Friday, February 29, 2008

Food: World Traveler

I just read an article in the last issue of the New Yorker about the carbon footprint of food. It was fascinating to consider thinking about labeling foods for their impact on the environment and a method/standard for doing so. The complexities are enormous--i.e. for a potato chip, do you consider the origin of the oil it was fried in, the impact of emissions of the farm equipment, etc.? Do you put a little plane on the label if it was flown (much more negatively impactive on the environment) or a truck or just one standard of 5 star ratings or what? Who will be in charge of this? It is unbelievably intricate and complicated.

Did you know you could read the New Yorker online? I had no idea and always bemoaned the elitists with their hard-copy in hand until my mom bought me a subscription, which I of course can not keep up with at all. Anyway, I found the article online:

I It is now commonplace for a piece of fruit one eats to travel farther than the person eating it will in a lifetime. I am currently reading a book called "What to Eat" by Marion Nestle, who is the person I consider to be the most influential and academic nutritionist in current existence. She not only seeks to educate and better the health of the nation, she is also an incredible, incredible researcher. Her muckraking skills and journalistic-type diligence are impeccable. I am constantly awed by her work, though I admittedly find her personality a bit less than "nice", but living in New York I am getting to know her type quite well--smarmy, off-put, smart as hell and of a Brooklyn Jewish upbringing. She is sort of a Larry David if Larry David were not funny.

In this book she explores every aspect of every issue facing a person when they go to the grocery store: Does the organic label really mean anything? What is natural? Are trans fats really bad for me? etc. etc. I am currently reading the section on labels of origin for foods, which is an up-and-coming trend that many people are pushing for. Nestle argues that knowing where your food came from is a key indicator to an undeniable amount of information about its freshness, not to mention gives you an indication of its carbon footprint. Eating local is becoming almost as important to the health-conscious as eating organic, and in fact, the term "locavore" was the 2007 Word of the Year for the New Oxford American Dictionary.

Eating locally has gained clout among leading nutritionists and foodies as well, because, among other reasons, when one eats locally, one eats seasonally--you are eating the freshest foods at the most apt times, which, they believe, also puts you in a sort of symbiotic relationship with your environs. There seems to be something to be said for that, as hokey as it might sound. Sure, if I had done this my whole life I would have never tasted probably 90 percent of the foods that I have (imagine, never knowing what a kiwi tastes like), but making an effort to be conscious of season and region is definitely not a bad idea, both for your health and for your environment.

Ideally, within the next few years country of origin labels (COOLs as they are known in the nutritionist world--a very fitting name), are going to be on everything, giving people an indicator of how far their food has traveled. This is important and necessary and will ideally span more than just specialty stores (cough cough Whole Foods) that pretty much do it already, but are too expensive for the mass population to afford.


Jordan M said...

One of the more interesting items I found in that article questioned how good being a "locavore" actually is, in "carbon footprint" terms. The article gives the example that an apple grown in New Zealand and shipped to New York will actually have less of an impact on the environment than an apple grown 50 miles away from New York. This is shocking, but it makes sense when you consider that in New Zealand they don't have to use as much fertilizer or irrigate as much as they do in New York, and they have cleaner energy-producing systems. Thus, being a locavore doesn't always mean you're being the most environmentally friendly. But it probably will make you feel better anyway.

Erika said...

Yes, and also interesting was considering the fact that, for New Yorkers, drinking Bordeaux was less of a carbon footprint than drinking California wines, because Cali wines are shipped on trucks and wines from Bordeaux are brought by ship.

MIKE Sapiro said...


Anonymous said...

A poem, in case you couldn't tell...

People on trains,
Food on trucks,
It's all insane.

But, apples in the Big Apple
To sweeten some crab apples
Would be a nice change.

Serious comments, in case you couldn't tell...

Cliche things are often true. That is how many of them end up becoming cliches. Some people are afraid to speak cliches and therefore never speak the Truth. Hooray for Truth and cliches!


Are you at all concerned about Dr. Nestle as a reliable source? I know there is a PhD. at the beginning of her name... but look at the end of her name... I think she is trying to hide something, or maybe compensate for something.

Don't get too involved here friend or you might wind up on some all chocolate all the time diet... and that's only good for the Nestle's and the Hershey's. Not so good for you.

When someone asks me about you I can't be telling people stuff like "Oh, yeah she's out in New York, kicking butt as usual, you know E... But she met this doctor and somehow... well, you know how it is... (whispering) she's a chocoholic now... No, she wouldn't say she has a problem... it started out as a diet... but...

Hmm, what can you say? "Living the dream, eating only chocolate in the Big Apple."

By the way, did you see that Mike is learning to label things? I just wish his mom would hit the caps lock for him so I wouldn't have to yell quite so much when I'm reading your blog.

Anonymous said...

Hey, some people think it's great that you don't know where your food came from or who produced it. That way you can't discriminate against asian people, black people, or southern people who made the food for you. You just buy the food and your prejudice doesn't have to come into it. Just your cash. The anonymity of American or globalized capitalism can be a great tool for equality. Also, consider voting. If voting weren't anonymous it wouldn't be fair. Unless you're in a union.