial amounts of leafy vegetables, root veggies, rice, and especially beans. For the sake of time and a more digestible assignment, I will focus on spinach as my food item. Since freshman year in Environmental Connections, I have put constant thought into the foods I eat and the effects my food choices have on the environment.
  2. Research the most common production practice used to grow/raise this ingredient. What resources (energy, chemical, environmental, human) are required in its production?
    1. Producing different vegetables and grains that made their way to my plate involves intensive processes and transportation. When I put the most staple leafy vegetable, spinach, into search engines I found that California dominates the market for spinach production. The energy needed to power mechanical cultivation and irrigation methods like sprinklers are highly intensive on finite resources. High-density planting of spinach seeds is what allows such mass-harvests of spinach leaves. However, the high density of spinach leaves in a contained space demands constant pest and weed management, along with low tolerances to mechanical harvests. Ultimately, human labor is also required to maintain proper care and adequate (but not excessive) irrigation for cultivation.
  3. In what geographical location is this ingredient most commonly grown?
    1. California! Particularly, the Coachella Valley and the southern coast.
  4. Identify and describe significant social and environmental impacts resulting from production, procurement, distribution, and consumption.
    1. The storage of spinach also causes a significant environmental impact. Cooling systems are needed for both hand-picked and mechanically cultivated spinach in order to prevent damage, discoloration, and wilting of spinach. Fertilizer and pesticide use are not only intensive for soil and ecosystem composition, but also for the humans that handle hazardous chemicals or consume water that may be contaminated by chemical runoff or groundwater pollutants. In terms of distribution and consumption, the CDC has reported multiple outbreaks of food-related diseases that have been traced back to mishandled spinach production in California productions. This causes alarm among social groups, as well as government organizations that are in charge of ensuring that disease does not spread to impact human lives.
  5. Calculate the average miles each ingredient traveled in order to end up on your plate, bowl or cup.
    1. The average distance from California to Pennsylvania is 2, 729 miles, or approximately 40 hours of car transportation.

 

Food Miles

Examining the food I ate over the past three days reveals that I am a creature of habit. My meals are often comprised of the same major ingredients with variations in the spices, condiments, and vegetables that I eat. Three of the ingredients that I consume most regularly are oats, eggs, and peanuts. Eggs and oats I consume as is and peanuts I consume in the form of peanut butter. The estimated food miles and carbon foot prints for these ingredients are:

Oats: ~3,000 miles and 0.31kg CO2 per 1kg oats
Eggs: ~100 miles and 5kg CO2 per 1kg eggs (2.7kg CO2 per 1 dozen eggs)
Peanuts: ~1500 miles and 2.88kg CO2 per 1kg peanuts

When calculating food miles I tried to consider both the distance from where it is grown and the distance from where it is processed. The carbon foot print reflects many components of the ingredients life cycle, including production practices, processing requirements, and transportation.

The oats that I consumed were from Bob’s Red Mill company. They do not advertise where they source their oats from. However most oats are grown in the Northern Hemisphere. The top five oat producing countries are U.S., Russia, Canada, Finland, or Poland. I assumed that if Bob’s Red Mill sourced all of their oats from the U.S. that this would be advertised on their packaging. Since this was not the case, I calculated food miles based on oats produced in Canada. The processing plant for Bob’s Red Mill is in Oregon so I calculated the distance from Canada to Oregon and the from Oregon to Pennsylvania to be about 3,000 miles.

Oat production has decreased in recent years in response to decreased feed demand for labor horses with increased mechanization. However, oats have been recognized as a viable rotation option for corn/soybean and wheat operations. Oats are a monoculture crop that can improve agriculture systems by out competing weeds common in corn and soybean fields and reducing the weed seed bank. The low carbon footprint reflects the high yield of oats and limited inputs required. Organic oat production is increasing with consumer demand. The low cost of oats makes them a healthy whole grain that is widely accessible in the U.S.

The eggs I consumed this week were purchased at Wal-mart. The wide reach of Wal-mart increases the distance that the eggs likely travelled. However, the ubiquitousness of egg production in the U.S. suggests that the eggs are likely still from the Mid-Atlantic or Northeast. Eggs are mainly produced in enclosed hen houses, but free range egg production is increasing due animal welfare and environmental concerns from consumers. Intensive egg production has many negative environmental impacts and most drastically increases land and water toxicity through disposal of wastes. Production of feed for laying hens is also a significant source of environmental degradation.

I consume mainly Teddie brand peanut butter. Teddie brand peanut sources all peanut from within the U.S. and process the nuts in Massachusetts. The largest producer of peanuts in the U.S. is Georgia, so I calculated my food miles from Georgia to Massachusetts and then to Pennsylvania. Peanuts have historically been used as an important rotational crop with cotton. Legumes like peanuts act as nitrogen fixers and help restore nitrogen depleted soils after cotton is grown. Recent research has associated excessive use of fertilizers, especially nitrogen fertilizers, in peanut fields with nutrient depletion and soil acidification. This is likely less of a concern with Teddie peanut butter because it is an organic brand. Because peanuts grow below ground, they are more water efficient than other nuts.

A major social concern of peanuts is nut allergies. Peanut butter is a good, calorically dense source of protein, fats, and carbohydrates. In the 1900s consumption of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches was encouraged by government health programs and peanut butter and jelly was served as the free lunch at most schools. However, the high rate of peanut allergies in the U.S. has encouraged schools and health programs to move away from peanut butter.

Over the past few years, I have become more aware about where my food is coming from. However, this awareness extends mostly to vegetables and food items that I can easily get from farmer’s markets. I do not often analyze the source of my staple food items. I realize, through this project, that most of my staple foods, even the ones not listed here, travel a significant distance. During warmer months, I consume mostly local eggs, but I am not aware of many local sources of oats or peanut butter. This has caused me to reflect on the accessibility of local foods and the viability of local food as a solution to disconnect within the food system. Before taking food studies courses, I strongly supported the local food movement. I still support this movement, but I do not think it is a monolith solution. Examining my food consumption habits reinforces my belief in the need for diverse food solutions that acknowledge the geographical range of staple foods and remain conscious of food miles.

My Food System

For this blog post, I started by researching the almond milk that I have in my fridge which happens to be the unsweetened, original almond milk from Trader Joe’s. I didn’t really think much about this product when I was purchasing it, I just picked it up when I went to Trader Joe’s in MA before I returned to campus.

The main ingredient in this almond milk is almonds, as it should be. When I set out to discover the origin of the almonds in this Trader Joe’s beverage, I was surprised that I really could not find the location anywhere. For I company that prides itself on its transparency, this seemed strange. The side of the carton reads “Dist. & Sold Exclusively By Trader Joe’s Monrovia, CA 91016” so I am going to assume that the almonds come from California. Additionally, in my research, I came across one petition against how Wholefoods and Trader Joe’s market their pasteurized almonds as raw almonds directed towards an issue of almonds being grown in California.

According to one article, published by Columbia University, almonds are unsurprisingly the biggest cash crop in California, attributing for over 80% of the World’s almond production in 2014. California’s Central Valley offers ideal growing conditions for almond trees, however, almond requires huge amounts of water, a resource that is quickly depleting in California. According to the article, the amount of water required for almond trees not only causes environmental concerns but is an economic burden on the farmer who has to sink more money into the expensive water.

Another product that I eat frequently is the Stonyfield organic probiotic yogurt made with plain whole milk. This product claims to contain BILLIONS of probiotics per serving and I purchased it at Weis in Carlisle. I wanted to research this product because it was one of the companies interviewed in Food Inc. and I have listened to the “How I Built This” podcast where Gary Hirshberg discussed how he built the company from the ground up. The first ingredient in this product is “cultured pasteurized organic whole milk” and the only other ingredients it contains (aside from its live active cultures) are pectin, and Vitamin D3.

The milk for this yogurt comes from a variety of farms. According to the Stonyfield website, in 2014 the company created a CROPP Cooperative with milk from a network of organic dairy farms existing of 1,800 family farms. The company promotes the humane treatment of animals in addition to their organic practices. Although there are no additives, hormones or synthetic fertilizers involved in the production processes, not all of the Stonyfield cows are 100% percent grass-fed as indicated by the fact that the company now sells “grass-fed Greek” yogurt, indicating that other cows are most likely fed a mixture of grass and other feed like oats, soy, grains, etc.

The origin of Stonyfield milk is unknown as it comes from a cooperative of farms. However, the Headquarters are in Londonderry, NH.

The third food that I analyzed was the eggs I eat pretty much every morning. I am always at a dilemma with eggs because either the responsibly produced eggs are double the price or they contain plastic packaging. On this trip to the grocery store, I decided to go with the cheaper option with the cardboard packaging. These eggs are distributed by Foodhold USA, LLC in Landover, MD which appears to be a partner of the Giant food company. From what I found on the internet this company produces/distributes a lot of different products and is not generally well-liked with an extensive list of customer complaints. According to the American Egg Board, the majority of the country’s eggs are produced in Iowa. I was not able to find exactly where the eggs I purchased were coming from but I am going they were produced in the Mid-West region.

I was also not able to find information on how these eggs were produced, but I am assuming that it was more of a factory environment rather than a cage-free, pasture environment, treating the hens more as cogs on a wheel than living creatures. That being said, I did read an article detailing that Giant Food Stores will be transitioning to 100% cage-free eggs by 2022.

From this exercise, I discovered that I ate roughly 62 foods/ingredients over the span of 3 days. However, even after this research, I have found that I still do not know where a lot of my food comes from. Being a college student makes this even more difficult because I do not have the access to find out where the food I am consuming in the cafeteria is coming from.

 

Assignment 1

Oats

Like many other monoculture commodity crops, oats may be grown with chemical inputs such as fertilizers and pesticides but take little human labor. Once harvested, oats are dehulled – the hulls being used for animal feed or for biomass to burn and create power. The oats are then washed with a spray of water and sifted, then steamed. They are rolled flat, crushed, or cut, then roasted and finally packaged. The Dakotas are the two biggest producers of oats in America, followed by Wisconsin, Minnesota, and Iowa. These states all have cool and wet summers, making them great for growing oats. Oats can make an excellent cover crop especially over the winter season, helping to prevent runoff and erosion of soils as well as providing a green manure. Oats can also be grown on pastures for animal forage. On average, oats have traveled about 2,421 miles to get to my bowl of oatmeal.

Black Beans

Black beans prefer warm temperatures to grow, so in the US they are typically planted in May and harvested between August-October once the pods start to turn yellow. They are often grown with conventional farming methods, requiring pesticides and fertilizers likely derived from fossil fuels, and are harvested mechanically, also requiring fossil fuels. China, Argentina, Brazil, and Mexico are the world’s biggest producers, followed by the US. In the US, North Dakota, Michigan, and Nebraska are – surprisingly to me – the top three states. Black beans are a great alternative protein source to meat. Since they are plant based, they also take vastly less energy to produce than meat, making them potentially a more sustainable option, depending on what methods are used to grow the beans and how the meat animals are raised. Black beans are also high in fiber and resistant carbohydrates that take longer to digest, meaning they do not lead to a spike in blood sugar, and contain healthy phytonutrients. Depending on where the beans are sourced from, likely US, Mexico, or South America, they have traveled on average around 4,033 miles.

Here is a video of black beans harvested via combine:

Oranges

Oranges are grown in tropical and sub-tropical climates in a wide range of soils. Commercially, oranges trees are often grown by grafting buds of a mature tree onto seedling rootstocks, creating hybrid clones of cultivars that have good yields and desirable fruit. Oranges are harvested when they are pale orange, and often by mechanical canopy shakers that require fossil fuels, though hand picking is not uncommon. Insecticides may be used to prevent pests or insect vectors that spread plant pathogens. Brazil produces around 30% of the world’s oranges, followed by 10% coming from the United States, and 8% from China. Almost 90% of oranges produced commercially in the US are used to make juice. Like many people employed as fruit-pickers in the US, those who pick oranges often have to work extremely hard to make any money at all and many are undocumented, making it very difficult to advocate for their rights as workers. On average, oranges likely from Brazil have traveled about 4200 miles to reach me.

Here is a link to an article on citrus pickers in Florida:  https://hrp.law.harvard.edu/tag/citrus-workers/

You Are What You Eat

My Days in Food

I found Monday through Wednesday to be pretty typical days in my eating pattern, and its obvious there are some food items I consume everyday that build upon my diet.

Monday, Jan. 27th

  • Breakfast
    • Protein Shake
    • Scrambled eggs, hashbrowns, baked oatmeal, yogurt, blueberries, bananas
    • Coffee, orange juice
  • Lunch
    • Sushi roll (shrimp, avocado, asparagus)
    • banana
  • Post-Practice
    • Protein Shake
  • Dinner
    • Chipotle bowl (rice, black beans, chicken, salsas, cheese)
  • Snacks
    • Pretzels, Haribo gummy bears

Tuesday, Jan, 28th

  • Breakfast
    • Fried eggs, toast, cheese, bananas, clementines
    • coffee
  • Snacks
    • Cliff Bar
    • Post-practice protein shake
  • Dinner
    • Boneless wing toss, quinoa cauliflower bites
    • banana bread w/frosting

Wednesday, Jan. 29th

  • Breakfast
    • egg sandwich, bananas
    • coffee
  • Lunch
    • Sushi roll
  • Snack
    • Cliff bar
    • Post-practice protein shake
    • Haribo gummy bears
  • Dinner
    • Chicken w/parmesan rice, brocolli

 

The Top 3

I am most definitely a creature of habit. I look forward to my morning coffee everyday, and I always turn to bananas in the morning and mid-day. I also have one or two protein shakes a day to support my exercise for track.

 

  1. Coffee

Luckily, Dickinson is very transparent about who and where our food comes from. There is a link on the college website that actually shows the school’s vendors and their websites. Dickinson coffee comes from Sun Coffee Roasters, who boast they, “source coffee beans from certified Rainforest and Fair Trade cooperatives worldwide.” By describing it as sourced ‘worldwide’, it is difficult to pinpoint where each cup comes from. Having said this, most coffee is grown in regions close to the equator, throughout South and Central America, Africa, and Asia. This means that each cup of coffee most likely has grounds in it that traveled thousands of miles to be brewed in the Dickinson Caf. Sun Coffee Roasters does highlight the cooperatives they are a part of which are, “certified Rainforest, Shade Grown, or Bird Friendly plantations.” This shows some of the issues facing general coffee production around the world. Many practices include clear cutting natural rainforest vegetation to make way for coffee plantations, or discouraging natural bird habitats to protect a coffee bean crop. Knowing that the coffee provider for Dickinson, who produce the coffee I drink everyday, are actively working to support sustainable coffee growth, makes it easier to drink. I also only drink one cup a day, with the knowledge that each cup has traveled such a great distance to exist in Carlisle, PA.

2. Bananas

It is a less direct path to determine who and where each banana comes from here at Dickinson. It seems every day the bananas I choose have different stickers on them identifying which Central or South American  country they came from. Within the last week, I had bananas with a Colombia sticker and Costa Rica sticker on them. However, on these stickers is typically a Rainforest Alliance label. This label aligns many ideals with the cooperatives’ values identified the the coffee producers. It states that bananas are grown with minimal impact on the rainforest environment by using less herbicides and pesticides and preventing soil degradation and erosion. However, there are less transparencies with who grows the bananas and how workers are treated. Often the bananas in the caf have different labels on them from different companies. There is no way to determine how each of the producers treats their laborers at each subsidiary farm throughout Latin America. This insight has made me think about this fruit I consume so often. I eat bananas because I prefer them, but they have a much larger carbon footprint than, say, an apple. The bananas in the caf must travel thousands of miles, from farm, to ship, to port, by truck, to Dickinson. Most of our apples in the caf are grown just one county over, within a fifty mile radius.

3. Protein Blend (Whey Protein)

Whey is a byproduct of milk production, which I knew, and after checking to see if Land o Lakes, the parent company of many dairy farms in Cumberland County, produced whey protein, I was getting excited. My first two most consumed items come from places very far away from the United States, but I thought this least suspecting food item might actually be semi-locally sourced. Unfortunately, the brand does not publish exactly where they source their whey protein, but there is at least a chance some of it could come from Cumberland County. I have been able to visit local dairy farms throughout my time at Dickinson, where I learned about milk production, and that much of the dairy produced here isn’t transported in milk form, but actually broken down and separated into powder, like whey powder. There are a lot of variables in dairy production, such as whether a farm is sustainable, how dairy cows are treated, and what kind of labor they use. I can only hope that this main ingredient in my protein shake comes from farms that commit to good practice, but there aren’t clear distinctions like ‘Rainforest Alliance’ or ‘certified shade grown’ as there are with coffee and bananas. Looking at an ingredient list is a little daunting, especially when it shows that things have been changed or processed, like whey powder. I am sure that the powder had to travel hundreds of miles to be combined with other ingredients, just to travel more hundreds of miles to Carlisle, where I bought it.

 

 

You and the Food System

A reoccurring theme I noticed among the three items that I consume on a regular basis was how I ate them: as a building block or add-on for other food items. For instance, I typically eat peanut butter with a banana or apple, yogurt with fruit, and hummus with carrots or pita. These foods become additions to my snacks or meals and have a daily presence in my life that I did not realize.

Peanut Butter
My go-to peanut butter is Skippy’s Natural Super Chunk. The main ingredient listed is roasted peanuts. Peanuts are native to South America, specifically Argentina and Bolivia but were soon cultivated in Peru, Ecuador, Brazil, and other South American countries. Peanuts were first introduced to the US in the 1860s as a means to improve soil fertility. Peanuts have become a staple in Georgia, Alabama, North Carolina, Texas, Virginia, Florida, and Oklahoma. Skippy does not mention where their suppliers are but if they were grown in the US the miles travelled would be somewhere around 750 miles. Yet if the peanuts were grown in South America it the distance increase dramatically to somewhere around 3,700 miles.

In order to make peanuts into peanut butter, the peanut goes through a process of growing, harvesting, shelling, and roasting. During the harvest period, it is essential that the peanuts are dried and stored properly because they can easily become infected by mold. In the fields, peanuts have transitioned from being hand pulled and inverted to a mechanized system. This system allows the main root of the plant to be cut just below the peanut pod. The bush is then lifted, shaken, and inverted.

Peanuts have become a staple crop in the US for many reasons, not just economic. Similar to other legumes, peanuts are able to “fix” nitrogen. This means that it is the perfect crop to plant after cotton because it will replenish the soil with the essential nutrients and less fertilizer is needed to grow peanuts. Less irrigation is needed, too because peanuts are a deep-rooting crop. While all of the evidence suggests that peanuts have positive environmental impacts, it begs to question if something is missing. What are the crop sizes? Has it become a monoculture? What are the social impacts of peanut harvesting? Did sharecropping play a role in the late twentieth century and into the twenty-first century?

Chobani Greek Yogurt
Yogurt has always been a staple in my diet but lately I have become more conscious of what it means to consume dairy, both in the environmental and social sense. Lately I have been eating Chobani Greek Yogurt because they recently introduced a sustainability program. This has increased their transparency and allows their customers to know their suppliers. Chobani has partnered with family farms in or near the Magic Valley in Idaho and Unadilla Valley in Upstate NY to supply their dairy. The dairy used to produce my yogurt travelled either 2,200 miles or 320 miles.

The main ingredient in their yogurt is cultured grade A non-fat milk. Milk is a global demand and is produced all over the world. Yet, as the demand for milk and other dairy products has increased, the dairy industry has industrialized, and the common practices associated with dairy farming are not positive. Dairy farming puts pressure on soil and freshwater sources, the cows themselves, and the dairy workers. Modern dairy farming practices use vacuum tubes and milk vats to streamline the collection and processing of milk. On large scale farms, cows are often kept in cramped spaces and are forced into repetitive pregnancies in order to produce as much milk as possible.

The dairy industry has a reputation for having negative social and environmental impacts; for the most part this is true. Dairy workers are often subjected to subpar working conditions, but efforts have been made to increase safety and training programs, as well as wage standards. In addition, unsustainable dairy farming and feed production can lead to loss of ecologically vital areas like prairies, wetlands, and forests. The cropland used to feed dairy cows is taking away land to feed people and taking away the natural diversity of the land. The waste cows produce also contributes to greenhouse gas emission and it potentially could harm local water resources. However, if properly managed waste can fertilize crops and produce energy.

Sabra Hummus
Hummus is typically something I make myself but when I am at Dickinson, I don’t have the time nor access to the ingredients to make it. Whether it is homemade or store-bought, the main ingredient in hummus is cooked chickpeas, otherwise known as garbanzo beans. Chickpeas originated in areas of Turkey and Greece but are nowadays grown in the Mediterranean, Middle East, and Palouse region of the US Pacific Northwest (Idaho, Oregon, and Washington). Sabra Hummus uses chickpeas grown in the US; this means that the chickpeas in my hummus travelled around 2,600 miles.

Depending upon the variety of chickpea, there are different growing practices but all are fairly similar to other legumes. These practices include using dryland farming and irrigation with flood or subsurface drip. Fertilizers are typically used but the amount depends on the goals of the crop, i.e. canned, dried, etc. To harvest chickpeas, the farmers harvest the entire plant once the leaves have withered and turned brown; it is then left to dry. The seeds are then collected after the pods split.

Chickpeas play a key role in soil fertility. Many farmers favor chickpeas in their crop rotation due to a number of factors. For one, chickpeas are a winter crop and act as an alternative crop to winter cereals. Chickpeas also disrupt cereal pest life cycles when implemented in crop rotation. In addition, they are less dependent on irrigation due to their root system and do not need as much fertilizer.

Food Miles

The first food that I saw from my list that I had been eating was plain yogurt. The first ingredient (one of just two) is pasteurized skim milk. The website of this brand, Siggi’s, wrote that the milk that they use comes from “family farms” in upstate New York and Wisconsin. The largest global exporter of milk, however, is New Zealand, but the U.S. is also a top worldwide producer. I was surprised to learn that in 2016, there was a worldwide excess of milk and governments began to decrease the overproduction. The most common practices of milk production in the US are automated milking from Holstein cows who spend their lives in industrial ‘farms’. Pasteurization is a process that reduces bacterial growth and extends shelf life of milk and is now widely used in many parts of the world. This development has changed the production of milk because it allows for milk to be shipped all over the country and reduces the need for fresh, local milk. For the production of milk, there are vast chemical and mechanical resources required for the industrial process. There are also great environmental resources needed for milk production, such as land and water and it’s production involves a staggering amount of greenhouse gas emissions, water and air pollution. Some dated approximations show the dairy industry as contributing to around 4% of total greenhouse gas emissions. There are various social impacts of the dairy industry, one being how the industrial and multi-national dairy companies have destroyed smaller farms and absorbed mid-size dairy operations and so have cut out more traditional forms of producing milk. Assuming the milk is coming from somewhere in the Midwest United States, the average food miles could be 1000 miles.

 

Interestingly, I drink another form of ‘milk’ everyday with coffee and the first ingredient in this plant milk is pea protein. It was challenging to find information on this ingredient because it is a newer alternative (the company was founded in 2014 and is awaiting a patent on their technology). The protein is extracted from yellow peas and added to many kinds of foods like energy bars, ice cream and veggie burgers. Peas are grown in colder climates worldwide, however Canada has 51% of the export market. More than 75% of US peas are exported to India, China and Spain for processing. Assuming the peas in this plant milk are coming from Canada, the food miles on this ingredient could be around 3,300 miles!

Below are some graphics comparing the various different kinds of dairy and plant-based milks and their environmental footprint in resources such as land and water. It appears that pea protein milk has the lowest water footprint and cow’s milk has the highest land/water use compared to all alternatives. This encourages me to consider the environmental impact of all dairy products, not only milk, and to be active in comparing the various impact of plant alternatives as well.

flour can have food miles totaling up to 6,926 miles.

One other food that I have been eating recently are bagels! The first ingredient listed for the brand I buy is organic wheat flour. China by far produces the most wheat out of any country in the world, however the U.S. and Russia are the top two exporters of wheat. Wheat is a valuable ingredient in many foods and has become one of the most-consumed foods in our diets. Wheat, as well as corn, is used in the making of processed foods and has radically altered diets and food systems around the world. The incredible increase in wheat production is due to synthetic nitrogen fertilizer introduced in the mid twentieth century, irrigation and genetically modifying crops for increased yield. Refined wheat flour is made from only certain parts of the kernel and many of the vitamins and nutrients are stripped away and often the product is chemically bleached. Assuming that the wheat is grown in China, flour can have food miles totaling up to 6,926 miles.

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