Sacramento is the self-proclaimed Farm-to-Fork capital of the world, and while this sounds nice, it’s not as if we have much in the way of competition. We’re surrounded by farmland in the state of California. If anyone in the US who lived outside of California wanted to limit their agricultural intake to those products grown exclusively within their home state, they could say goodbye to eating artichokes, almonds, pomegranates, and walnuts. Only 3% of US citizens would be able to eat kiwis, and only 5% could eat celery and garlic. Farm-to-fork restaurants in a whole lot of other states would only be able to list corn and soybeans as vegetable sides. Eating local is great and all, but even Californians eat a good deal of imported produce, from both domestic and international sources.
The problem I have with the idea of farm-to-fork or table or whatever you want to call it, is that the idea has been co-opted into the anti-scientific-sensationalist-facebook-posts-as-evidence-health-food movement. Yes…there are political/ethical/moral/sustainability issues to be debated about things such as organic foods and GMOs and food preparation methods. Unfortunately, the people who strongly believe in these things will often play the health card. It’s a pretty good strategy…nothing gets your attention quite like a link-baity “eat this corporate sponsored mass-produced pesticide-ridden GMO and you’ll immediately develop cancer and twelve kittens will be murdered” story on your news feed.
The problem is that these health arguments are rarely based in scientific fact. GMOs causing cancer? The scientific study that “demonstrated” this was not peer-reviewed, plagued with statistical inconsistencies, and performed in a strain of rats known to spontaneously develop tumors (check out Slate and this KSJ Tracker post). Organic food is healthier for you and contains more nutrition than non-organics? So far, the evidence we have can’t back that claim. Again, I’m only speaking to the health aspect of the debate here…the evidence just isn’t there to support one view or the other.
Does local and organic non-GMO stuff taste better? Well there’s the big question…and one that warrants rigorous scientific study. Let’s run a little experiment here:
…along with these squash blossoms (and some chiles not included in this study) were grown on a very small family estate (a.k.a my girlfriend’s parents’ backyard garden) in Bakersfield, CA. They were then transported the ~280 miles to Sacramento via a 2008 Honda Accord Coupe operated by a private courier (a.k.a my girlfriend). This car has an EPA-estimated 24 MPG combined, but we’ll give it 28 MPG as a large chunk was freeway driving. That’s 10 gallons in fuel costs alone to get those veggies up here, and using the EPA average of CO2 emissions per gallon of gas burned, that corresponds to about 89 kilograms of CO2 or ~196 pounds of CO2 emitted to transport about a pound of produce. Does that sound like a lot? I can’t tell. Let’s just assume it’s a big carbon footprint, and find out if it all that distance it had to travel and all that greenhouse gas it belched out along the way makes the food taste terrible:
The squash blossoms were used in a total rip-off of Pizzeria Mozza’s squash blossom pie:
At this time I’d like to point out that I used a pizza peel made from recycled particle board instead of Earth-destroying virgin wood…and it sucks. The pizza sticks no matter how well floured it is, and it smells like ass when you wash it.
Topped with burrata after cooking in a gas oven set to 550F for an hour to heat up the pizza steel, and I have an in-oven gas broiler which made for some great crust. This used about 1 therm of natural gas, so add that to the carbon whatsit.
All this tasted pretty damn good I have to say, so the conclusion of my experiment is that the bigger the carbon footprint, the more delicious the food. People should post this to facebook as irrefutable evidence that big carbon means big flavor, because if one person runs a totally unscientific “experiment,” and writes about it online, it HAS to be true (just like the microwave water plant thing). Just don’t let any of my chemistry teachers, math teachers who told me to “show your work,” or epidemiology/biostatistics professors see it, because it would surely kill them a little inside. At the very least they’d be well fed?