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Carbon in Food

I’m not talking about what it looks like when I’m left in charge of the grill at family summer cookouts. Tongs in hand, I typically try really hard not to think about the pig lips my brother assures me are in the 12-for-a-dollar hot dogs that Aunt Minnie brought—and they end up neglected and charred.

I’m not talking about what it looks like when I’m left in charge of the grill at family summer cookouts. Tongs in hand, I typically try really hard not to think about the pig lips my brother assures me are in the 12-for-a-dollar hot dogs that Aunt Minnie brought—and they end up neglected and charred.No, I’m pondering our current food system and agricultural production methods that are big contributors to greenhouse gas emissions. Over the past three or four years, I have been working hard to reduce my own footprint across many fronts and I realize how many trade-offs we all wrestle with as we consider behavior and lifestyle changes. I’m slowly changing my eating habits to acknowledge the impact of my choices. In the midst of a planned community that encourages landscape conformity, I surreptitiously planted a kitchen garden and a small orchard, which I water with as much gray water as I can collect from my daily life. I secretly compost kitchen scraps and yard waste since the neighbors are certain that compost attracts rats. I joined a CSA, one where the farmer uses deeply organic and biodynamic methods—and delivers to my house! I’m still an omnivore, but I seek out wild-caught fish from sustainable fisheries, grass-fed beef, buffalo, and cage free eggs—and I’ve met the chickens on their home turf. They are deliriously happy free-range chickens.I’ve long sought organic and wild foods, but I love coffee, and really, there’s nothing better than a fresh mango with lime, is there? And we don’t grow mangoes in central Texas, either. Those mangos travel a long way to meet me. Many of my other current food choices (Chilean apples, New Zealand kiwi fruit) still have an energy impact and I wasn’t sure how to easily go about making additional incremental changes while still eating a healthy, varied, flavorful diet.I recently found some sources to help. The Union of Concerned Scientists sends an excellent agriculture and food-focused weekly electronic newsletter called FEED. This week’s issue linked me to two fun sites that help me calculate the carbon in a typical meal, or remind me that I can do more to live lightly where our agricultural resources are concerned. The venerable foodie site Bon Appetit offers an “eat low carbon calculator.” The Small Planet Institute sponsors Take a Bite out of Climate Change. A friend sent a simple and effective seasonal ingredient map which helps remind me that what is in season locally is a good purchase for my personal carbon scorecard. I now pay more attention to the labels on perishable products in Whole Foods Market and consciously weigh the choice between the scrappy local conventional peaches from two counties over versus the voluptuous organic peaches from 2000 miles away.Behavior change takes time. When I write it all down and reflect, I’m truly surprised at what I’ve accomplished in the last few years. What are you doing on these fronts? How can we help?Former park ranger Anna Madrona helped open the fourth Whole Foods Market store in Texas in 1985, leaving after a few years for, literally, greener pastures. After working in the environmental field as a cartographer, GIS specialist, archeological dig bum, and historic preservation professional, Ms. Madrona returned to Whole Foods Market in the late ‘90s on the start-up team for Whole Foods Market’s dotcom experiment. In her third incarnation at Whole Foods Market, the ever-curious Anna works as a writer and researcher in Austin. She has degrees in agriculture & resources management, geography, and public history. Her current enthusiasms include permaculture and authoring the first book in her koan mystery series.

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