It's another Earth Day Monday! Since I'm a baker, I thought I'd talk about some ways to reduce the HUGE environmental impact from the sugars that we use.
Dear Mr. President,
Lately, in an attempt to distract myself from the absence of my friend, I've been watching The X-files probably more than is healthy. Remember the good old days when we thought the government was covering up the truth about UFOs? The abuses and crimes ignored, tacitly approved, or even ordered by our government that have come to light since 9/11 are so much worse than fiction. At this point, I think a good revelation about extraterrestrials would probably help the government so much that Robert Gibbs would announce it from the press room himself. Anyway, my other method of coping with this has been to bake- A LOT. I've been a stress-baker for years, and as college classmates and coworkers can attest, some of my best experiments come during the most trying times in my life.
But all of this baking can be bad for my figure, and for the earth. Sugar production and processing is hugely destructive to the environment, and largely responsible for the current sad state of the Everglades. I've taken to buying the bulk containers of a organic, fair-trade, sustainably farmed evaporated cane juice. I know where it comes from and how it is produced, and I believe that it is far less harmful to the environment than the cheaper white sugar, but it still has to be shipped quite a distance. I think I can do better. Last week, I baked Orange Zucchini bread, and used half of the sugar, replacing the rest with orange juice. (I have a million oranges from my produce box, so oranges will probably continue to be used this way in my baking adventures.) In Washington, we're famous for our apples, and apple juice is another alternative sweetener that is easy to get from local sources in the right season. Another great alternative is to actually make your own sugar, from sugar beets. This fall, when the beets come into season again, I'm going to try making my own from local, organic beets. Finally, I'm resolving to stop using individual sugar packets entirely. This is an incredibly wasteful practice that too many coffee shops perpetuate. It may be convenient, but I think that reducing the amount of packaging and processing in the foods we consume is worth a little inconvenience from time to time.
Yesterday, my mother took me shopping for groceries at Costco. I know buying some items in bulk reduces the amount of packaging and can be environmentally beneficial. But then I saw the inside of Costco. So much stuff in one place is really overwhelming. I had a hard time imagining how a person from any of the number of countries on this planet with food shortages would feel, walking into any of the hundreds of stores like that in this country. The carbon footprint of just one Costco and all its products must be astounding. Suddenly, surrounded by swarms of carts and people queueing up for samples, shrinking in the shadows of endlessly high stacks of product, it all seemed useless. How could buying a 10lb bag of sugar to save a few inches of plastic, or walking instead of driving, or all the sustainably grown organic local produce I could eat ever stand up to that? How could I make even a dent? If I save a few gallons of oil every week, how does that help when barrels of it are spent each day just to produce the dead animal in one meat section of one Costco? (Never mind the concession stand, or the frozen food aisle.) Can I make any significant difference?
I don't know. I can't shake this feeling of smallness, but I can sleep at night knowing I'm not participating in some of the worst parts of our consumption. Maybe that's all I can hope for, just to feel OK about the small changes I'm making in my own life, and hope that others want to do the same. Anyway, on this earth day monday, I am so grateful for the earth that produces the food I eat, and I promise to continue looking for alternatives that are healthier for it and for me.