The Progress of the Fair Food Movement

The purchase of agriculture for our consumer marketplace usually results in the exploitation of farmworkers, usually located in areas that are out of mind and out of sight to many of the Americans who are the purchasers of these foods, thus an essential actor in this continuous cycle of human exploitation. The main driver of this cycle are companies that supply many of the supermarkets and restaurants in the United States. The leverage of these companies power allows them to demand these ever-lower prices, which again has resulted, in the constant decrease of farmworker wages.

It is known that tomato pickers earn a measly 45 cents per 32 lb. bucket of tomatoes, adding up to picking 2.5 tons of tomatoes daily to reach minimum wages (CIW, 2012). Many define this practice as modern day slavery as many times these farmworkers are held and worked against their will. Federal Civil Rights officials have prosecuted five slavery operations over 1,000 workers in Florida’s fields since 1997 (CIW, 2012). The Fair Food Program veers away from the conventional marketplace of agriculture, and dedicates their organization to putting a fair amount of money into these farmworkers pockets.

This worker driven and consumer powered approach not only allows these farmworkers to receive livable wages but also allows them to receive information that is essential in them understanding their rights under the Fair Food Code of Conduct, which will prevent these workers from being undermined and exploited anymore (FFP, 2017). This program, teamed up with the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW); a humans right group based in Florida; had gotten many giant restaurant companies such as McDonalds, Taco Bell, KFC and giant supermarket corporations such as Walmart, Whole Foods, and Trader Joes to forge partnerships under these Fair Food Provisions.

Under these provisions, these corporations must pay a small premium, this premium can be seen as a companies social responsibility. This premium is of a small amount to these multinational companies but these premiums are carefully monitored by the Fair Food Standards Council to assure this money is properly distributed to the farmworkers. Since it’s existence,  the Fair Food Program has added $15 million to participating growers payrolls (FFP, 2017).

Since the inception of the Fair Food Program in 2011, there has been nearly $20 million paid in fair food premiums, 135,000 workers have received “know your rights” materials, 12,000 workers have been formally interviewed for jobs, and 33,000 workers have been educated by CIW, face to face (FFP, 2017). There have also been many personal testimonies that reflect a positive social change on the participating farms.

One reads, “more important than the money, which I need, was the feeling of dignity when my labor– the buckets I harvested– recognized”. Another one reads, “In the past, we had to wake our son up at 4 a.m. to get him to a home daycare where he stayed in school until the daycare provider took him to school. This routine has affected the child’s health. Now, for the first time in the 10 years of my sons life, my wife and I are able to eat breakfast with him and walk him to school.” (FFP, 2017).

This organization is fairly new, especially when it is put in comparison to the field that is is combating. This exploitation of farmworkers has dragged on through the history of modern agricultural practices, and has most recently been combatted by the Fair Food Organization. For being around for almost seven years and getting the certain multinational companies that it has to submit to humane wages, proper education of staff, and human empowerment, I would say this movement has only just gotten started and is moving with great momentum.

farmworkers

Farmworkers of the Coalition of Immokalee Workers march for justice in the fields in Tampa, Florida in 2011 (Photo courtesy of CIW) 

 

 

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Seasonal Eating

Like eating locally, choosing seasonal produce for your meals has become a “foodie” trend. A study done by the BBC Good Food Magazine revealed that 86% of the 2,000 people surveyed in the UK stated that shopping seasonally was important, but only a fraction of them could actually list when certain produce was in season. So why would the majority of individuals who were surveyed fib about their knowledge of seasonal produce?  To be a part of the hype? To look like the more environmentally conscious individual amongst their peers? I mean, if people want to lie about participating in a certain trend, then there has to be something legitimate in the trend. Eating seasonally and locally have become two closely related terms and with that relation comes the same critical question: Is eating seasonal produce actually better for people and environmentally sustainable or is it no better than conventional eating?

In developed nations, having an array of meats, fruits, and vegetables available all year long at the local grocery store is a normal commodity, like being able to top your bowl of oatmeal with fresh strawberries in December or having beef steak for dinner any night of the week. Contrary to what the convenience of a grocery store has taught us, all foods have a season. With all produce, there is a distinct difference in flavor, size, color, nutritional value, etc. that correlates with whether or not it was picked in or out of its season. For example, eggs are best to eat in the spring since the chickens are able to obtain more nutrients, thus giving the egg a richer color. In fact, there are specific dishes to be made with eggs that are laid in each of the four seasons based solely on the change of yolk color. With eating seasonally, it can be assumed that eating produce that is in season would be more nutritious and better for the consumer.

In the sustainability aspect of eating seasonally, this diet choice is better for the environment because it helps to cut down on energy costs and fossil fuel usage in a variety of ways, one way being lowered energy consumption from refrigerated storage of produce since more fruits and vegetables would be bought and eaten as soon as they were harvested. As for burning fossil fuels, eating seasonally has been shown to lower greenhouse gas emissions since eating seasonally and locally go hand-in-hand, thus minimizing the transportation aspect of getting food from the farm to your table.

An issue with only consuming seasonal produce is that during some seasons, particularly winter, the available amount of fruit and vegetables becomes scarce. According to Seasonal Food Guide, a website specifically for finding out what produce is available to you depending on what state you live in and the time of year, the only produce available in Colorado during late December is primarily root vegetables and beans; horseradish, salsify, lima beans, shell beans, and sprouts would be on the plate of a Colorado resident who was trying to eat both locally and seasonally. This would be an extremely limited diet for any individual and it would not meet someone’s daily nutritional needs, so it would be better for them to shop conventionally.

Now someone might bring up eating frozen fruits, vegetables, meat, etc.  from the past season to forgo the trip to the grocery store and still meet nutritional values for the day. However, according to a study conducted by UC Davis researchers, some vitamins and minerals such as vitamin C or ascorbic acid are easily lost when the produce is canned or frozen for consumption later. With that being said, the health benefit gained from eating frozen produce would not outweigh the environmental impact from having to use energy to store them in refrigerators.

With the points I gathered, I believe eating sustainably is both better for the environment and healthy for consumers. My family frequently buys produce when it is in season and we make dishes based upon what is available and we also can and freeze things such as tomatoes and green chilies so we have them all year long. I think that eating seasonally would be an obtainable goal for everybody who would like to help our environment while also benefiting themselves.

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Accidentally Vegetarian in Guatemala

 

Coming from a Guatemalan family, I spent many summers with my grandparents in Guatemala and these trips always meant my diet was going to change. Everything my grandparents consumed came directly off their own land or other farmers, and meat was only cooked on the weekends due to its high price. So meat was substituted with a lot of other great food and a lot of my protein came from legumes, avocados, plantains, and eggs. These habits of frugalness in Guatemala inspired me to eat a more plant based diet with as little meat possible here in the states and it was probably one of the best things I’ve ever done for my health. Fast forward to now I am an environmental studies student and I care for more than just myself, but also the planet and the other living beings that share it with me. Through out the couple of years I’ve come to learn a lot about the environmental cost just one burger has, and I try everyday to make sure I keep beef out of my diet. What does keeping meat out of my diet result for me and the environment?

Growing up I always felt I could save the environment by recycling and taking short showers to conserve water, but eating an occasional steak is a bigger environmental footprint than keeping my shower running for 3 hours. A slab of steak needed gallons of water, acres of deforested land, hundreds of pounds of grain, and was the root of high levels of methane emissions due to cow farts and manure. The high demand of beef is taking a toll on our environment and decreasing demand by going meatless at least one day is something an environmentalist should consider if they want to decrease their environmental foot print.

People rarely think about the connection between beef and water but unfortunately there’s a strong correlation between the two. Meat requires a lot of water through out its production; it takes about 2,000 gallons of water to produce one pound of meat. Water is scarce, high demands of meat is not sustainable for the planet in the long term, where will all the water come from to produce it all? Also Methane is worse than carbon dioxide emissions and cows emit lots of it! So do us and yourself a favor and try going meatless!

 

 

 

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GMO Awareness

What in the World is a GMO?

A long and confusing journey with GMOs (Genetically Modified Organisms) began my senior year of high school, when my advanced writing class was assigned to do a lengthy research paper on a topic of our choice. I decided to do this paper on GMOs, mostly because of the sheer fact that I had no clue what they were (I honestly wasn’t even sure what the acronym stood for at the time). However, we had briefly rushed through the term in one of my classes earlier that year and I remembered being vaguely intrigued.

This paper led me down a deep and winding hole of research, which to this day still has no clear end in sight. Upon doing a few simple searches I found numerous articles claiming GMOs could be associated with serious health impairments or diseases such as cancer, GMO corporations being secretly tied to the FDA, farmers being sued for modified seeds blowing on to their farmland, and so on. At the time I did not have much discernment regarding research studies/articles, so these headlines thouroughly freaked out my seventeen-year-old self, to say the least. However, the thing I found the most disturbing, even after going through all these alarming articles, was that I had never even heard the term GMO before earlier that year.

I proceeded to inform any friend, family member, or teacher that would listen to my spiels about GMOs. Now, I do not know how long GMOs have been in the common vocabulary in other places, but five years ago in my small home town the topic of GMOs could have basically been a foreign language. Again and again I found that others had no idea what they were, or if they did they didn’t know much past an oversimplified definition of the term.  I was frustrated that we had all been eating genetically modified foods for years, that people my age had been raised on them, yet most of us didn’t know what in the world they were.

My frustration continued as I tried to start shopping GMO-free. As it so happened, there was not one grocery store in my town that openly offered non-GMO, organic foods. At the largest grocery store I was able to find about 2 different cracker brands and some cookies in the gluten-free isle that were labeled non-GMO. Other than that, it was a guessing game to whether or not I was eating foods that were modified, in all likelihood most of the food I had been eating probably was, since about 80% of the processed foods at a typical supermarket are in fact made with GMOs (UC Biotech).

Increasing Awareness

Over the years, I have become much more skeptical of the extreme claims made about GMOs like the ones I initially read in high school. I now read articles with a much more critical lens and an even begrudgingly admit that I see a number of positive aspects to utilizing genetically modified organisms. Regardless, I still have many doubts and concerns about GMOs that I believe need to be addressed.

Labeling GMOs  

In the last five years,  GMOs have become a much more common topic of discussion, even in my small hometown. Most people at this point seem to at least have some idea of what they are. However, after all this time people are still are not given the option of knowing whether or not they are eating genetically modified foods. At this time, there is still not mandated labeling of genetically modified foods in the U.S. Last year, congress passed a bill on labeling GMO foods but there has yet to be any indication of when or if this will be put in to effect (NBC News). Despite whether GMO foods do in fact damage your health or have negative effects on the environment/farming industry or not, people should be aware of whether or not they are eating modified foods precisely because this controversy does exist. If GM companies are against labeling because they think it will instill fear of GMOs, I think they are actually perpetuating exactly this. It seem to me that not labeling GMOs makes people more scared of them because it creates a sense of distrust, with people feeling as though there is something to hide. This ignites ideas of hidden agendas and conspiracies, which further clouds the public’s perception of GMOs. I believe in this instance transparency is the best solution for all parties.

I must admit however, that there is a caveat to this solution, due to the wide variety of modifications that exist. In addition to the extraction and addition of genes we typically associate with GMOs, techniques such as radiation mutagenesis and selective breeding can also be considered to produce genetic modifications.  This makes it difficult to pick and choose which genetic modification techniques have the merit to be labeled.

Lack of Research on Long-term Effects 

In addition to labeling, I also feel that the lack of research of long term health effects inhibits the public’s ability to make truly informed decisions about GMOs. Unfortunately, we will only really know the answer to this with more time. Yes, GMOs have been consumed by the public since 1994, and in that time many studies have been conducted on their health effects, a majority finding that they are no more harmful than convention foods (Popular Science ). However, many serious diseases do not show up until later stages of life and unfortunately we only know the human effects of up to 23 years of consumption. We do not know the long-term effects of an entire lifetime of eating GMOs. And unfortunately, my generation, which is the first to be raised on genetically modified foods, will be the first to find out by default. Therefore, whether or not there will be any effect, I think this is a valid point that people should be aware of before consuming GMO foods.

GMO Education 

Finally, I believe there should simply be more education on the basics of GMOs in schools. They are now so intertwined with our society that I feel it should be seen as a necessity. Like I said in the introduction, my education on GMOs in all my years in the public education system consisted of approximately five minutes, while listing off a page of terms.  Increased education would increase overall awareness and help individuals in the process of steering through the mountains of confusing and conflicting information on GMOs.

 

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Seafood, the unpopular environmental crisis

When glancing at a seafood menu or the display of fish at your local market, have you ever stopped asked yourself, “I wonder how this got here?” Apart from knowing if their fish was caught locally or not, most people know very little about where or how their fish was caught, and this is a huge problem. According to NPR’s Alastair Bland, over 90 percent of the oceans’ fish populations are overfished or are currently subject to overfishing (yes they are different, see below). By far the most prominent reasons for this is intense exploitation by large-scale commercial fishing vessels. The commercial seafood industry produces the vast majority of seafood found in supermarkets or restaurants around the world; so how exactly is the commercial industry degrading the ocean and what can the individual consumer do about it?

Overfished vs. Overfishing

Overfished: When a population is below its sustainable levels.

Overfishing: When a population is being caught at an unsustainable rate.

A population can be subject to overfishing but not yet be overfished. The worst case scenario is a population that is overfished AND is subject to overfishing.  

According to the World Health Organization, per-capita consumption of seafood products has increased by an average 3.6 percent every year since the 1960’s, leading to a doubling in seafood consumption over the last 50 years. The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization 2016 report on seafood found that over 90 million tons of fish and other seafood are currently caught every year for consumption. This has been the average global catch since the early 1980’s. In order to meet this demand, the global commercial fishing industry has significantly increased its fleets and adopted industrial techniques that allow for exponentially larger catches. Unfortunately, these large catches are also accompanied by highly degrading negative externalities. The majority of fish are currently caught by longline, gillnet, or trawl, all of which are considered non-selective fishing methods. Although these fishing methods generally only target a specific species, say tuna or shrimp, they catch a multitude of non-target species undersized target species in the process. These individuals are usually referred to as bycatch.

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Graphic courtesy of OCEANA. This graphic separates the primary fisheries in the United States and, using data obtained by the National Marine Fisheries Service, summarizes the bycatch associated with each of them. It’s important to note that the United States is one of leaders in sustainability; bycatch rates in Asian or South American fisheries are often higher.

According to an FAO global discard and bycatch report, average bycatch ratios for the three highest producing fisheries ranges between 15 (gillnet) and 60 (trawl), with longline ranging between 20-30 percent. This means that a shrimp trawl catching 100 tons of (total) catch in an outing is probably only catching 40 tonnes of shrimp. In other words, they are mostly not catching shrimp. These incredible bycatch rates mean millions of tons of sharks, dolphins, turtles, seabirds, keystone pelagic fish species like marlin, and other fish species are killed each year as sacrifice for the seafood we consume. Among the bycatch are often endangered species such as albatross, leatherback sea turtles, and the dusky shark just to name a few, all of which are endangered primarily due to commercial fishing activities. So why do consumers continue to blindly buy seafood?

Margaret Wittenberg, vice president of quality standards at Whole Foods Markets, in an interview with NPR explained that people generally care about marine sustainability, the issue is that they know very little about how seafood is caught and how catch methods are severely degrading marine ecosystems. Unlike the organic vs. GMO conflict that has dominated headlines for decades, seafood is not an issue people are very aware of. According to various studies, price, quality, and wild vs. farm raised are the factors people most consider when making a seafood purchase. Seafood can be a great source of protein, fats, vital nutrients, and is one of the least energy intensive forms of protein currently consumed. Plus, it is delicious!

The question isn’t “should we consume seafood?” but rather, “how should we consume seafood sustainably?” The good news is that there are many fishing vessels practicing sustainable techniques and countries implementing breakthrough management policies. As consumers we must reward sustainable seafood producers while driving demand away from the unsustainable ones. Here are some simple steps that you, as a consumer can follow to ensure you are doing your part in saving our oceans.

  1. Eat sustainably certified farm-raised seafood. Farm raised seafood can be terrible for the environment if done wrong; but just in the last two decades the farmed seafood industry has grown significantly and with it, sustainably farmed seafood alternatives. Look for Marine Stewardship Council(MSC) certified products to help ensure they are sustainable. Farm raised seafood avoids bycatch completely and is the least energy intensive form of protein in the world, according to the FAO.
  2. Look for sustainably certified fish in stores and visit Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch seafood recommendation guide and download the app. This is a comprehensive guide that gives the user number sustainable recommendations regarding any specific fish they are interested in.
  3. Become an educated and motivated consumer. Do your best to read about the seafood industry, its downfalls, and what fish are sustainable/unsustainable to consume. Don’t be afraid to ask your waiters or supermarket employees how a fish was caught, where it was caught, and if it’s sustainable. If they know, great. If not, then you are putting pressure on them to find out for next time!

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Use your food waste, enjoy the best day!

Food waste always exists in our daily life and it is considered as waste because people think it is not valuable anymore. I would call this “inappropriate food waste”. One of the examples that are most typical and closely tight to our daily life of inappropriate food waste is food waste in the kitchen.

 

 

 

 

 

Food waste in Restaurant

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), 30 to 40 percent of food supply will be wasted in the future. In 2010, the USDA estimated that around 133 billion pounds of food from homes, stores, and restaurants were wasted in the United States.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Throwing food away does not make it safe for our environment. Instead,  it will become trash causing negative impacts to our environment. According to the study did by Business for Social Responsibility (BSR), there are more than 84 million pounds of food waste produced by U.S. restaurants. One reason that causes this huge amount of food waste is that people do not finish their meal and the other one is that they do not eat their leftover.

 

 

 

 

 

The statistics from BSR shows only 14.3 percent of the food waste was recycled and 1.4 percent of the food waste was donated. However, those donated and recycled food waste was mostly claimed as cooking oil, which is sad.

This study didn’t only mention the food waste phenomenon becomes more and more common, but it also pointed out that the main factor push those restaurants away from recycling and donating food waste is the cost of transportation. In order to donate leftover food, quick-stop eateries organization need to come picking up the leftover food from restaurants in a certain time frame, which increase the cost for quick-stop eateries organization to pick up the food and donate.

For me, the best thing of eating in a restaurant is enjoying every bit of the delicious food and eat up everything I ordered. Wasting food in the restaurant does not just cost you extra money to pay for the food you could not eat up, but also cost our environment “extra effort” to digest. So, I advocate everyone to eat sustainable in restaurants: order the amount of food you can eat up!

 

Food waste in our kitchen

Although it is good for our environment that restaurants and environmental organizations try as much as they can to save food waste by either donating or recycling, it is still not good enough for the environment because we also create food waste in our own kitchen. It is time to think about how to reduce and recycle food waste by ourselves.

For me, I basically only throw containers, wrapping papers and paper towel to my trash can. Other than that, I can reuse many things like egg shells, dated cornstarch, orange and lemon peel, and some vegetable foots, to create extra benefits to my kitchen and reduce environmental impact by doing so. So I would like to share some tips on how to use food waste of your kitchen.

 

 

 

1. Egg Shell: Natural Fertilizer

 

Because eggshells contain a huge amount of calcium carbonate, and the effect of fertilizer is to give soil enough amount of nitrogen, phosphorus, calcium, and potassium. Therefore, using eggshells as fertilizer to fertilize your garden is the most environmental way to use your food waste.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

2. Cornstarch: Natural fruit detergent

Before you eat grapes, washing grapes would be a painful thing because it is hard to make sure you wash every grape. The wax on the grapes is generated by grapes itself but the pesticides with the wax on the grapes are harmful. Cornstarch could easily rinse all the harmful and dirty thing on the grapes. Just add two spoons of cornstarch into the water and put grapes into it. Let water and cornstarch work 5 minutes. After that, the final step is to use water to rinse grapes. All the work will be done in 5 minutes and it is cheap and easy.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

3. Orange and Lemon peel: Natural Air Freshener

Although we can not eat the orange and lemon peel, they are still valuable. Putting some of the orange or lemon peel in your cabinet, closet, or any confined space, it will make the air fresher than not putting peel inside. It does not cost anything and make your air fresh. You must feel curious about the reason why we can use orange and lemon peel as the air freshener. Looking at the chart below, “Chemical Composition of Orange Peel Waste”, 43 percent of orange peel is moisture. With the intense orange and bitter flavor, the big amount of moisture carries the flavor will slowly evaporate in the air and generate the natural “air freshener”.

4.Vegetable Roots: DIY Vegetables

There are many vegetable roots that we can easily regrow at home by ourselves.  Ten of those vegetable roots can be found easily in our kitchen: basil, carrots, green onions, garlic, cilantro, lemongrass, ginger, onion, celery, and romaine lettuce. Except for garlic, cilantro, and ginger, putting vegetable roots in a cup of water and settle the cup in somewhere it can get enough sunlight. After three to four days, the roots will start sprouting and growing vegetable! For garlic, green onions and ginger, putting them into the soil and let the soil cover the roots of vegetables. After five to seven days, vegetables will grow back from the roots.

It does not cost us any money to regrow vegetables using food scraps but can bring us fresh vegetables back. It is both interesting and sustainable for our environment. At least, this is something we can do for our environment!

Image result for regrowing vegetables cartoon

 

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Food Waste Recycling in NJ

Food waste recycling is one of the fastest developing areas of the recycling industry and the methods for reuse vary from re-processing and manufacturing, to compost and energy. New Jersey stands as a state with a complex set of laws and regulations surrounding recycling, and this is even more true when it comes to food waste.

Food waste itself is separated into different classes of recyclables depending on its source. So agricultural food waste is classified differently than commercial food waste which is classified differently than biomass food waste, and the list goes on.

Out of all the counties in NJ, only one requires to food waste to be recycled by law. That is Cumberland County and commercial buildings are required to recycle their food waste, private citizens and public building are not however.

331,239.47 tons of food waste was recycled throughout all of NJ in 2014 according to the most recent annual Tonnage Recycling Report available. In Hunterdon County, a pilot program called “The Third Can”, was built off of a $$10,000 Sustainable Jersey Small Grant. The program charges residents $65, for which they get a curbside cart, kitchen pail, compostable bags, troubleshooting support and free compost three times per year. All food scraps and soiled paper are collected weekly by the city, averaging 10 pounds a household per week, and composted at Ag Choice, a composting facility in Sussex County. The program handles approximately 255 tons of food waste per year which the town produces annually. More can be read about “The Third Can” program here.

These programs and tonnage reports provide some context for how food waste recycling operates in NJ, but to understand why it seems to be struggling, it’s important to examine the rules and regulations in place.

Title 7:26A is the section of NJ waste management law that governs recycling and specifically food waste recycling. The permitting system which exists for those who wish to open a food waste recycling plant is extremely complex and costly. The operations cost for a NJ recycling operations can reach $20,000 annually in administrative fees alone. The current laws in place are not conducive to growth in the recycling industry, and many consultants in the field feel that these overly restrictive laws are why the recycling industry has been struggling so much in recent years.

Comparably the laws surrounding the opening of land fills and waste storage facilities pale in comparison to the level of restrictions put on recycling plants. When examining the gaps in these processes which make it hard for recycling businesses to open and operate, the question has to be ask, what is the goal of these regulations, and why have they grown to a point where it has hurt the recycling industry?

 

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The Versatile Soy Bean

From soy-based foods to soy-based biodiesel, the soy bean is one of the most diverse and widely used plants in the world. Mainly grown in 10 countries, primarily in the US and Brazil, soy is the main ingredient in many meat-substitutes, vegetable oils, and is predominantly used as animal feed. With the world population growing larger every day, it is hard to imagine that the farmland used to grow soybeans will not have to expand with that growing population. The fear of deforestation in major soy producing countries, such as Brazil, and the harmful effects that the process of deforestation can have on the release of carbon and loss of biodiversity is a growing concern. The soybean is the key to many popular products in the world, but does soy have an overall negative effect on the environment?

Many people believe that soy’s main purpose is to feed the growing numbers of vegetarians and vegans in the world. Surprisingly, only six percent of soybeans grown in the world today are made for human consumption, with most soybeans being planted for the production of other products such as, vegetable oil, biodiesel, and animal feed. In fact, 70-75% of the world’s soy is allocated for animal feed for chickens, cows, pigs, and farmed fish.

Cows eating un-disclosed soy

Nearly 3/4 of soy is produced for animal consumption.

Why would more than half of the soy produced in the world go to animal agriculture? The reason that farmers on large-scale animal feeding operations feed their animals soy is the same reason they feed their animals corn. These two grains are extremely high in protein and therefore are effective in helping animals reach market weight much more quickly than if they were to eat grass or hay, the grains their diet should consist of. According to the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), soy production will continue to increase dramatically, from around 276 million metric tons in 2013 to 390 million metric tons by 2050 due to increased demand for meat. This increase in soy production indicates a greater amount of deforestation as well as a rise in factory farming practices in the developed world. It seems as though animal agriculture is responsible for not just the first, but also the second leading cause of deforestation, soybean farming.

With an increased demand for soybeans comes an increased need for arable farmland. Brazil is the second largest soybean producing country in the world and also home to the Amazon rainforest. Due to the scarcity of available farmland in the world today, most farmers turn to land that was never meant to be used for agriculture. In one particular study of soybeans impact on the deforestation of the Amazon, scientists find that soybeans are not the main cause of deforestation but rather have an indirect effect by taking over land used by cattle-farmers. Soy producers push cattle farmers off their land into forested areas in the Amazon where they are forced to practice deforestation once again to clear more land for their herds of cattle.

Soybeans pose a great risk to other ecosystems in Brazil as well. The Cerrado is a region of savanna and woodlands in Brazil where 60,000 sq. kilometers have been cleared for farming. Nearly 1/5th of the land that has been cleared for agriculture is now allocated for the production of soybeans. This landscape is a “biodiversity hotspot”, meaning that it is home to almost 3,000 different species of plants, mammals, birds, and reptiles unique to this region. Soybean production threatens ecosystems and rainforests not only in Brazil, but also in neighboring Bolivia and Paraguay.

soy-deforestation-map

This map shows the spreading of deforestation into regions outside of the Amazon such as Cerrado and Gran Chaco. (www.ucsusa.org)

How can we help solve the issue of soybeans encroaching on greater areas of the Amazon and other ecosystems? Luckily, there is hope surrounding different farming techniques and agreements being put into action to protect rainforests such as the Amazon. For example, The Soy Moratorium is an agreement between soybean farmers and exporters in Brazil to not buy soybeans produced on Amazon farmland that had been deforested after 2006. This moratorium has led to a significant decrease in the amount of soy being produced and exported by soy farmers in Brazil; from 30% of soy expansion occurring from deforestation two years before this agreement to only about 1% of deforestation in the Amazon after the fact.

Unfortunately, this agreement has also caused a rise in soybean farmers moving to other parts of Brazil and surrounding countries, interfering with other ecosystems and continuing the practice of deforestation. Despite this one consequence, this agreement provides hope that if governments continue to value the importance of forests in their countries and place policies and regulations in place to keep them safe from deforestation, there may be a decrease in biodiversity loss and carbon emissions in the future. Another solution to decreasing soy production would be a reduction in demand of meat from factory farms. Because the largest quantity of soy goes to animal agriculture to produce feed, the decrease in demand for meat products would in turn cause a decrease in demand for soy.

Although these solutions are not going to be immediate, there is a light at the end of the tunnel for the reduction of deforestation, biodiversity loss, and carbon emissions with the protection of our forests from the soybean.

-Kaitlyn Ogden

 

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Alcohol & the Environment

When most of us think of our carbon footprints, we tend to jump to food miles and vehicles emissions, but rarely the implications of our alcohol consumption. Although it is a major part of the US economy, alcohol seems to be forgotten when discussing solutions to the current emission crisis. I would like to explore how to make better decisions when perusing down the liquor store aisles.

Below is a breakdown of alcohol consumption worldwide. As you can see, beer takes a strong lead in this industry. This can be attributed to the lower alcohol content and more casual drinking experience. Environmentally speaking, beer, wine and spirits all require comparable carbon emissions per unit of alcohol. Fortunately, there are ways within each category to decrease one’s personal environmental impact.

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A majority of the emissions from wine can be attributed to transportation practices. If you consider yourself a wino and are looking to decrease your environmental impact, look no further than the image below. This is called the “wine line”. For those living west of the dark line, consuming wine produced in California is the best way to go. On the other hand, if you live east of the dark line, European sourced wines are the more environmentally conscious option. Another important element of wine production is agricultural techniques. One study found that organically grown vines need 80 times more fertilizer by weight than their conventional counterparts. This requires increased material transportation and consequently higher vehicle emissions for a wine that appears to be more eco friendly. So remember, don’t always judge a bottle by its label!

 

 

Now onto beer. One of the largest environmental impacts of beer production is the extreme water usage. This issue is intertwined into almost every step of the beer making process, from watering the wheat to cleaning the equipment to mixing the final product. Fortunately, increasing technology has allowed brewers to enhance their water treatment facilities and reduce waste water. The second largest impact of beer production is electricity use. A 2008 analysis found that approximately 1/3 of greenhouse gas emissions within the beer industry can be attributed to refrigeration. If you’re a tree-huggin, beer-lovin person, perhaps opt for a standard ale which is happiest at cellar temperature (50-55 degrees Fahrenheit) as opposed to light beers which should be kept around 45 degrees Fahrenheit.

Finally, spirits. Choosing the most environmental friendly liquor comes down to researching various company practices. For instance, Maker’s Mark sources their grain locally and turn its waste into energy. Another company, TRU2 gin uses recyclable corks and plants a tree for each bottle sold. Finally, Casa Noble is a leader in producing organic tequila.

All in all, the alcohol industry is of lesser concern in the grand scheme of things. The raw materials (grain, fruit, and vegetables) require relatively little water and these products are usually grown in specialized places around the world. Yet, it is important to remember small ways in which we can help the environment each time we make a decision at the store. Cheers!

 

 

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The Case for Reducing Global Meat Consumption

Meat is a staple of the American diet. Go into any major fast food chain, and you will be lucky to find anything vegetarian on the menu, including McDonalds fries. Street vendors, food vendors at festivals, and sporting events almost always serve a meat-heavy dish as the main course. Sure, agriculture is booming in the US, partially as a result of hefty government subsidies of the meat industries, dating back to the Dust Bowl era, to protect farmers in unpredictable economic circumstances. But what is the environmental impact of all these livestock used to produce this meat?

It turns out, agriculture is responsible for about one-third of global greenhouse gas emissions, and livestock is responsible for about half of that, or one-sixth of global greenhouse gas emissions. Livestock, particularly cattle, emit methane during digestion. According to the United States EPA, methane is 25 times stronger than carbon dioxide as a greenhouse gas. This methane accounts for around 65% of these greenhouse gases from livestock. The rest comes from emissions relating to the production of livestock feed, and land-use changes from vacant land into farmland, such as deforestation to produce grazing land in Brazil. Lamb and beef (red meat) are the worst two offenders, with a kilo of each resulting in 39.2 and 27.0 kilos CO2 equivalent emissions, respectively; while a kilo of chicken and turkey result in 10.9 and 6.9 kilos CO2 equivalent emissions, respectively. The lowest-emitting meat product still emits twice that of the highest-emitting plant product.

Emissions for each food group quantified to car miles driven. Source: GreenEatz.com

The cropland required to feed the livestock in the US is massive. As a general rule of thumb in biology, only around 10% of the energy in one trophic level is transferred to the next trophic level. Beef production requires 20 times more land per unit of edible protein than plant-based alternatives such as beans. While chicken and pork are more resource-efficient than beef, they still require three times more land area to produce an equivalent unit of plant-based protein. With the world’s food requirements expected to increase by 70% by 2050, continuing our current trends of meat consumption will require much more land, resulting in much more land-use changes, such as deforestation and conversion of grassland into farmlands, further increasing carbon emissions from food production.

Meat is also very inefficient as far as protein and calories produced per unit of feed, with red meat being the worst offenders. One-quarter of the Earth’s land is used for grazing, which could be much more efficiently utilized for producing plant-based food for humans, rather than wasting energy producing feed for animals for us to consume. However, meat is not the only problem. Dairy also uses many cattle, some of the highest emitters of greenhouse gases in agriculture. By reducing dairy consumption, we reduce the number of dairy cattle necessary to supply the dairy demand, reducing the strain on the Earth to feed its people.

Units of edible output of food product per 100 units of feed input. Source: World Resources Institute

Not only is animal agriculture carbon-intensive, it also consumes massive amounts of water when looking at the entire lifecycle of meat products. Beef requires about ten times more irrigation water than an equivalent unit of plant-based protein. Water is already becoming a scarce commodity in the world, and with some 70% of the freshwater consumed being used for agriculture, and with a 70% increase in food required in the next 30 years, we must take steps to reduce our per-calorie water consumption in food production.

Reduction of food-related emissions with dietary changes. Source: World Resources Institute

While there are many people who are adequately convinced by these numbers alone to switch to a vegetarian or entirely plant-based vegan diet, many more people scoff at the idea of practicing either vegetarian or vegan diets. According to the World Resources Institute, simply reducing beef consumption by 70 percent can cut your per-capita agricultural land use and greenhouse gas emissions by 33 and 35 percent, respectively. This is a massive decrease in environmental impact from very little action, and collectively, could significantly reduce our land and resource dependence for satisfying our diets if we all made small changes to what we ate.

Meat substitute products that are strikingly resemblant of the real thing. Source: BeyondMeat.com

Plant-based meat alternatives are becoming increasingly common, and increasingly palatable. Companies such as Beyond Meat, backed by meat-producing giant Tyson Foods, have been working to produce plant-based alternatives to common meat products such as burgers, that are just as palatable as their meat-based counterparts. Products such as these are helpful for people who want to change where their food comes from, but can’t help satisfying the craving of a juicy burger. Websites such as the Food Network have vegetarian and vegan recipes that are just as simple and satisfying as meat-based meals. If you are considering going vegetarian or vegan, do what works best for you. Many people find that quitting meat or animal products cold-turkey is rather difficult, are put off of doing so as a result, and give up entirely. When starting off, set attainable goals, such as only eating meat every other day, and gradually work yourself into the new diet. Try new vegetarian or vegan recipes, of which there are plenty on the web. Soon enough, reducing or eliminating meat consumption will feel voluntary rather than forced, and you will be one of many people who opt to change their diet to help reduce their impact on the planet.

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