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.
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.
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.