The following transcript is protected under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.5 License.
Kootenay Co-op Radio CJLY
Nelson, B.C. Canada
August 19, 2010
Title: Climate Friendly Eating (Conscientious Cooks VIII)
Producer/Host: Jon Steinman
Transcript: Pat Yama
Jon Steinman: Welcome to Deconstructing Dinner produced in Nelson, British Columbia at Kootenay Co-op Radio, CJLY. I'm Jon Steinman and on today's episode - part 8 in our ongoing series Conscientious Cooks - a series that features chefs, restaurants, and food service operations who are seeking to move beyond the status quo and source and prepare food with greater awareness of the environmental, economic, social and health impacts of their operations.
On this part 8 we listen in on a really interesting panel discussion hosted in 2008 by the Center for Urban Education about Sustainable Agriculture, or CUESA, located in San Francisco, California.
The panel was themed around the concept of Climate Friendly Eating and featured Bonnie Powell of the Ethicurean and Edible San Francisco as the panel moderator; Gail Feenstra of the University of California's Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education Program; Helene York, the Director of Bon Appátit Management Company Foundation; and Laura Stec, author of Cool Cuisine: Taking a Bite Out of Global Warming.
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In this first clip from the Climate Friendly Eating Panel, we hear an introduction from Bonnie Powell, co-founder of the Ethicurean food-politics blog and Deputy Editor of Edible San Francisco. Bonnie introduces Gail Feenstra, a Food Systems Analyst at the University of California's Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education Program and member of the UC Davis/Bon Appátit Low Carbon Diet Project team.
Bonnie Powell: In the United States, I learned from Gail recently, the food system is responsible for almost 1/5th of our national energy consumption. And while California has long been a leader in energy efficiency, more than 27% of the state is actually devoted to agriculture. And that means that we are definitely contributing probably more than our share of greenhouse gases. And here's how the food system uses energy - 21% of it comes from actual agriculture production such as fertilizer and machinery operation. And a fun fact I learned from one of our panellist's Laura's book, is that 22 billion pounds of packaged fertilizer are used to grow grains for livestock in this country - 22 billion pounds. And then about 48% in the food system, of the energy in the food system comes from - 15% for food transport, about the same for food processing actually and then the same amount for packaging, retailing and restaurants. And a whopping 31% comes from home refrigeration and cooking. But tonight we are not going to learn how to build a passively cold refrigerator or a solar cooker although you can actually find both of those things on the internet, if you're interested - but how to make food choices that are more environmentally responsible.
So, should you eat less meat? Should you eat less soy? And then the question that everyone loves debating is should you eat more local or more organic? Those are the things we want to learn tonight. Gail Feenstra, the woman to my right, has spent her career dedicated to integrating human, environmental, and community health food sustainable food systems. She's a doctor of nutrition and education with an emphasis on public health. Currently she is the Food Systems Analyst at the University of California Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education program which is based in Davis. Her research and education focus on farm-to-school and farm-to-institution evaluation, regional food system distribution models, urban agriculture, food policy and most recently, carbon footprint analysis of the food system.
And then Helene York, in the middle there, is the Director of the Bon Appátit Management Company Foundation where she educates consumers and chefs about how their food choices affect the global environment and catalyze supply chain changes. Bon Appátit operates more the 400 cafes in 28 states, serving more than 80 million meals at corporations like Cisco, eBay, colleges and universities, and specialty venues like the Monterey Bay Aquarium. Helene is the architect of the Company's Low Carbon Diet program where she works with Gail here on and seeks to raise awareness of the connection between the food system and climate change. It also seeks to reduce emissions associated with Bon Appátit food service operations by 25% over five years.
And at the very end there is Laura Stec, who is a whole food chef, a teacher, an environmental leader and an author, with more than 24 years of experience in the food industry. She trained at the Culinary Institute of America, the School of Natural Cookery, and the Vega Macrobiotic Center. And she's worked for many restaurants and schools including Draeger's Culinary Centre, the Fleet Street Cafá, and the Left Bank. But the reason she's here today is for her forthcoming book with Dr. Eugene Cordero that's called the Global Warming Diet, Cool Recipes for a Hot Climate.
So Gail, why don't you tell us about the work that you're doing at UC Davis and the life cycle assessment approach towards the food system.
Gail Feenstra: Thank you. Well first of all I want to thank you very much for inviting us all and you made us sound really good (laughs). Actually, our work on the carbon footprint in the food system started when Helene came to UC Davis. I found out this afternoon, two years ago. We got involved about a year ago and said we'd like a team from UC Davis to work with us because we need some data to back up where we're going in terms of helping our chefs and our Food Service Directors make decisions about how to reduce the carbon footprint in their food choices in the cafás. So we said we would like to work in a completely new area for us but we were game to go forward with it. And so we began by doing a literature review of what's going on in terms of carbon emissions and energy use in the food system. And when we got into the literature we discovered, as Helene had remarked earlier, that most of the research is from Europe and that a lot of the research that had been done had been done in the last ten years or so. They're about a decade at least ahead of us in this kind of research.
So we began to look at that European research and it turns out that the methodology that the Europeans are using to look at carbon footprint and greenhouse gas emissions, etc. is called a life cycle assessment approach. And we put a little, I tried to put a little schematic up here to give you a sense of what this is about. And basically what this is, is a standardized kind of methodology that's used to calculate quantitatively environmental impacts, specifically greenhouse gas emissions and global warming potential and other environmental impacts of the food system all throughout the food chain. One of the beauties of this kind of approach is that it shows you, it can show you the relative contributions at each stage of the food chain. For example, you can see how much embodied energy is in the pesticides; how they're produced; whether there's irrigation water used; the energy used to do that in the production stage; the fuel used and tractor used, etc.; the transport then if it's like hydrocooled in the field and the transport to a processing facility; how much energy is used at that stage; packaging materials; transport to wholesalers and distributors and finally to the retail operations or food service companies. So you can really separate out where the energy use and resultant greenhouse gases are coming from.
So, we decided that we wanted to use this sort of approach in looking at the food system and the carbon footprint of the food system and to try to get some data. Well it turns out that there is no real good databases in the United States for looking at this, so that's somewhat unfortunate. So what we did then was we invited the European experts to UC Davis last fall and we had Helene and industry experts and some folks from California Department of Agriculture and researchers at UC Davis all come together and look at what kind of approach we should be using to look at carbon footprints. The results of that discussion are now posted on our website along with some materials that came from the researchers. But basically in a nutshell, we decided not to create our own database of many different foods, it's very expensive to do these analyses. So what we decided instead is to, what we're calling either dilemnas or trade-offs that consumers are having to face in the marketplace when they're thinking about how to reduce their carbon footprint.
And the five ones that came forward from us are, between the trade-off between production practices and food miles. For example:
Should I eat organic, should I eat local?
Another one is the regional or local or large-scale - which is better for me to buy - should I buy from small-scale family farmers, regional food systems, or the global system?
The third one is seasonality and consumption versus processed foods - is it better for me to have something local in season that's processed or should I buy fresh that's imported?
Then there's the meat versus plant-based protein question.
And finally there's the post-retail or what does the consumer do when they get the food home and how do they get to the store, etc. So that whole area at the end.
So, we decided that we would study particular case study foods for each of those trade-off questions and those would give us information about what some of the hotspots are. What they're calling hotspots are areas where there's high energy or greenhouse gas use or production. And so that would then allow you to focus on the hotspot and then figure out what to do about it in the future. So it turns out that there are already are some known hotspots. We don't have to start from scratch and these are not really surprises for any of you. So I'll just go over the hotspots.
The research is already telling us that some of the highest energy use and greenhouse gas emissions are associated with first livestock-related methane and nitrous oxide emissions. So that has to do with meat.
The second hotspot - synthetic nitrogen fertilizer use on farms.
The third one is heated greenhouse production. That's probably not a surprise either.
The fourth is air freight. So when food is flown around the globe, that's a hotspot. That's definitely a high energy user.
The fifth is post-retail consumer transport to the grocery store or the farmers market. One of the things, I was looking at a recent study - the ones from Seattle and you can save like a 150 grams of carbon dioxide by purchasing food locally but driving a typical fives miles, let's say to a grocery store or farmers market will cost 2,300 grams of C02. So that so far outweighs your little savings in buying local that you really have to look at the whole picture.
And then the sixth thing has to do with food waste at all points in the supply chain. We waste a lot of food, especially at the consumer end. And when you think about that all the energy and carbon emissions that were produced in growing it, transporting it, and all those other stages ahead of it, all that goes to waste too. So it sort of multiplies when you get towards the end of the food chain.
So, if we can do things to reduce our impact on any of those hotspots as consumers and there are things that you can do, then I think we're taking a step in the right direction.
Jon: This is Deconstructing Dinner and part 8 of our Conscientious Cooks series. That was Gail Feenstra - a Food Systems Analyst at the University of California's Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education Program. Gail spoke in 2008 as part of panel titled Climate Friendly Eating. The panel was hosted by the San Francisco based Center for Urban Education about Sustainable Agriculture.
Next on the panel was Helene York, the Director of the Bon Appátit Management Company Foundation. Helene was also the Project Director of the Company's Low Carbon Diet program which she speaks about.
Helene York: My name is Helene York. Again I'm the Director of the Bon Appátit Management Company Foundation and we're an education and a research organization but we have a skinny staff. Well I'm not that skinny but you're looking at the staff. Fortunately I get some support from some folks in the office, a particularly capable Katherine Kwon, who's sitting in the back and needs to raise her hand there because you're going to see some of the fruits of her work in a moment.
Before I tell you about the Low Carbon Diet program I have to tell you a little bit about the journey that Bon Appátit Management Company has been on for the past 10 years. It's a company that is an onsite restaurant company. It's basically a catering company. We have operations at 400 cafes in 28 states. It's a 20 year old company. And 10 years ago, our chefs, so we're really in many ways a chef run company. There are 22 people in the corporate office and there are 10,000 employees. We hire culinary school trained chefs who really run the shop. They have guidelines based on sustainable food criteria but they make their own purchasing decisions and they really own sustainability. We have no one in our office who's called Director or Vice-President of Sustainability. This is something that we all own within this operation. I actually have to say I'm very proud of that.
Ten years ago the chefs decided that there was a crisis of labour. That the food that was coming though the distribution channels - the tomatoes, the peaches, didn't taste like tomatoes and peaches. And they wanted to figure out what happened and how to go about changing that. And they realized that local farms, when they had seasonal produce, were actually producing better quality, better tasting product. So they went to visit farmers and they thought the farmers would be thrilled to see them. But the really hot, you know the farmers who really did a great job said - you don't deserve my melons, you don't deserve my tomatoes, you work in food service. And the chefs literally would walk the fields with a lot of farmers and eventually persuaded them to sell them produce. And at this point now, 10 years later, over 30% of this national food service company's food is purchased within a 150 miles.
We had an Eat Local Challenge day. Every year chefs are required to serve one meal that is entirely from within a 150 miles except for the salt. Some of the folks in the Pacific Northwest make their own salt. It's a very competitive group of chefs who are always trying to outdo each other and I think the guests really benefit from that.
So, 10 years ago the Company adopted a tagline called Food Services For a Sustainable Future. And I think there really wasn't a huge understanding of what that meant at the time but our local source in program, it's been very big in the last couple of years, is now as I said, 30% of total purchases which total about $55 million, around the country and we're localvores. I would probably say the four of us here are localvores but in Minnesota, that's kind of hard. Maine that's kind of hard. And so 30% is really a reflection of a national average because certainly the folks - it's some of our accounts here, places like Oracle, USF, Acme Chophouse, Fine Arts Museums in San Francisco, far exceed that.
So with our local food purchasing program, the other thing we figured out was that we had lots of little trucks that were backing up to our dock. And that wasn't exactly the most efficient use of the farmer's time. It wasn't the most efficient use of the chef's time. It also wasn't probably very efficient from a carbon perspective. And so in several places around the country we have invested in farmer co-ops - we tend to give them their french fry oil but also invest in the biofuel trucks that pick up produce from, and other products as well, from local farmers distributed sell it to our accounts and then pick it up from other locals and move around.
So over the past 10 years after the crisis of flavour, you know the feeling was - okay, we have to buy local produce - more things sort of raised their head. And things like a cage-free chickens and eggs, humane aspects and other environmental issues - antibiotics used routinely, medically important antibiotics used to raise animals - and we have taken a stand to eliminate a lot of those things and really changed a lot of the supply that's come into us and really has been available for a lot of major buyers. So as a result of really building a culture within the Company of sustainability, we began to realize in 2005 that there is a tremendous dependency in the food system on fossil fuels. And the result, that has it's own negative consequences but the results certainly another one is the tremendous amount of greenhouse gases that arise from that.
So we developed a low carbon diet program. We learned that certainly in the United States the food system was responsible for 20% of greenhouse gases, but globally it's a lot higher. Globally it is closer to 1/3rd and you know most of the world is not as industrialized as we are and a lot of the production of food that we depend on particularly things like rice and increasingly meats are in other places around the world in very ecologically sensitive areas. The purpose of the program as Bonnie said, was really to use best available science as our guide but reduce our greenhouse gas emissions by 25%. Let me just identify what some of the things are. They're going to sound very similar to the things Gail mentioned.
We are reducing our beef and cheese purchases by 25% over two years. Part of the positive consequence of that is we have introduced a natural beef burger which is grown with vegetarian feed, without hormones or antibiotics. And it doesn't shrink the way a non-natural hamburger does. So you've got a five ounce conventional burger if you will and a four ounce natural burger and what the guest eats, looks the same. It's much more sustainable. It's a 20% reduction, right there. You know I'm sure many of you are familiar with the 500 page study that came out late 2006 that livestock is responsible for 18% of the world's greenhouse gas emissions. We took that very, very seriously.
The next thing we're doing is substantially reducing food waste and we're promoting composting wherever is possible. One of the studies that I read years ago which I thought was fascinating but very scary is that over the last 25 years, the per person consumption of food and when I mean consumption I mean purchase, because a lot of people eat more than they should but also throw away a lot more than they should, has grown by 18%. And the total U.S. energy that is applied for that extra 18% is equal to the carbon footprint of Bangladesh with a 150 million people. Just our excess as measured from 25 years ago. I find that shocking and so food waste and composting is a very big part of our program.
We have been long involved in sustainable seafood. We've had a system life program since 2002. We are going beyond the definition of sustainable seafood as defined by the environmental advocacy organization and we are eliminating air-freighted seafood. We are also introducing low trophic species - those little guys - squid, clams, mussels and so forth, as a new flavour as much as possible in our accounts. So that people say - yeah, yeah, this tastes pretty good. And it's not only that gooey, salty thing you have on that pizza - anchovies, anyway.
We are reducing our purchases of tropical fruits which after all are seasonal fruits where they are grown. Many of them are air-freighted, particularly pineapple and so as much as possible we are reducing that and our goal is 50%.
Although we put this in the low impact category, it's an easy switch-out - we are eliminating bottled waters from the non-domestic sources. There's just no reason to have them. Is there a reason to have bottled waters? That's a very interesting nutrition question. And that has a lot to do with when you have convenience facilities or opportunities - you don't have bottled water, people will take much higher calorie bottled juices and such. And so at this time we're not eliminating bottled water but some accounts are. Some of them are really going further because it makes sense in that environment. But we're asking all of our chefs to sort of look at that issue.
And then I would say we are also are reducing our dependence on disposal convenience products. I don't like that term (laughs). I think you know what I mean - packaging, cutlery plates, containers, and so forth. It's not possible in every place. Some places are just about grab and go. Other places don't have dishwashers. But we are trying to reduce it as much as possible.
So we're a company that is always trying to be on the forefront. This has been an opportunity for us. It's been a learning experience but we also recognize that there is a lot more for us to learn because there is a lot of science that is not clear right now. And so we are taking a cautious approach and we are working with a number of science-based researchers as much as possible and look forward to continuing collaboration with UC Davis.
But the last thing that we are doing and we're getting a little proactive about this, is sharing the information with our guests. Because we can reduce a lot of these things but we really need buy-in from our consumers and we need them to understand these issues and challenge us. But we've also developed a low carbon diet calculator which is fun and easy to use. We have not included beverages on the calculator because most of the information is proprietary. And so we will not put it out there unless we feel very comfortable with the science. It is based on life cycle assessment. A lot of it is European data that has been translated. Interestingly enough a lot of the European life cycle assessments, they cite USDA data, so it's a little bit more international than it might seem when you say European. And Katherine who I introduced before has spent hundreds of hours translating the data, thinking about our recipes and the equipment that we cook it on and so we have finished product data. This is not the most recent version of it but it's the kind of idea where you get to drag food items into the skillet - it makes a fun noise and you have a carbon amount. We've tried to be very clear about what we know and what we don't know. And we're also posting a science paper that will explain the gaps in the methodology so that you can feel comfortable in what we know and what we don't know. It will be at eatlowcarbon.org. This is a pocket guide if you will that will give you a little bit of information that you can share with your friends because you will already be buttoned up on this and you can share these with your friends. It will be downloadable at circleresponsibility.com, that's all one word. And then the third one, my last one. And this is a poster that's gone in some of our accounts - Does Your Sushi Get More Frequent Flyers Miles Than You Do? As you know, a lot of fresh seafood is air freighted.
Jon: This is Deconstructing Dinner, a syndicated radio show and podcast produced in Nelson, British Columbia at Kootenay Co-op Radio, CJLY. More information about our programme and an archived version of today's broadcast can be found online at deconstructingdinner.ca. I'm Jon Steinman and today marks part 8 in our ongoing series Conscientious Cooks - a series that features chefs, restaurants, and food service operations who are seeking to move beyond the status quo and source and prepare food with greater awareness of the environmental, economic, social and health impacts of their operations. Today's episode is titled Climate Friendly Eating and is featuring a panel discussion of the same name hosted by the Center for Urban Education about Sustainable Agriculture, CUESA located in San Francisco. The organization can be found on line at CUESA.org.
Next on the panel was Laura Stec, a chef and author of the book "Cool Cuisine: Taking the Bite Out of Global Warming" published by Gibbs Smith.
Laura Stec: So my name is Laura Stec and I am the author of a book with no name right as of today, or last week actually. Originally the book was called "The Global Warming Diet: Cool Recipes For a Hot Planet", "Global Warming Diet Recipes To a Hot Planet" to "Beyond The Global Warming Diet: Cool Recipes For a Hot Planet" to "Cool Cuisine" - because the global warming diet is the problem. We've got competing diets here this is the problem. But our diet is the right one because diet is a four letter word filled with unappetizing, unappealing, unsatisfying food which is exactly what the global warming diet is. In fact if we want to teach anybody, anything about food ,we want to get away from diets and we want to be able to bring food into it as a human, artistic, sensuous experience that's not all about the global warming diet which we could also rename it as machine cuisine, right? The reason why we're eating a global warming diet and you all are is because we're also eating machine cuisine. We've taken the food system and we've been very, very effective at turning it into something that's very, very efficient because the corporations need to make money. It has nothing to do with our tastes - crisis of flavour. It has nothing to do with our health, for heaven's sake. Those haven't been the issues we've been interested in. We've been interested in efficiency. And they haven't been interested in us. And we are the people who need to stand up and say something about this because the system is going toward machine cuisine. And we don't want that because it doesn't benefit the eater.
And all of us, whether you're a vegetarian or not have a stake in the food system and we need to start working at it. Because actually, if what happens - if everything continues to go on a course, they say that in the next 20 to 30, not 20, it would be more like 30 to 50 years, the entire food system, from farm to fork, will be owned by five to seven corporations in the world. Five to seven corporations in the world. Only one of them based in the United States. Guess who it is. Walmart! Gail, the Food Systems Analyst comes through with the right answer - it's Walmart! Walmart owns 20% of the food system now. They're the only company based in the United States. So what does that mean to us? That means if you've got an issue with your food, you're going to have to go call - I just had an issue with my wireless at my home. I eliminated the answering machine from my phone and I wanted to just buy - I bought an answering machine because it's cheaper than paying the $9 a month. They cut my whole phone service off because they couldn't get it together, this is AT&T and I spent a month and a half getting my wireless back in the middle of writing this book!
And if that's what happens to the food system, we have no ability to be able to go to anybody and get any kind of answers on the things that matter the most - what are thing things that matter the most to us? Which is food and eating. It's the experience of - actually, with all the books out now they're talking about what it means to, you know for animals to express their animalness. What does it mean for the cow to express their cowness; the chicken to express their chickenness; the pig to express their porkness. And I pose to you, what does it mean, how do humans, how do humans express our humanness? That's what those books got me thinking of. How does a human express our humanness? And I think one of the ways we express our humanness is through food. It's the process of coming together and sitting down and eating by ourselves and certainly with others. And what food does, it not just feeds our stomach, it feeds our heads and our hearts and it gives the opportunity to come together. Food is the vehicle that brings us together to do the things that we want to do with food which is not just feed out stomach. It's feed our head and our heart. And we do that by, as a caterer and a chef when I go out to different kinds of parties and cater different parties, I find that people eat less food than more often. Which is interesting after years I said - it's not just the quality of the food, I know there's something else going on there. People say the food is good and yet there's always more left. And that left me thinking - hmmm, what's happening? But people are getting something more at a party. You may notice this if you put on parties yourself. And I think they're being fed by the energy and the surroundings and the environment. So if we take that environment and that idea that food is more than just the antioxidants and phytochemicals, food is just more than the vitamins and minerals, for heaven's sake food is something we haven't even gotten to yet. We just discovered antioxidants and phytochemicals 20 years ago.
So our book takes a myth, The Global Warming Diet which is now they're calling Cool Cuisine: Taking a Bite Out of The Global Warming Diet. So I've got five more minutes but I'm going to try to, I'm going to get your take because I told the publisher I'm going to come and take a poll today on these two - Beyond The Global Warming Diet: Cool Recipes For a Hot Planet; Cool Cuisine: Taking A Bite Out of Global Warming Diet. I wrote it with an atmospheric scientist, Dr. Eugene Cordero. He's not here tonight, he's actually in Australia. I'd say our book is kind of a mixture or art and science. We definitely look into and touch into a lot of science and I touch into culinary perspectives. It's actually kind of a cookbook. There's definitely recipes in it and it's also a cookbook - a "how to". And it does certain things - it teaches you certain things like - why it's important to keep water as far away from vegetables as possible. Why you may not like cooking vegetables. If it's all about convenience and price, what does that mean in relationship to how we eat and how we cook. And maybe somebody will ask me that question because it's a very important one. But doesn't it cost more? Well yes and many of us I'm sure are beginning to think about this. Yes it does cost more, but why. Why does it cost more?
I just wanted to touch real quickly on the book because there's so much. It's kind of hard to take one part. So the first chapter's called The Global Warming Diet and then the second chapter's Why All The Oil In My Soil? Why all the oil in my soil? And we kind of break it down into the different machine cuisine processes like monocropping and fertilizers and pesticides - 22 billion pounds of pesticides used just to grow the grain for the cows which is - what is 22 billion pounds. You know, in the middle of this book I said - I am just tired with the numbers! I've had enough! I'm sick of all these carbon emission numbers and we've got those in there too but in the end the numbers aren't important. Because what's important is not to learn how to run the numbers in cooking and I fear that this movement, as exciting and as interesting as it is, will again, distract ourselves from the real issue which is we need to learn how to use the food. So we need to learn not only about the production - I call it the full circle food cycle. So it has to do with how food is produced and what we're eating - so that's the organic and what are we actually eating seasonal local and farms and local farms.
Now we move on to the distribution which is scale and these guys really good at setting up food distribution systems which is really important. But the third part is execution and execution has to do with what you and I do. And it's in our kitchen and that is also with our food waste. And what I fear is that we're going to take this movement through the same thing we're going to get so confused and we're going to talk about all the numbers and we're going to forget how to use the food and that's what we need to do. So, we talk about why all the oil in my soil. It's very interesting why there is so much oil and we touched on it today.
We talk about global warming in tonight's dinner. And we break it into specific foods that we've actually found some research. So I'm not a research scientist. Eugene is but he's an atmospheric scientist. Talked to a lot of scientists at Berkley and all over the country, USCA scientists, trying to get the most up-to-date information we could. And what was really outstanding about this is exactly what somebody said. When I heard it the first time I was like - oh okay. When I heard it the fifth time I was like - whoa. Scientists come directly to you and they'll say - you know what? We're running the numbers and it don't look good. First off, which is shocking because we're all reading about it - global warming in the papers, seeing and reading and seeing it in the newspapers. Well when Dr. Science comes directly to you and says - we're running the numbers and it don't look good, it's like - ah, it's real, it's real! You know. And in the end, and the next thing they said, more than once is - I am happy to tell you what I do not know. They don't know.
One of the other interesting things about that relationship and the studies with the USDA is doing is Dr. Lewis Ziska who works for the USDA, he's been studying this issue for a long time, couldn't believe I found someone studying the difference in C02 levels of the atmosphere in the government! He said - everybody's studying the change of temperature. But plants have four food groups like you and I do and they are carbon, water, minerals, and sunlight. And if you change one of them 20%, if we change one of our proteins or carbohydrates 20% you'd figure our diet would be affected, we'd be affected - well this carbon dioxide has changed 20% since the 1990's. And what they're finding out is that it's changing the actual makeup of the plant. So they're studying wheat and what they're finding is that, but it's going to change everything. What's going to happen to those trees out there with the increasing C02? We have no idea yet because we can't study the science that fast. But they find that the weeds are going to survive more than the plants. Of course weeds always survive better than crops. Anyways, so get ready to start using Kudzu which I don't think I brought today but Kudzu is one of those wild plants that you're probably fighting in your backyard. But it's great. And a macrobiotic food which is one of my studies is actually a healer of the stomach and actually you can make some great sauces with it, so get ready to use Kudzu. But they're finding that the wheat is going to have less water, it's going to be more crumbly. It's going have less protein. So get ready to send everybody back to culinary school because we don't know what's going to happen. The Poison Oak will most likely be stronger. So this is the change of C02 in the atmosphere. Oh my gosh, let me just finish.
We talk about seasonal local organic and we do it in a way that hopefully is something new because people have been talking about this for a long time. We talk about beef. Oh my goodness. We have a chapter in the book called Holy Cow. And we are not saying become vegetarians. However, we eat too much meat in this country, in this world and we really have to reduce it from basically about 5.8 ounces is the average person a day to about 2 ounces a day - a study of Cornell, if we want to consider anything to be sustainable. And I could talk to you about this forever because this is going to be very interesting and people are really going to put me to line about this. I can't even begin to talk to you about some of the interesting ways that carbon sequestration in the soil and relationship to pasture lands and beef and the difference in cows and the difference between what you need with the soil when you eat vegetables. You know you need a higher quality soil for vegetables than you have than you need for pasture.
So I've got a little secret planned about changing beef all the way out of the factory farms and on to the pasture and developing that with all the carbon sequestration stuff that is really hot in Australia but we haven't even begun to do here yet. So don't write me off yet. I'm a 17 year vegetarian but everybody eats meat. Seventy percent of the population in the country eats meat, three or more times a week. So we can't completely cut it out so we have to figure out a way to make these things work.
We get into businesses that are doing really interesting things. There's a company that's actually doing carbon counting. You haven't heard of it yet it's called EcoSynergy. I'd love to hear how it plays into your guys who are planning the database out of Cornell. And they've got a carbon calculator and they're coming online to do all of your studies of stuff. Google, there's very interesting waste. We get into food waste. There's an amazing company in Illinois called Coskata. They're taking dirty diapers and all the agricultural waste and everything else and they're turning it into ethanol for a dollar a gallon which is really very interesting. Kaiser Permanente responsible for 10% of the farmers markets and we get into what they're doing and how they're setting up food systems to distribution lines. And we do get into convenience and cost. And we do get into, let me just show this real fast because we mentioned seafood. So we get into seafood. We get into stone fruit, seafood, specifically wheat, grain and how global warming is affecting these things. But this is such a great example. So I'm a volunteer for CUESA and last week we had the Extravaganza. And they put me on the booth where we're talking about a little science experiment. Which is basically you take an egg, a raw egg and you soak it in vinegar for two days. And, what you do is the shell dissolves. And what is left and please come up here afterwards and also I've got some other fun things here which of course I didn't get a chance to talk about but anyhow, what happens is that it's a raw egg, the shell has dissolved, you can maybe even see, if you can, the egg in there. And this is a great science experiment but it's exactly what's happening in the oceans. As the C02 levels raise and we have too much of the C02 in the atmosphere so it can't balance out with the oceans which is one of the arguments people say - it's going to balance it out in the ocean - but the acidity in the ocean is too high and the fear is it's going to start dissolving as I'm sure you've heard, the coral reefs and all these small little, litrophic, the smaller food species in the ocean. And basically this is exactly what is happening and it's a perfect example for anybody who says - oh well, how could it ever happen.
Jon: Laura Stec, author of the book Cool Cuisine: Taking the Bite out of Global Warming. More info on Laura and the book can be found at globalwarmingdiet.org.
Laura spoke as part of a panel that we've been featuring here on Deconstructing Dinner and was also joined by Gail Feenstra of the University of California's Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education program, Helene York of the Bon Appetit Management Company Foundation and moderator Bonnie Powell of the Ethicurean and Edible San Francisco. The event was organized and hosted in 2008 by the Center for Urban Education About Sustainable Agriculture in San Francisco.
Taking us to the end of the broadcast today, we'll hear one last clip from the panel's Q and A, when all three panellists had the chance to answer some questions posed by the moderator and audience. A full unedited version of the panel and Q and A will be linked to from the Deconstructing Dinner website at deconstructingdinner.ca.
Bonnie: We were going to turn it over for questions but I first want to ask at least one of each of the panellists and I'm going to start with Gail. There's a so-called research institute that I hate to even dignify with that name but it's the Hudson Institute. And they recently came out with what I hate to dignify as a study. It's a father-son team of Dennis and Alex Avery, probably you've heard of them, saying that feedlot beef is actually more sustainable from an environmental standpoint because the beef is given steroids to make it grow faster and therefore it converts feed to protein more efficiently, lives faster and therefore uses up less resources. And all good environmentalists should be eating feedlot beef. So, how would you dismantle that argument?
Gail: That has come up. My colleagues at the Leopold Center from which the data was suppose to have come for that Avery study are not supportive of that conclusion and in fact, the analysis has not really been done for a full life cycle analysis. So, one of the things that our colleagues are doing is partnering with one of the partners, the guests that came to our symposium in the fall. Nathan Pelletier from Dalhousie University that's worked with Helene also and they're going to do a full scale, proper life cycle assessment of grass-fed beef versus CAFO, confinement feeding beef to look at the whole cycle from beginning to end. Because you have to look at the feed, you have to look at the energy that goes into the facility and you can't just look at one piece of it. So according to the Leopold Center, this study still needs to be done before conclusions can be reached. So, I'm not going to put my two cents behind that one.
Bonnie: I'm glad to hear that. Helene you mentioned a little about the difficulty enforcing food locally that the infrastructure of getting individual farmers delivering wasn't ideal for getting them together to join for co-ops and investing in infrastructure. What about from your chefs standpoint? Was it difficult for them to adapt to - instead of ordering off of a list from a national distributor having to look and see what was available locally and seasonally, has the mindset of your chefs had to change?
Helene: Well this happened 10 years ago and so it is now a hallmark of the Company. In fact I think that we have chefs who really self-select to work at the Company because they not only get control but they get to use the best ingredients and they get to build those community relationships. You know, most of those kind of relationships and even the investments in the efficient distribution systems come from the chefs themselves because they see a need. It's interesting that in the Pacific Northwest some of the non-profit EcoTrophs that we work with very closely was trying to build a farmer co-op to work up there. And we even got some pushback on our chefs for reasons that we didn't anticipate and that was... they have such good direct relationships with some farmers who plan parts of their growing season to meet the needs of those accounts. And then when the farmers show up once a week they give them a compost and it's eight miles away and they've got their own loop going. So it never ceases to amaze me the different varieties of efficient distribution systems that they've created on their own. But I have never heard a chef complain about not being able to order off a managed order guide. They frankly cannot stand working with those, you know that bring them paper towels and other things like that they need - the broadliners as they're called. They really prefer working with seasonal produce. It's just more interesting to them.
Can I just bring up one thing. Diet - we mentioned that. And we had some controversy within the organization when we thought about that because we rolled it out and we talked to some of our clients at colleges and they said - you can't have a diet! We have 20 year old college women who have body issues. You can't call something a diet as the national program. And we said - you know we never thought about that, that's a very interesting issue. But we really are asking people to cut back. We are saying we want you to go on a diet. We want you to reduce the emissions associated with your food system. And no it's not maybe the warmest idea about the communal food idea which I certainly personally subscribe to and I think many of us do. But we were trying to make a point. And so we kind of held firm. It's maybe not the ideal term. Maybe it should have been the low carbon methane nitrogen diet but that didn't sound very good. But that's really what we're getting at. So not only are we going on a diet but we are really asking our guests to do the same thing.
Bonnie: And Laura you have such amazing energy that I feel like we could cook with it (laughs). I love your term machine cuisine. I think that's great. And so much of what we've been talking about was I think 18% of the energy of the food system comes from processing. And so if we can get away from processed food then perhaps that's part of the low carbon diet that you're talking about. So how do you propose getting more people to cook? I feel like it's a skill that has been lost in a single generation, almost.
Laura: We thought about processed food and beef and we want beef with less carbon and everything's about carbon, carbon, carbon, right? We run into a big problem with that because we as eaters don't want a machine cuisine. We don't want everything to be so efficient. We want food that's given the opportunity whether it be plants or animals to grow at its natural pace, with natural settings and natural feed. And what that gives us is higher flavour and higher health. And it doesn't give us all the efficiency of all these people who want to be able to have lower carbon. Maybe it might take a little more carbon and you know what, so does roasting and grilling. I'm just going to tell you about that in just a second. But shame on us if we get to the point in this country where we have screwed things up so much that all our food is going to come from a pill! Shame on us! We want to eat cows that are out in grass not only because the energetics of food, which is a concept I certainly hope to share with you in my book if I can't share with you tonight, which are those energetic antioxidants phytochemicals that we haven't discovered yet. The energetics of food. What is in food that we really want. But it just so happens when cows are fed on grass, there are and this is from Harold McGee Food and Cooking, there are compounds in the grass that are turpenes that are similar to herbs and spices. So when you feed a cow on grass you basically marinate the cow from the inside out. Not only do you have to avoid the antibiotics and all this stuff because you're feeding them on grain and they should never be on grain because cows don't eat grain, grain cows eat grass, you give them a better flavour. That's why grass-fed beef has more developed flavour than grain-fed beef. It also has less fat. And so it also has better energy. We call it high-vibe cuisine. We want high-vibe food. That's what you want to eat. They're not going to figure it out in our lifetime but you better darn well bet that they're going to figure it out. What's beyond antioxidants and phytochemicals. So anyways, processed foods. Yes, we need to figure out how to eat.
Time's very important! That's why you need to do two things. We go into vegetables and grains which is really - people don't know what they're going to eat when they don't eat meat. They're like - what do we eat!? Well you eat whole grains. And in the book we talk about the ways to cook grain. And grain is not just cooked on the stove steeping. And it's not just cooked in a rice cooker. We've got six ways you can cook grains. You can boil them like pasta. You can bake them in the oven. You can pressure cook them which is what this thing is for here. And you can pop some grains and you can certainly steep some grains. So you may hate millet until you pressure cook it. And then you might really, really like it. So you as an eater need to find out all the different ways you can cook grain. You can find the different kinds of grains. Then you need to find out - well should I bake it, pressure cook it, blah, blah, blah. We've got the whole chart in the book. You can figure out which one's best for you.
And then a quick way to season it after that are two things we go into the components of a sauce. How do you make your own sauce at home if you want to take a little extra step. Sauces have five basic components. They have a base, like a stock or a milk or a puree vegetable. They have a salt like salt or a soya sauce or a umeboshi or miso. They have an acid like wine or vinegar or a citrus. They have a thickener like butter or flour or Kudzu, that herbaceous species that's going to take over the world, or arrowroot. And they have seasonings. So you can learn that. That's more advanced than here. Or, you just step up to your condiment plate. And the condiment plate is salt and pepper with a college education. So you step up here with all the things that either I have or the things that I don't have here today and you serve seasoning to your heart's content. And you don't have to worry about recipes anymore because you've got a condiment plate.
And so you make your grain, you make your vegetables by roasting or grilling because you want to keep water as far away from vegetables as possible. The reason why people don't like vegetables is because they don't cook them right. They boil an already waterlogged vegetable. We're eating fertilizer, force-fed, phoney food. When we feed our vegetables fertilizers they have to grow so fast that they actually can hold more water and that affects the flavour. You want to keep water as far away from vegetables as possible. Not only in roasting and grilling but one of the reasons I think people don't really like cooking vegetables and this is where I will stop, is you knife is not sharp! Your knife is not sharp and I know because I cook in your kitchen. I'm a personal chef. I know your knife isn't sharp. So not only do you need an eight inch chef's knife, not six inch, not four inch - some of these knives that people have are really kind of funky - you need a steel or honing rod. And I'm not going to sit around and show you how to sharpen your knife right now. And this is beyond just sharpening your knife at CUESA at Saturday at the farmers market or sharpening a stone. You need a honing rod.
Jon: And that was a segment of the question and answer period at the 2008 panel Climate Friendly Eating hosted by the Center for Urban Education About Sustainable Agriculture based in San Francisco. More information on the organization can be found at CUESA.org, where an unedited version of the panel and unheard segments from the Q and A can be found. You can also find more information on today's show including links to our seven previous episodes of this Conscientious Cooks series at deconstructingdinner.ca
Also a final mention that Deconstructing Dinner is always looking for volunteers who can donate their time to help us in our efforts to transcribe our broadcasts. Transcriptions provide an alternative means for people to access our weekly content and provide another important record of the stories we cover here on the show. And so if you're interested in learning more and or volunteering your time, you can send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also visit our website and find contact information there.
And that was this week's edition of Deconstructing Dinner, produced and recorded at Nelson, British Columbia's Kootenay Co-op Radio. I've been your host Jon Steinman. I thank my technical assistant, John Ryan.
The theme music for Deconstructing Dinner is courtesy of Nelson-area resident, Adham Shaikh.
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