Tag Archives: green

Kudos and Criticism for Chipotle’s Farm Ad


It’s been 2 weeks and the buzz still hasn’t died down.
Fast food marketer Chipotle Mexican Grill ran a doozy of a commercial during the Grammy Awards. The company went all out for its first national ad buy, a 2 minute spot during which it screened a short film celebrating sustainable agriculture.

Back to the Start uses stop-motion animation to tell the tale of a small-time farmer who transforms his family farm into an industrialized animal feeding operation, then sees the error of his way and returns to his former small-scale methods. It starts out as a sweet little Fisher-Price playset of a farm, green and lush with a single red barn and open pastures where a handful of spotted cows and plump pink piggies roam freely. Then it scales up to a gray landscape of bloated animals, crowded warehouses, and mechanized feeding lines with sludgy feed and a rainbow of chemical supplements. The soundtrack comes from Willie Nelson singing a mournful rendition of the Coldplay tune The Scientist: “Science and progress/Don’t speak as loud as my heart/Nobody said it was easy/No one ever said it would be so hard/I’m going back to the start.”

The film succeeds on many levels.
It’s playful but unsettling. It confronts the horrors and pitfalls of concentrated, mechanized agriculture, but does so without the stridency and gory shock tactics of most animal rights messaging. It’s simple but not dumbed down.

The critics began chiming in while the final frame was still flickering on TV screens.
Proponents of Big Agriculture blasted the message as a ‘prescription for worldwide hunger,’ claiming that they make the tough calls regarding animal husbandry on our behalf. In a New York Times opinion piece, Missouri Farm Bureau president Blake Hurst warned that our political correctness actually backfires because it drives small farmers out of business because only “big multistate operations will also be able to afford to make the changes, or will at least have the political sway to resist them.” He also questions Chipotle’s assumption that a pig would prefer a pasture to a warehouse. Have there been “porcine focus groups,” he wonders, with “response meters designed for the cloven of hoof?” “… for all we know, pigs are ‘happier’ in warm, dry buildings than they are outside. And either way, the end result is a plate.” [If Mr. Hurst's name is ringing a bell, perhaps it's because he first made a name in the food world as the author The Omnivore’s Delusion, the anti-foodie screed he penned in response to Michael Pollan's The Omnivore's Dilemma]

Chipotle also drew criticism from members of the food reform community. Chipotle, whose motto is “Food with integrity,” has demonstrated a deep commitment to the humane treatment of animals, but has come under fire numerous times for ignoring the unethical and abusive labor practices of some of its vendors. Some also have a cynical view of a corporation that has co-opted a movement and turned it into a marketing tool.

It’s true that we can’t presume to truly know what’s inside a pig’s mind. It’s also true that Chipotle mixes self-interest with the environmental message. But ultimately, it’s the message that matters. Back to the Start addresses deep and important issues about the food supply, and Chipotle succeeded in bringing them to the attention of a broad national audience.

 

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Would You Trade Your McMansion for a Cup of Coffee?

How’s this for a cultural shift: most Americans would forgo square footage for a house near a Starbucks.
For generations of strivers a big house was one of the most important emblems of status, a four bedroom jacuzzi-tubbed signpost along the roadway to success. The Jeffersons were movin’ on up; the Clampetts got their Beverly Hills mansion with a ce-ment pond in back. Now, it seems, you’re a nobody if you can’t walk out the front door and get a latte.

According to the Community Preference Survey conducted by the National Association of Realtors, 77% of Americans say that walkability is an important factor in their housing decision, and they prefer nearby restaurants over schools, churches, parks, and movie theaters. 88% say that they would choose a smaller home in a neighborhood with nearby amenities over a larger home where they have to drive everywhere.

If you’ve ever lived in a highly walkable neighborhood, you already know what a beautiful thing it is. It gives you convenient access to the daily destinations of life. If you’re lucky, you can walk to school or work. If you’re even luckier, there are groceries, a decent bakery, and the all-important cup of coffee within walking distance.

A premium coffee vendor is no small thing to a neighborhood. It speaks to the area’s economic and cultural vitality; it signals that the neighborhood has arrived. A successful cafe can add to a neighborhood’s momentum, drawing in more businesses and raising property values, an upswing cycle that realtors and civic associations refer to as the ‘Starbucks Effect.’

You can learn the walkability rating of any home or business. Walk Score calculates a score from 0–100 for any address— 100 is a Walker’s Paradise and 0 is totally Car Dependent. The algorithm assigns points based on the nearby amenities, as well as factors like cul de sacs (not a walk-friendly feature) and block lengths (shorter is better). A car-free lifestyle becomes possible with a score upward of 80.

Check your Walk Score and see how it matches up against some of these well-known residences:

The Obama’s former Chicago home has a middling Walk Score of 71. The move to the White House got them into a home with the very robust score of 97.

The Brady Bunch ranch house had a Walk Score of 74; very respectable for the San Fernando Valley.

Monica’s lower Manhattan apartment on Friends scores an unbeatable 100 points.

 

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The Cheeseburger Footprint: Can you be green and eat fast food?

Nike shoeburger via LOL Gallery

Can you be green and eat fast food? Some fast food chains are better than others, when it comes to their environmental impact, but is a cheeseburger always going to be ethically challenged? We know about the carbon footprint of the greenhouse gases produced through burning fossil fuels for electricity, heating and transportation—the normal activities of our day-to-day lives. What about our cheeseburger footprint?

Each year, the green-living website Greenopia rates the environmental impact and healthy dining characteristics of popular fast food chains. The rankings are based on factors like sustainable building design, integrity of the supply chain, and participation in recycling and composting programs. We learn that McDonald’s is greener than Burger King, and Subway is doing a better job than Taco Bell. Good to know, yes, but this still doesn’t answer the question, Can you be green and eat fast food?

Can fast food ever be green?
Fast food chains generate tremendous amounts of waste. Recycled or not, no other dining format can touch its levels. And once you peel back the wrappers and packaging, you have the food miles and greenhouse gases, and the salt, fat, and high-fructose corn syrup of factory farmed, heavily processed foods.

Fast food will ultimately hit the wall when it tries to go green.
We, the customers, are hooked on fast, cheap, and convenient. The fast food giants can improve their use and disposal of packaging materials. They have the clout to push food producers toward more sustainable options that are organic, fairly traded, and additive-free. But the high volume, low cost model will always dictate the terms and impose its own limitations. Processed travels better than fresh, fruit-flavored is cheaper than fruit, and a Big Mac is still going to cost less than a salad. Getting it ‘to go’ will always mean wasteful packaging, and cars will continue to idle in drive-through lanes.

Let’s go back to the original question: Can you be green and eat fast food?
There are plenty of anti-waste crusaders and Slow Food advocates who would answer with an emphatic, unequivocal ‘no;’ that even the greenest of fast food options run counter to their missions, producing more waste and carbon emissions than home cooking served on real dishes. But isn’t that like telling the owner of a Prius that hybrids are pointless, or even counterproductive, because they still burn fossil fuels?

While it’s true that a bicycle is a greener, more ethical option than any car, it obviously doesn’t work for everyone and in all circumstances. As an alternative, a hybrid car is a laudable, pragmatic solution, and even a catalyst for change—the presence of each one on our roads helps promote a worthy message in the public sphere.

Unfortunately, most of us won’t be giving up our quick, inexpensive meals eaten on the fly any more than we will quit driving. So when we opt for fast food, we need to patronize those chains that are making a true effort to minimize their impact on the environment, the ones given a 3- or 4-leaf rating by Greenopia’s fast food ratings.

Choosing to eat even the most ethical, sustainable fast food is an imperfect option in the same way that a Prius is an imperfect vehicle, and the self-righteous among us might challenge the ‘greenness’ of the choice. But it represents distinct, incremental progress and creates public awareness that just might be the catalyst for further change on our way to a greener future.

Just how bad is fast food’s impact on the environment? It’s all broken down for you in the Cheeseburger Footprint.

 

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The New Recyclables

image via Living, etc.

Yogurt containers into toothbrushes, Cheetos bags into CD cases.
While you were dutifully rinsing out tuna cans and bundling newspapers, recycling kept moving forward.

Specialized recyclers have sprung up to handle everything imaginable— or unimaginable in some cases: broken crayons, used dentures, old sports trophies, even sex toys. The kitchen is particularly fertile ground for recycling. Following are kitchen items that you’ll probably be surprised to learn are recyclable.

Hershey’s Kisses
Those little bitty foil wrappers sure add up. Around 80 million chocolate Hershey’s Kisses are wrapped every day. That’s enough aluminum foil to cover nearly 40 football fields. Instead of tossing it out, toss it into the bin with aluminum cans.

Corks
We like our chocolate and our wine. 13 billion natural wine corks are sold each year. Get mailing instructions or find a local cork drop-off location on the websites for recyclers ReCORK and  Yemm & Hart. Used corks can  find new life as placemats, shoe footbeds, flooring, and other building materials.

Cooking oil
I hope you know not to pour used cooking oil down the drain. It’s the number one cause of clogs, so clearly a lot of people are pouring it out. Whatever you’ve been doing,  you might be surprised to learn that your used oil can be recycled into biofuel. Check Earth911 for a nearby recycling location.

Packaging and more
Terracycle accepts the previously non-recyclable and turns them into products like clipboards and backpacks. Terracycle accepts:

  • Drink pouches (like Capri Sun) and single-brew coffee pouches (like Flavia)
  • Single-serve treat packaging (granola bars, cookie, gum, and candy bar wrappers)
  • Lunch kits (like Lunchables)
  • Chip bags
  • diapers
  • toothpaste tubes
  • small electronics

Produce stickers
Barry Snyder doesn’t recycle but will upcycle all those little stickers that come on supermarket produce, turning them into mosaic homages to well-known works of art. Visit Stickerman Produce Art to check out his work and for sticker shipping details.

Kitchen appliances
Remodeling a kitchen, or even just replacing the old toaster— use the Steel Recycling Institute’s location finder to pass along old appliances large and small.

If your unwanted items still have some life in them, get them into the hands of people who can use them. Sell them or offer them up as giveaways on Freecycle, Craigslist, Throwplace, and iReuse.com.


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Tap Water: Cheap, Environmentally Sound, and Now Trendy?

[image via Pur]

Remember the aha moment when you realized that Evian is ‘naive’ spelled backwards?
It was a moment of clarity, of sanity. You wouldn’t be duped. You wouldn’t be one of those status-seeking suckers out there who were buying into baseless health claims and slick marketing. You knew that the Emperor was just plain naked.

So what happened?
You did become one of them. We all did.
We’re drinking more bottle water than ever—85 million bottles every single day. But there is one bright spot; one place where we have curbed the habit and are going out of our way to specify tap: tap water orders are way up in restaurants. According to the consumer research group NPD, restaurant tap water is one of the fastest-growing beverage orders, increasing annually by nearly a billion servings.

Economic conditions are clearly behind the trend. In the current recession, we’ve barely cut back on the frequency of dining out—just one percent in the past 5 years—but we’re looking for ways to trim the tab. We’re keeping dessert and dumping the bottled water.

Tap water also has a kind of reverse status for the restaurants.
For three decades, beginning with the Perrier days of the 1970s, restaurants were guilty of promoting water elitism. They sent their waiters out to push high mark-up/high margin bottled water menus, and made us feel like cheapskates when we chose the tap. Now they’re shunning bottled water to demonstrate their locavore and sustainability bonafides, and frankly, they owe us this one.

There’s an environmental upside to the down economy. Since 2006, just this little switch to tap water in restaurants has already saved 8.75 billion gallons of water, and all the associated packaging, transportation, recycling, and landfill waste. The challenge is to make this change permanent, and not lapse into our old water habits when the economy turns around.

 

Posted in restaurants, sustainability, trends | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

The 5 W’s of Food Day

The Who
It might be easier to list the who isn’t.
Food Day was created by the consumer-advocacy group Center for Science in the Public Interest.
Food Day’s advisory board is stacked with city mayors and university heads, Senators and members of Congress, two former Surgeons General, chefs, scientists, public health leaders, and many of the most prominent voices for change in the food policy world (Alice Waters, Michael Pollan, Marion Nestle, Jim Hightower, and many more).
Food Day’s hundreds of partner organizations run the gamut from the Sierra Club to the Episcopal Church, and corporate partners include Whole Foods, Dole, and The Cooking Channel.

The What
It’s a day dedicated to raising awareness and raising funds to promote healthy eating and affordable, sustainable foods.
Food Day is based on Earth Day in that any individual or group, formal or informal, can plan an event. There are thousands scheduled, including policy campaign kick-offs, food festivals, cooking lessons, farm tours, film screenings, school curricula, protests, and themed dinners in restaurants, private homes, and public spaces.

The When
Food Day is Monday, October 24.
We’re in the home stretch.

The Where
Food Day events large and small are being planned all around the country.
There will be high-profile gatherings like the massive, celebrity-packed Eat Real Eat-In being held in New York’s Times Square, and others as low key as a home cook’s pie-making class being held in a Brookline kitchen.
Visit the Food Day website to find events near you, or consider hosting your own Food Day dinner with help from Epicurious’ Food Day event planning kit.

Why
Because it’s time to fix our broken food system.

FOODDAY.org

 

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How Green is Your Coffee?

Actually, it’s pretty hard to tell.
There’s fair trade and organic coffee, shade-grown, and even bird-friendly.
You can drink it in a recycled cup with organic soy milk and sugar from plants that haven’t been genetically altered.
And there’s the carbon impact.

By the time the beans have been grown, harvested, processed, roasted, shipped, ground, and brewed, your morning cup of coffee has left a pretty big footprint on the planet. About 3 pounds of CO2 are released into the atmosphere for every pound of coffee that is produced using environmentally responsible practices. More when it has been factory-farmed.

You can buy carbon neutral coffee.
Carbon-neutral means that the sum of the world-wide activities that produced your coffee did not contribute to the carbon in the environment. To accomplish this, a grower or roaster conducts an audit of their energy usage and emissions, and then plants trees (which are naturally carbon-sequestering) to mitigate the impact. Carbon offsets are purchased in an amount to make up the difference.

We know what ‘carbon neutral’ means, and there are private companies that provide audits and certifications, but there’s no national standard or official certification, and no regulations or protocol for the FTC to enforce. Until we get some standardization and clarity, here are a few things you can do to green your coffee-drinking habit:

  • Minimize your footprint by shopping locally. Unless you live in the tropical band around the equator, you can’t buy locally grown coffee, but you can reduce the number of miles that your coffee has to travel to reach you by finding a roaster close to you to cut down on the trip and the amount of carbon released into the atmosphere by your coffee delivery. Coffee Habitat will tell you where you can find roasters in your area that have demonstrated social responsibility in both their bean imports and their own business practices.
  • Consider the source. Shade-grown, bird-friendly, and fair trade are not mere marketing ploys to ease a guilty conscience. They are all designations and certifications that have real, enforceable teeth that guarantee ethical and environmentally sound growing practices.
  • Use a permanent filter in your coffee maker. The little paper filter might seem like a small thing, but disposable coffee filters are a strain on the environment both at the start of their life and at the end. They use paper, which is made from a consumable resource that is slow to be replaced. Toxic chemicals are employed when the paper is processed, and after they’re used, they end up in a land fill for decades. Worst of all are the snowy white filters that were bleached to get that way.

 

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The Ethical Carnivore: Pleased to Meat You

It’s not like you’re suddenly going to go cold turkey, if you’ll pardon the pun. We humans didn’t claw our way up the food chain so we could eat quinoa.

Meat-eating and ethical eating don’t have to be mutually exclusive. There are ways to eat meat that are sensitive to the environment, to our health, and to the animals involved.

All meat is not created equal.
We all know that factory farming is a grotesquery. It’s basically institutionalized animal cruelty and it creates a product that is unfit and unhealthy for human consumption. It depletes resources and is destructive to the environment.

Then there’s grass-fed or pasture-raised beef.
These animals are raised in open, humane, sanitary conditions. They conserve resources by passing on a diet of grains grown with petroleum-based fertilizers and pesticides. Better for your health, grass-fed beef contains fewer antibiotics and hormones, is leaner than grain-fed and grain-finished beef, and has a more favorable ratio of omega fatty acids.

The well-managed pasture system sustains natural resources by reducing erosion and water pollution, conserving carbon, and preserving biodiversity and wildlife. Their sales methods—either operating as an independent, selling directly from their own property, or selling through small, locally focused producer groups—help support local communities, promote local foodsheds, and earn a fair price for the producers.

The industrialization of the calf.
We took an earth-friendly, solar-powered ruminant and turned it into a fossil-fuel powered machine.
The problem with banishing all meat from the dinner table is that ranchers of conscience are caught in the sweep, demonized along with factory farmers. These ethical producers should be celebrated as the vanguard of a growing revolt against industrial agriculture, not penalized by association.

Let’s face it, we are not heading toward a meatless society.
But we can be a society of ethical carnivores. We need to eat meat in moderation and avoid animals raised in confined spaces and fed an unnatural diet. Choosing grass-fed beef can have a lasting impact on our health and the health of the planet.

 

 

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A Global Warming Amuse Bouche.

image via World Magazine

How’s that climate change thing working for you?
Not everyone is in agreement on the causes, but the effects are undeniable.
Popsicles and iced drinks can only take you so far. What will you be eating as the planet heats up?

2010 was the world’s hottest year on record; that is, until 2011. The National Weather Service reports that 1,400 records for a high temperature have been broken around the country this summer, and we’re not even through July. The current heat wave is exceptional for its duration, strength, and even breadth, and climatologists are telling us it’s just a taste of things to come.

Atmospheric scientists at the University of Washington and at Stanford University’s Program for Food Security and the Environment analyzed data from 23 climate models. They predict, with 90%  certainty, that by the end of the 21st century, average growing-season temperatures will be hotter than the most extreme levels recorded in the past. Barring a swift and sudden reduction in greenhouse-gas emissions, here’s what will happen to our food:

  • Fruit trees will blossom weeks early in the warmer spring weather, before insects arrive to pollinate them. Without successful pollination, small fruit will form and quickly drop off the trees before it can mature.
  • Grapes will wither into raisins before they can be pressed for wine.
  • Dairy cows will experience reproductive failure and produce less milk.
  • Hogs and cattle will go off their feed and take longer to get to market.
  • Chickens will lay fewer eggs.
  • Coffee-growing regions will fade away as growers are forced to either move to higher ground or pack it in.
  • We’ll drink  summer ales year-round—the only palatable brew from weaker, low-acid, warm-weather hops.
  • Fish will flee the southern hemisphere, vegetables will wither in the fields, maple syrup will be just a memory.

We’ve seen food prices rise by 20% as the hot weather torpedoes production, but what if dinner costs 20 times what it did?

The midwestern breadbasket will be redubbed the tropical fruit bowl.
Mashed cassava will stand in for potatoes, we’ll eat french-fried yucca, and scramble the eggy akee fruit for breakfast. It’s already happening across Europe, where England has begun producing bananas, olives, and oranges, and central Russia is planted with fig trees and lemons.

The evidence continues to pile up.
This is not just another summer heatwave but part of a larger trend that is indisputably based on measured concentrations of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. Global warming as a result of human activity is recognized by the national science academies of  every major industrialized country.

Learn how your personal choices  impact the environment. Read Ten Personal Solutions to Global Warming from the Union of Concerned Scientists.

Join 350.com, a global, grassroots movement to solve the crisis.

 

 

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Your 12-pack Toting Days are Numbered

[image via the Purple Sprout]

 

Why are we buying all those bottles and cans of soda?
Oceans of corn syrup, mountains of glass and plastic waste, money, fossil fuels; this is wrong on so many levels I don’t know where to begin.

Americans consume about 50 billion liters of soda a year. That comes to 216 liters for every man, woman, and child, most of it sealed in plastic or aluminum. It’s labeled and packaged and packed into cartons. It’s shipped around the country, passes through distributors and wholesalers and retailers, before it’s toted home in 12-packs loaded into the trunk of a car.

All that for water and flavoring and some CO2 for carbonation. The stuff could come from anywhere, and we’re importing it like it’s lobsters from Maine.

You can (and should) make soda at home.
It’s economical and green and better for your health. The easiest way to go about making soda and sparkling water is with a home system. The newest versions are light years away from the old-fashioned, cumbersome seltzer siphons. All you do is fill a bottle with tap water, pop it into a soda maker, and in 3 seconds you have seltzer. You can make sparkling fruit juice, adjust the bubble size to your preference, or add extracts and syrups to make soda.

The initial investment (machine, carbonation, bottles, a few syrups) starts at around $100, but quickly pays for itself. You only have to give up a few inches of counter space, and it works without electricity.

Slate’s Get Busy with the Fizzy marvels at the home carbonation phenomenon, and details the perfect storm of economics, health concerns, environmental awareness, and nostalgia that shaped it.

You can make classics like homemade ginger ale, root beer, and cream soda, or experiment with herbs and seasonal ingredients like strawberry-rhubarb, chai tea, and orange-lemongrass. The Homemade Soda Expert has tips and links to suppliers and recipes.

 

 

Posted in appliances + gadgets, sustainability | Tagged , , | 3 Comments

The Fish of the Sea

And God blessed them, and God said unto them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth.

Genesis 1:28

So how’s that dominion thing working out for you?

There’s nothing like a perch at the top of the food chain.
We’ve got the handy opposable thumbs and complex forebrains, and when it comes to a fish dinner, we’ve made the most of them. We’ve developed a taste for predators—tuna, salmon, swordfish, cod—all the high-protein, high-fat fish that are enriched by their own diets of feeder fish.

The traditional food chain concept taught us that the sun makes plankton that’s eaten by the crustaceans that are eaten by small forager fish; those are eaten by small predator fish, which in turn are eaten by larger predators and mammals.

We’ve since learned that the food chain concept is too simplistic. The oceans are full of picky herbivores, cross-over omnivores, and predators that double as prey. The new terminology is ‘food web,’ a more holistic approach that explains the complex interconnectedness of ocean species. Mess with one marine relationship and you’re messing with them all, plus a whole host of habitats and ecosystems. But you know us and our dominion—of course we’ve been messing.

Here’s what our taste for striped bass and red snapper has done:
The large predator fish we’re so fond of are in steep decline from overfishing. Popular species like cod, swordfish, and tuna have dropped by 90% in the past 50 years, their very existence threatened with extinction. With their natural predators disappearing, wild forage fish populations have exploded, and with too many foragers gobbling up the krill, there’s nothing to feed on the plankton. Now we’re seeing vast and unseasonable plankton ‘blooms’ turning swaths of the oceans into a plant-laden green soup that sucks out all the oxygen and wreaks havoc on ecosystems.

Hang on to those fish forks.
The best way to rebalance the oceans is to eat around the food web—fewer of the top predators and more from the burgeoning population of forager fish like sardines, herring, and anchovies.
Eat prey, not predators.

Seafood Watch at the Monterey Bay Aquarium has recommendations and recipes for ocean-friendly fish, available online and as a mobile app.

 

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Clicks or Bricks: Is it greener to buy groceries online?

Who wouldn’t want to cut out all those trips to the supermarket?
Hopefully you’ve already cut way back, with a larger portion of your food coming from farmers markets and other local sources, but you just can’t get everything. There will always be a need for the cans and bottle, cleaning supplies and paper goods that large chain stores offer cheaper and with better selection. We are still left with that most detestable of all household errands—the trip to the supermarket.

It’s misery from start to finish: the parking space in the next county, the shopping cart with a cranky wheel, the checkout line that inches along, and finally the multiple trips from car to kitchen hauling all those grocery bags. What if you could eliminate that dreaded chore AND reduce your environmental impact?

A study conducted by Carnegie Mellon University’s Green Design Institute concluded that online purchases with home delivery can result in 35 percent less energy consumption and carbon dioxide emissions than traditional shopping. Approximately 65 percent of total emissions generated by the traditional retail model comes from driving your own car to and from the store. Even though a huge, fuel-burning truck will be bringing the groceries to you, the incremental energy consumption and emissions created by one more shopping order and one more delivery stop added to the truck’s route is less significant than if you make the drive yourself.

There are also logistical differences in the supply chain that can lessen the environmental impact of online shopping. Traditional bricks-and-mortar retailers generally have items shipped from manufacturers to distributors to regional warehouses, where they are then redistributed to individual store locations. Online sellers can streamline the process. They usually eliminate at least one tier of regional warehousing, and some can even skip a few steps by relying on distribution partners to ship directly shipping to customer homes. This cuts back not just on the transportation of products, but also the bundled packaging and packing materials needed along the way.

Online grocery shopping is making a comeback.
The retail model was full of promise in the 1980’s, flamed out notably in the dot-com bust of the 1990’s (CNET named the failed online grocer Webvan the top flop of the era), and has gradually found its footing  in the aftermath. But online grocery purchases have never grown beyond a miniscule 1-2 percent portion of overall sales, thriving in just a few urban niche markets.

Here come the game-changers.
And this time around it’s a new ballgame—we’ve grown comfortable with online shopping, the modems are a lot faster, and gas prices have passed $4.00  a gallon. Walmart, already the nation’s biggest grocer, is experimenting with a new online service called Walmart To Go, while Amazon, the king of online retailers, has big plans for a national roll-out of its own service, AmazonFresh.

There are plenty of alternatives for the Walmart averse. SOS eMarketing compiled a list of 50 online grocers including ethnic, regional, and specialty retailers, and plenty of sources for organic and environmentally-friendly products.

You can read the full Carnegie Mellon study, Life Cycle Comparison of Traditional Retail and E-Commerce Logistics for Electronic Products: A Case Study of Buy.com, at the publications page of the university’s Green Design Institute.

 

 

Posted in cyberculture, shopping, sustainability | Tagged , | 3 Comments

Can You be Green and Eat Fast Food?

That’s the question that went through my mind when this year’s Greenopia fast food ratings crossed my desk.

Each year, the green-living website rates the environmental impact and healthy dining characteristics of popular fast food chains. The rankings are based on factors like sustainable building design, integrity of the supply chain, and participation in recycling and composting programs. We learn that McDonald’s is greener than Burger King, and Subway is doing a better job than Taco Bell. Good to know, yes, but doesn’t this beg the question? Can you be green and still eat fast food?

Can fast food ever be green?
Fast food chains generate tremendous amounts of waste. Recycled or not, no other dining format can touch its levels. And once you peel back the wrappers and packaging, you have the food miles and greenhouse gases, and the salt, fat, and high-fructose corn syrup of factory farmed, heavily processed foods.

Fast food will ultimately hit the wall when it tries to go green.
We, the customers, are hooked on fast, cheap, and convenient. The fast food giants can improve their use and disposal of packaging materials. They have the clout to push food producers toward more sustainable options that are organic, fairly traded, and additive-free. But the high volume, low cost model will always dictate the terms and impose its own limitations. Processed travels better than fresh, fruit-flavored is cheaper than fruit, and a Big Mac is still going to cost less than a salad. Getting it ‘to go’ will always mean wasteful packaging, and cars will continue to idle in drive-through lanes.

Let’s go back to the original question: Can you be green and eat fast food?
There are plenty of anti-waste crusaders and Slow Food advocates who would answer with an emphatic, unequivocal ‘no;’ that even the greenest of fast food options run counter to their missions, producing more waste and carbon emissions than home cooking served on real dishes. But isn’t that like telling the owner of a Prius that hybrids are pointless, or even counterproductive, because they still burn fossil fuels?

While it’s true that a bicycle is a greener, more ethical option than any car, it obviously doesn’t work for everyone and in all circumstances. As an alternative, a hybrid car is a laudable, pragmatic solution, and even a catalyst for change—the presence of each one on our roads helps promote a worthy message in the public sphere.

Unfortunately, most of us won’t be giving up our quick, inexpensive meals eaten on the fly any more than we will quit driving. So when we opt for fast food, we need to patronize those chains that are making a true effort to minimize their impact on the environment, the ones given a 3- or 4-leaf rating by Greenopia.

Choosing to eat even the most ethical, sustainable fast food is an imperfect option in the same way that a Prius is an imperfect vehicle, and the self-righteous among us might challenge the ‘greenness’ of the choice. But it represents distinct, incremental progress and creates public awareness that just might be the catalyst for further change on our way to a greener future.

Just how bad is fast food’s impact on the environment? Jamais Cascio breaks it all down for you in the Cheeseburger Footprint.

 

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The Reasons for Rabbit

Always a bridesmaid.
It never seems to be rabbit’s turn. Chicken and pork have seats at the table, while rabbit, the other other white meat is a perennial third wheel.
Could this be the year that we fall in love? [...]

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Ka-BLOOM!

seed bomber by Banksy

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Seed bombs of discontent.

It’s a crime to step on private property and plant a flower.
You can be arrested for trespassing, vandalism, or littering.
But it’s also criminal the way that some private property owners neglect unused land, allowing an empty lot to become a barren, inhospitable blight on a neighborhood. [...]

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Are There More Pigs or People Where You Live?




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Eccentric. Arcane. Kooky, even. It’s the 2010 Census.

The big count takes place every ten years.
It’s a snapshot of us at a point in time, and when we compare it to the baby pictures of past census-taking, it says a lot about where we are, where we’ve been, and where we’re heading.

Since the census is only held once each decade, it leaves us with plenty of time to sift through the data; and there’s tons of the stuff. Naturally, it’s full of demographics: it tells us who lives where and how they voted. We know how wealthy the neighbors are and what the kids are majoring in at college. We can see who’s getting married, having babies, and moving to the suburbs; who needs public assistance; and where the hot retirement communities are located (Sarasota, Florida; Fort Collins, Colorado).

The census is also full of curiously chosen data: we can see that people in their 20’s vastly prefer bowling to bicycling; white and black adults attend jazz concerts at nearly the same rates; more men get a good night’s sleep than women; and in the decade since the last census, what we lost in bookstores we gained in pharmacies (500).

The census data contain plenty of fascinating, food-related factoids:

We’re eating less red meat (but drinking more red wine), less fruit (down by 36 pounds per person since the 2000 census), and fewer vegetables (down by 33 pounds), and most of the vegetables we do eat are canned, frozen, pickled, or otherwise processed.
We’re eating way more cheese and yogurt; we’re drinking less milk, but are six times more likely to demand that it be organic.
We’re drinking twice as much alcohol as we did back in 1990, and for the first time, it’s most likely a woman serving us our alcoholic beverages.

Texas has the most farms; Alaska and Rhode Island the fewest. We’ve added more than 3 million acres of organic farmland since the 2000 census— but also 244% more genetically engineered varieties of corn, and 72% more soybeans.
The honeybees really are disappearing—they were counted too.

And yes, there are five states—Minnesota, Iowa, Nebraska, North Carolina, and South Dakota— that have more pigs than people.

It’s like a family photo album crossed with the Guinness Book of Records. The Statistical Abstract of the United States, published annually since 1878, takes piles of government data from the Census Bureau, Bureau of Labor Statistics, Bureau of Economic Analysis, and other federal agencies. The numbers are crunched to give an authoritative and comprehensive summary of social, political, and economic status. You can download earlier editions (dating back to 1878) from the Census Bureau’s website, or order your own copy of the current edition (it’s the government’s perennial top-seller) from the U.S. Government Bookstore.

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Eco-Friendly Wine: It’s Not Easy Being Green

.image via Certified International

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You’ve heard of the French Paradox? You can call this the Napa Valley Paradox.

Organic tends to cost more than its conventional counterparts. It’s true for produce and dairy, meats and cleaning products. But when ‘organic’ appears on a wine label, it actually commands a lower price. [...]

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Got Milk? How About the Not Milks?

Calvin and Hobbes comic via United Feature Syndicate

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Got milk?
Gotten milk recently?
It’s no easy feat. The dairy case seems awfully crowded these days.
Soy milk, the dairy alternative, has been joined by a slew of soy alternatives. Now you’ll find milk made from nut varieties, grains, and even law-skirting hemp seeds. [...]

Posted in food knowledge, health + diet, sustainability | Tagged , | 9 Comments

How Big is Your Water Footprint?

Who knows their water footprint?
You know about your carbon footprint, that it looks at the impact of your day-to-day life on the environment by measuring the greenhouse gases produced as a result of your activities. Your water footprint takes the same kind of look at water usage.

The water footprint concept just hasn’t gotten the same kind of attention. Maybe it’s because fresh water is so commonplace and ubiquitous, at least in the developed parts of the world, that it’s easy to forget what an incredibly valuable resource it is. But we can’t afford to forget. Here in the U.S., where water is generally plentiful and well-managed, water managers in 36 states anticipate periodic water shortages over the next 3 years.

Americans are the water hogs of the planet.
That should come as no surprise, given our resource track record. It takes 1,800 gallons of water a day to keep each of us afloat, the vast majority going toward the production of the food we eat. On average, each of us uses water at twice the world-wide rate. Typical usage in China is less than 500 gallons a day per person, and even much of Europe uses less than 1000 gallons a day per person.

When you drink a 12 ounce cup of coffee in the morning, you’re actually gulping down 37 gallons of water when you account for the growing, processing, and transportation of  the coffee beans before they even got to the local roaster. A glass of wine at the end of the day? It takes 57 gallons of water to produce just 8 ounces of chardonnay.

The worst culprit of all is beef. Dairy products, poultry, pork—they’re all heavyweights—but nothing guzzles water like an industrially-raised, grain-fed cow. It takes more than 2,000 gallons of water to produce a pound of beef, mostly due to the ton of grain the cow has eaten by the time it gets to market.

Of course it is not simply the amount of water that’s used, but where the water is located. It takes about 500 gallons of water to produce a single bag of peanut M&Ms, and only 50 gallons to produce a jar of spaghetti sauce. The cocoa and peanuts are grown in temperate zones with high rainfalls, while tomatoes need heavy irrigation to grown in their typically warm and dry climates. This makes the pasta sauce much more likely to contribute to water scarcity.

Know your water footprint. National Geographic has an online calculator that tallies your personal usage based on home, garden, diet, and energy practices.

At Water Footprint.org, you can explore a water footprint database of 132 countries, and a footprint gallery of food products.

 

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To Eat or Not To Eat


Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.

Oh, if only it were that easy.

Even Michael Pollan, author of those oft-repeated seven words, felt the need to refine the edict with an entire book of rules.

After he exposed us to the ills of the American diet and the inherent dangers in our uber-capitalistic food industry, Michael Pollan left millions of readers wondering what to eat. He began to compile a list of rules to eat by. A mention of the project on his blog resulted in a flood of reader-submitted suggestions— more than 2,500 of them. [...]

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