Where are you eating?
I recently read The Breakfast Quest, a kids story about a family that went on a trip around the world to collect the very best ingredients for Granny’s Famous Sunday Cinnamon Buns! They gathered eggs from a farm in town, caught a plane to Denmark for butter, took a train to France for flour, and a hot air balloon to Madagascar for vanilla, sugar, and cinnamon.
You might not know it, but the foods you’re eating everyday have probably made travelled just as much as much as that family travelled for Granny’s Cinnamon Buns. Crazy, right? A study done by the Worldwatch Institute found that from farm to table, your food is traveling an average of 1,500 to 2,500 miles. If you started in Madrid, a city in Spain, and went north for as far as your breakfast did, you could end up traveling through France, Belgium, and Germany all the way to Denmark!
What does this mean? It means we’re putting 10 kcal of fossil fuel energy into our food system for every 1 kcal of energy we consume as food products. That transportation is releasing harmful pollution into our environments by contributing increasing carbon dioxide emissions, which contribute to climate change.
Although it might seem like it, not everybody lives like this. Last summer, I interned in a small village called 美濃 (Meinong), located in southern Taiwan. The village grows mainly rice, mangoes, tobacco, some vegetables and bananas (and livestock, but as a vegan I tended to stay away from that), so that’s what I ate. Of course I’m not perfect, when I found imported peanut butter at a local market I was absolutely thrilled and ate almost a whole jar in a day, but on the whole the experience of eating locally has stayed with me the longer I’ve been outside the US.
However, life in Taiwan and life in the States work quite a bit differently. Throughout most of Asia, it is common to buy fruits and veggies at local outdoor markets (there’s a really cool market about a 5 minute walk from my apartment in Vietnam right now!). However, I know living in Berkeley we don’t have that same opportunity (Walgreens isn’t quite the same, and neither is Berkeley Bowl – although Berkeley Bowl has a fantastic social media presence I would 12/10 recommend), and living in the United States we have added layers to consider when shopping for food.
That being said, I think it’s important to think about who is harvesting your food, and what their working conditions are. The median annual wage for United States agricultural workers was $23,730 in May 2017. Oftentimes, these workers are exploited and lack basic rights, with an estimated 60% being undocumented, and therefore afraid to report abuses for fear their bosses will have them deported. By eating locally, you have a chance to personally harvest your produce (more info below!) or at least get to know the people selling it.
Living in California, we’re incredibly fortunate with the large variety of produce that can be found In fact, over thirty percent of the country’s vegetables and two-thirds of the country’s fruits and nuts are grown in California.
So, what produce should you be eating? Where can you ethically/environmentally/affordably shop your produce?
These are great conversations to have with individuals over at the UC Gill Tract (Take the 52 all the way to the UC Village – get off and look for a 2-acre farm, pictured below, and ask for Lucy. The farm is open weekly Sunday-Thursday, and would love to get you involved!). There, students and member of the community can harvest their own produce (for free!). Or, head on down to SOGA, or the Clark Kerr Gardens. Believe it or not, you really can grow your own lettuce or spinach (or other veggies you like!) in a window seal, and these places can teach you how for free!
Outside of gardens themselves, Berkeley also hold quite the variety of farmer’s markets, which are great to go to on a roommate date, or a study break! There’s the Center street Farmers’ Market on Saturdays, the Farmers’ Market on Shattuck and and Rose St. every Thursday, and the Adeline market each Tuesday.