« Freakonomics Radio

78. You Eat What You Are, Part 2

2012-06-06 | 🔗
To feed 7 billion people while protecting the environment, it would seem that going local is a no-brainer -- until you start looking at the numbers.
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I like that this is the Camino real farmers market in Galicia? California, isn't and a barber county about a hundred miles, north West of LOS Angeles, the produce is bountiful end you gotta? Let us, Greece and charred leaks and fennel, turn up scenario, chokes spin cabbage and broccoli in about everything else that you can get your hands on this time of year or farm is two miles away from where resell, and now the farmers market, Santa Barbara County has a lot going for the Beach University of cuts.
when you Santa Barbara in farming. It is in the top one percent of agriculture producing counties in the. U s about one point: two billion for a year now. Imagine for a moment that everything is interrupted. by some kind of a natural disaster in two. As in five there was a month. like when cheater, which is a community in the South eastern part of Santa Barbara Coney, the coast? That's David Cleveland, he teaches environmental studies, you see Santa Barbara, the mud, I'd he's talking about killed. Ten people, also blocked off the one on one freeway and the railroad which is over each. The main transportation connections, with LOS Angeles in these transportation links, were close for at least a week. Santa Barbara couldn't ship its produce down to the
tradition centres in delay or anywhere else, nor could it should produce in, but I couldn't see the problems in Santa Barbara grows. So much you'd think that the grocery stores would still have plenty of fruits and vegetables, so we produce sections that were empty in years. Farmers. Boxes of harvested in fruit and vegetables, that they can't the distributors can't pick them up so farmers or where we went and talk to the to the protests manager at this grocery chain, and we said, look we got stuff. We can't get out and you can't get anything in. Let's make a deal and they were told. No sorry we gotta contract did you You feel it was absurd or more along lines of borderline criminal. Rushing to us too. things go together.
From W. Why see? An ATM american public media- this is Reaganomics radio, podcast that explores the hidden side and everything. Here's your house statement today Second, episode of our two port podcast, you eat what you are last time out. We heard from the Food obsessed, economist, Tyler, Cowan, there's another kind of snob where everything has to be like a farmer's market. Every it has to be sustainable. Everything has to be in some way, modest or gear down are hippy like and from food philosophers, Michael Pollen,
I was waters, you know. One of the things we need to do in this country is raised the prestige of farming and recognise the work that good farmers do, which is really important to us. We depend on them and yet there for most of us totally anonymous. I do Pre Healy believes that I think that the work of the farmer it needs to be elevated to a very important and vital place, and so today we try to find out is going local, The way to go! That's why we're starting in Santa Barbara County, which it turns out, is a pretty good microcosm for just how complicated or just how messed up our food network is here.
You ve got a place that grows more than a billion dollars worth of food a year, but, as you just heard, when transportation is cut off for a week, the Produce sections grocery stores strict empty out that bizarre you'd think with all that local produce the Santa Barbara would be the epicenter of the local food movement. So, what's going on here, David Cleveland, though you see Santa Barbara Professor, he decided to find out. Time magazine. I think it was like four or five years ago the cover of time magazine was local, the new organic and you know that kind of my students brought in and said. Have you seen us- and I said no- I haven't seen that because I've been teacher class and were lag or culture for the last ten or fifteen years. It you see us and localization, hasn't been explicit part of what we talked about, and I just realized that this was
being promoted as a remedy for a lot of the problems that many people saw with the with mainstream food system and when you see this being promoted as a remedy, or maybe even a panacea, sounds like you're, saying yes and what? your first reaction to that then was was it like yeah this is what we need, or this might not be the right prescription or no combination. the combination, because you know of an emotional. It's more Appealing idea of your local food growing the farmers and in all the stuff, goes without and at the same time, my academic back. Groundless How do we really know if this is working all familiar with the concept of greenwash and self delusion Genome misplaced assumptions in size mediately.
my cache and wonder. We should really see how local the Santa Barbara County food system already is, because we have thriving for where's market see essays, are growing gangbusters and restaurants, advertising their local, Who then do you see us be dining? Residential dining is a major programme to get more local food, and so I said Book Ashleigh to see how local we are. So how did you come too Did you come here, you interested? Did you grow up on a farm? Did you grow up? I'm thinking I knowing a lot about agriculture. Did you come from the environmental side where you and environmentalists to wanted to get into the science of it? I came from the fruits meaning. I do eat, meaning what it. What does that mean? Well, meaning me. I've always been interesting food. It's always been my years, we're on a farm- and I have always been interested in eating good food, like a person, always means the labels when they buy out of here
So that kind of interest, and then I guess that coincided with an interest in the bigger picture. the environment and population, and how do we deal with this stuff? When I did my dissertation research in Ghana, West Africa in the northeast part of the country, and it was during the day the major drought periods and both years I was there was a major famine, and would lie in my little mud hut at night thinking. Why are people in this part of the world straw where working hard, their smart people who work hard all day, long in yet they're going hungry? And then there's other people in other parts of the world who don't know nearly as much about how to grow food and dont work is hard and they have too much food and you're. Thinking about those issues can drove my interest in, Understanding, Agri food systems so David, I'm curious,
Can you just described kind of you know your drive from home to the university woody a pass passing strawberry fields and almond groves or what's it look like actually I read my bike to canvass attending about five and a half mile zone, and I live on the coastal Bypath swords very nice, but I'd pass organic farms on the way Shelly, today, when I baked in the campus, there were strawberries ripening on their plastic mulch and five of beans growing. I could smell the compost, manure so you're describing what to me at least over the wire sounds kind of like a local or neuron you're. Talking about these restaurants and even the the University Dining Hall known, advertises, its local food and you'd like to work through the lovely alternating lay sweeten pungent
smells of strawberries and manure, and so on. So I'm so you must be. You know from what you're telling me so far. I would think you're living at lake. You know ground zero, look of or central is that was at. Your assumption is well yeah yeah. I wish it was like well This is so, let's just see how what what we're doing because certainly the potentials there, because I knew before we started the research Third Santa Barbara was was pretty sing somewhere around two point: three billion pounds, a free and vegetables ear. So David Cleveland, about ten students worked for a year to track that two point three billion pounds of produce specifically to see how much of it was being exported
how much was being consumed locally. This is what really shocked me found that when you added up all these different ways in which local grown produce got to people in Santa Barbara, can we found that less than five percent of the fruits and vegetables consumed in Santa Barbara Coney were actually in Santa Barbara go the other. Ninety five percent were important. It's hard to even understand how that could come to pass. I mean, even if one believes in the old and efficiency of the most efficient markets. Neared growing the stuff, right there, and then people are bring it right there, but the stuff that their eating is not the stuff that their growing out even get it. I don't either
yeah? This is this is something of a part of it? Is it's the way the market, a structured oh you're, not economists, yearn environmental, something that is correct. apologists. Ok! So because you're, not an economist, I'm guessing. Forgive me I really am discussing I'm guessing you're thinking. Well, if this is the economy works. In this case, then it's done it doesn't make sense right to take who did that we grow locally here. Shipping to a warehouse and then ship it back to hear. So. You know what some in some twisted configuration of incentives that has come to pass, but it's stupid was that your thought am, I thought was somehow this economic system, are being rewarded economically for this kind of behaviour. One assumes, but somehow They reward system for economic behaviour is totally out of sync, with the rewards, for good
nutrition for community for environment there's this disconnect between economics The reason that we grow food What we were saying certainly seems to make sense that when it comes to food, the modern economy conspires against three very important factors: good nutrition, the environment and community, meaning local farmers and the people who support them. But Cleveland Research was showing something different will start with the local farmers. It looked as if things were working out. Ok for them. Why else would they sell most of their produce for export? Rather than look what about the nutrition? Here's another surprising fact that Cleveland found
a one hundred percent local diet wooden improve nutrition within the count higher income. My but a dearth of local produce wasn't the problem. Still? What about the invite? as David Cleveland puts it most of what's grown in Santa Barbara shipped out, and most of what's eaten in Santa Barbara is shipped in. This seems crazy. He said, Surely that is crazy? Isn't it coming up the math behind carbon emissions, When your eyes saw that number what'd, you think, ruin I can read it our calculations and is air, a moral upside to not eating local food? I just come back to his feelings,
my dissatisfaction that I'm eating grapes that are keeping up the standard of living in Chile. We can I'm radio sponsored by total wine in more fling in The spring at total wine and more were fresh. Flavors are in full bloom we're, talking, reasonings and rain boots bubbly and Brunch Pino one? porch anyone and no matter which way you rose. They they have the shade to match. With more than
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thanks to Pennsylvania, lottery, scratch ass, pennsylvanians or scratching their way to fine, and we new games every month, big top rises. And second chance, drawings, excitements, always in order. So, try Pennsylvania, lottery scratch, offer your ticket to fund and get yours today keep on scratching must be eighteen or older. Please play responsibly benefits older pennsylvanians every day, from W and Y see and eight p M american public media. This is freakin comics, radio, here's your host Stephen Donor, ok, so David Cleveland, who teaches environmental studies at the University of California, Santa Barbara, found that ninety five percent of the produce consumed Santa Barbara County, which grows one point, two billion dollars worth a year is imported, some of it from the other side of the world
Whereas ninety nine percent of the produce grown there is export it. That sounds on the surface like an environmental travesty, so he began looking into those numbers to what would happen. For instance, if Santa Barbara County went totally local or if all the produce eaten in Santa Barbara were also grown there. Here we wanted to look at what effect one hundred percent localization in the Center Marconi Food system, which is physically, biologically very feasible, think do because someone could have the land where growing so much and so forth. So what if we do want Percent localised system, one effect with that have on greenhouse gas emission. and we found that it wouldn't make a lot of difference are safe things in greenhouse gas emissions per household as a proportion of the total food system, greenhouse gas emissions, without we less than one percent, while
when your eyes saw that number. What did you think we went back Can we did our calculations of blame? You you thought happiness, possibly be true right in do you know it wasn't told I mean we didn't think it was gonna, be a huge number, but we, but we were stored bit surprised that it was less than one percent, and when you look at that in terms of what the EPA estimated for example, two thousand eight for greenhouse ass emissions per person in the United States in two thousand eight its point, one percent, so that I guess the point, though, that we began to dawn on me and the others was that even though our food system, it accounts for a huge amount of our impact on the environment, including greenhouse gases since an localization is being promoted as a major cure to all its wrong. With our current food system, the terms of one of the focal impacts,
doesn't necessarily have a great deal of effect. How can this be as Cleveland says producing food requires a lot of energy, so when it makes sense that we could use a lot less energy by transporting food shorter distances, Well, what I'm gonna take a message that we that we learned is that basically, transportation is really only about seven percent of the greenhouse gas footprint associated with the overall. Average? American diet? That's Christopher Weber, researchers, the science and Technology Policy Institute in Washington back in two thousand eight. He and a colleague each Scott Matthews annulled I used the: U S food network and found that the energy who's in the transportation of food represents a relatively
trivial amount of the overall energy used. Their paper made a bit of noise. So this paper that Euro, I understand that you said the term no matter what you do for that year, young guy right here In your relatively Shirley early thirties, maybe MID Thirty's, yeah, yeah, ok, and so you ve, got a long career ahead of you and Anna, and I have heard you say that, no matter what you do, unless maybe barring a Nobel Pulitzer Prize, though it's gonna, be on your gravestones. This paper that you, who is your graduate thesis? Yes yeah? It's it seems that were one son, who found the Weber Matthews Research interesting was ed. Glaser he's an economist at Harvard whose and a lot of time, thinking about where and how, all people live urban
city, verses, suburban sprawl things like that. It is the two thousand and eight arc by Weber and Matthews who actually go through the various environmental costs involved with food production, particularly carbon dioxide emissions, and they found that there's about eight point: nine tonnes of carbon dioxide per household per year from food consumption in the United States. Out of that eight point: nine tonnes only point four tonnes so that five percent less than five percent came from food delivery to you at all agricultural transportation up and down the food chain that delivers only that one tonne of carbon dioxide per household annually. So there's a lot of carbon missions mounted food, but you want to think about is being in the very heart of the food. She's gonna go on where ever you eat it or not, and there you gonna. U, you will make choices about what you're eating and obviously animals tend to be more energy intensive, then than grains. For example, those choices are gonna matter.
But more as to whether or not the food is shipped long distances because it just doesn't require damage energy to ship food fairly long distances, So in keeping with that argument, the idea is that a bigger farm, whether to sheep farm or produce farm, is going to be more efficient in its production per pound of food. Let's say then, a smaller local farming that the transportation is just not a big enough piece of the equation to really Tipp the scale. That's that's the usual argument. I find a fairly compelling. The second argument is made- and this has been particularly done, comparing food production in England with other areas. So english researchers, for some reason, have been particularly aggressive on this, but a food production in the UK, and I think it must be the same thing and doing when verve our climate, isn't that different finds that the greenhouse gas emissions about in eating english tomatoes are about three times as high as being spanish tomatoes, because you require hothouses to grow these things, and you know that you just have a better climate for food production, so at the heart of economic
this right. Is this notion of comparative advantage and you think about David Ricardo two hundred years ago talking about what a great thing it is that the English could export textiles and import wine from Portugal when you're, giving up on the global system of trade or giving up. All that and that's not just about economic productivity is also about energy intensity, because the the places that are naturally productive, a growing food are also places that you can do it with less. energy with less artificial water itself. Now, let's say I believe you and I have no reason not to believe you. In fact, I do believe you, but it seems as though there is a certain. Maybe it's a pretty small quadrant of our population, but they're, pretty noisy, who just seem to make a very compelling argument that it's just a bad idea to live in a world where we're shipping food from across the planet to eat here that we should be better than that may be
You know some, so I guess what I'm saying is I hear your economist argument, but then I think you know from my personal moral perspective, like I dont want to do that. I don't like the idea. I don't like the idea of the big Sheep Farm and New Zealand or a big great produce farm in Chile, bundling up these tons and tons and tons of stuff putting on big ship getting all over to me than it trucks to my supermarket her or my market. There. I just don't. I hate that idea. Why is there more hatred for food and the complexity of the press? transportation food than there is, for, let's say a t, shirt or an Ipad food is so personal right I mean it is. It is our most basic of needs, ride, Add the idea something wrong being with our food cuts, the very heart of our of our stomachs of our souls almost so. It's not surprising that people have these deep emotional reactions to it.
food and we certainly a right to worry alot about whether not our food is fresh in good in and hasty, but I just keep coming back to feeling a certain amount of satisfaction that I'm eating grapes that are keeping up the standard of living in Chile. Some Let me ask you this said you wrote a little bit about Michelle, Obama's garden at the White House in her pretty pretty constant efforts to talk about the value.
Nutrition generally, but also local agriculture? And you wrote this is the first lady wants to help the environment should campaign for high rise apartments rather than planned vegetables out? First of all, but explain that I certainly meant no disrespect for the first four, the first lady, but local gardens are unlikely to be any particularly great environmental benefit, and one way to think about this is it really is much more energy efficient to move food rather than moving people any time we put space between us as human beings, we are increasing our own difficulties in transportation. Any time we build it. Lower densities were mean that we are driving longer distances and that's a tremendous potential environmental cost where's moving the food around is just a very, very small cost relative to that. So I think really. If we want to be focused on and how we.
if and how it impacts are our environmental footprint. We really do want to be thinking about how we bring ourselves together. How is it to be eliminate space between us? Not? How is it we insert extra space that are buffers between humanity, so, with your view of Michel Obama's position on local agriculture, be that well, it's mostly benign she's preaching that people should have more kind of local. Artisans and they may- or they may not, really does make that much of a difference or is your view of her stance it? It's actually now good sense. Could it may be counterproductive as a kind of steals mine share, for what would be smarter ideas for headed added, be more efficient and effective from where people? I think it's basically benign, but the truth is that, as I think, she's really just pushing for greater awareness of of food and greater attention to nutrition and
and that's that's basically benign. What I do wish as I do wish. Both her in the present would actually start talking about the virtues of Urban America. In some sense, President Obama is the most open present we ve had since Teddy Roosevelt, and yet we heard very little about you know how critical America cities are to our future and in the fact that the three largest metropolitan areas in this country, because eighty percent of our GDP won't wittingly, thirteen percent population and are also important environmentally. So it's more sort of the frustration that that it's fine for her to grow gardens, but I would love it if we just heard a strong message about what a great thing Living in dense areas living in highrise apartments can also be for the environment and indeed, were far more likely to get significant environmental benefits from those than we are from eating locally or from urban gardens as the Union square green market in the heart of New York City
dear of buying local is pretty much gasped. I asked a few people, shoppers and vendors to wrap their heads around the nose going: local, isn't saving the world. I would find that really hard to believe. I may not one hundred percent be able to argue against that, but what I would argue for is why not by if it is, by and for me the smaller is better for me, police. Better, the responses were interesting in diverse some denial. Some rationalization, some switching over to the other, the ways in which local food is superior lake. It tastes better when you make decisions about something as important as the invite and his personal as emotionally charged is food. It's hard to hear that the factual, founded
of your decision is a bit wildly. It could be easier, just stick your beliefs, your intuitive beliefs, then it is too deal with the weird complexities of the modern world, but here's one piece of good news is that research paper by Christopher Weber about food miles. It didn't stop there. There are few types of food that are very greenhouse gas, intensive per calorie perks the grand for whatever. However, you want to measure them, and red meat and dairy are especially bad players here and if you are average consumer. and again we were always looking at the average consumer. One of the big you not take our messages that we try to get out to people, You can do more for your carbon footprint by just cutting. those two things out of diet. For one day week, then you can buy.
buying every single thing locally. All the time. So there you go, if you really want to help the environment, lay off how products the cow is securely greenhouse gas intensive in part because, like all ruminants, it naturally emits method. Its manure, its exhalation, its parts and methane, is more than twenty times more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide. Wouldn't you say, Imagine cutting back on burgers. Well, perhaps you'd consider a substitute. The kangaroo, for instance, doesn't emit nothing. its meet a little rubbery but tasty. So if you really want to help what you gotta do is learn to love
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Transcript generated on 2021-03-16.