Turning a problem-causing meal into a solution

My family’s lahem mishweemeal is a perfect example of how there is no one single solution to stop the adverse effects of global climate change. Instead, the issue is a combination of many small problems from many people all over the world.

 

In other words, my family buying ingredients from around the world to use for one meal isn’t the sole reason the world’s issues. But some of the effects of the meal were problematic, and there are definitely some ways to incorporate safer and more environmentally friendly solutions for next time around.

 

One alternative fix might be to buy lamb that was raised domestically. I even found a company called Strauss American Lamb that’s headquartered in Franklin, Wisconsin. It’s a double-edged sword to buy meat that was fed vitamins and fertilizer-enriched grass, which is known to cause problems that we learned in previous chapters, such as runoff that leads to acid rain. However, buying domestically eliminated the effects of natural gas consumption through transoceanic transportations.

 

Buying locally is one strategy that worked for the flatbread. The environmental effects of producing and shipping flatbread is virtually nothing compared to buying meat producing on another continent. The Miller beer stands somewhere in between. Although the beer can be considered local, per se, the effects of one case produced and distributed to a grocery store are relatively minimal. However, the global effects of the behemoth MillerCoors brewery is a much different story.

 

One of the side dished in my meal was tabbouleh, a dish that was fairly easy to make thanks to us using vegetables straight out of family members’ gardens. Everybody pitched in a few tomatoes, onions, spices or whatever they could contribute. Overall the effects of production and shipping were virtually nothing. I think that applying this concept of “everybody pitching in” could be used to make a lot of recipes, and could encourage better consumer effects in general.

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Environmental impacts of a meal

The three most important ingredients of my family’s lahem mishwee meal were lamb chops, Lebanese flatbread, and Miller beer.

The main ingredient, lamb, was bought at Sam’s Club in St. Paul, Minnesota. Sam’s Club buys its lamb meat from a company called New Zealand Lamb, which is part of the Lamb Cooperative, Inc. According to its website, the company raises lamb in New Zealand, Australia, and Uruguay. I couldn’t find specifically which of those three countries the lamb chops came from, but it was likely shipped via ship or airplane to the company’s location in Ontario before it was delivered to Sam’s Club. Regardless of the starting point, this ingredient had to travel the furthest to be a part of my meal.

There are certainly many consequences to animal farming, as we discussed in Chapter 8. New Zealand Lamb claims to use free-range farming techniques, meaning that the lambs roam and graze fields. I wasn’t able to find a location history for their sites, but the company likely has cleared a few trees over the years in order to make from for additional animals as the demand for meat rises. The fields are typically planted with grass and high-energy cereals that the lambs eat. This process not only destroys the biodiversity of the ecosystems living there, but it also uses up the natural nutrients in the soil and becomes dependent of fertilizers. The field fertilizers and animal feces are absorbed by the ground and runoff into streams, and the pollution can cause greenhouse gases and acid rain.

A farm also uses a significant amount of fossil fuels. Natural gas is used for electricity to power its buildings, and petroleum is used to operate the farm’s machinery that and equipment. Copious amounts of petroleum are also used to transport its meat overseas.

The fossil fuel usage from one farm alone could easily lower the air quality around it. While both natural gas and petroleum are cleaner than coal, they still contribute to carbon dioxide emissions. I was unable to find exact numbers, but an international company like New Zealand Lamb certainly uses a lot of fossil fuels to operate. This single company is not blame for climate change, but the farming industry as a whole has been a large contributor.

A brewery is similar to a farm in many aspects. Both industries use huge amounts of fossil fuels, predominantly natural gas for operating buildings and machinery and petroleum for transporting products. Unlike New Zealand Lamb, MillerCoors is an enormous corporation in the worldwide beer industry. The production, packaging, and transp

The beer in my meal required an lot of energy and output from Miller Brewery. Photo from atlasobscura.com

The beer in my meal required an lot of energy and output from Miller Brewery. Photo from atlasobscura.com

ortation processes create a significant amount of carbon dioxide emissions and other pollutants and lower air quality at a global scale, and contribute to climate change. We also bought the beer from Sam’s Club, so fortunately for me, the production-to-consumption process for the beer in my meal wasn’t very long.

The largest water-related issue that I was able to find in brewing is the waste water generated in the production process. Water from one of the three Miller Brewery locations in Milwaukee stays and gets treated in the Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewage District. Pollutants in contaminated water are harmful to fish and other marine organisms in Lake Michigan.

The third key ingredient in my meal is Lebanese flatbread. Unlike the other two ingredients I researched, the flatbread in my meal did not come from an international company. Rather, my grandma bought it from a small business near her house called St. Paul Flatbread. This bakery makes daily batches of bread and pastries, making it popular with the numerous Middle Eastern families of West St. Paul, Minnesota. The store’s main environmental effects are caused by fossil fuel usage, specifically natural gas to operate the building. St. Paul Flatbread does not deliver (and therefore doesn’t use petroleum), but my of course the particular flatbread in my meal had to be delivered by my grandmother.

Having a large meal with your family is always a double-edged sword. Delicious food set the tone for a great night, but cleaning up the mess is always a lowlight. We used paper plates and napkins, and plastic utensils and cups to serve our meal to save ourselves from washing dishes for 15+ people. All of this got thrown in the trash with the food packaging. We still have to clean the pots and pans, which in some cases need to be soaked and scrubbed in the sink before running it through the dishwasher. Fortunately we recycled the aluminum cans from the beer and soda. The grill’s propane tank will also need to be recycled or refilled after another use or two, as well.

A family meal is always a good time, but even a simple dinner comes with environmental costs.

Lebanese grilled lamb with tabbouleh

Tabbouleh - a dish comparable to salsa - is something my family makes at almost every get-together. (Photo from homemade-recipes.blogspot.com)

Tabbouleh – a dish comparable to salsa – is something my family makes at almost every get-together. (Photo from homemade-recipes.blogspot.com)

The quality of a meal is determined by two factors: the taste of the food and the company you share it with. According to this standard, the traditional Lebanese lamb dinner I had at a family last reunion week qualifies as a superb meal.

Lahem Mishwee” (or “grilled lamb” in English) is a family favorite. The meat is marinated with oil olive, garlic, onion, parsley, sumac, allspice, salt, and pepper before it’s barbecued on the grill.

We also serve it with “tabbouleh,” which is comparable to a Middle Eastern version of salsa. It’s comprised of parsley, mint leaves, olive oil, lemon juice, tomatoes, onions, cracked wheat, allspice, salt, and pepper. Instead of scooping it with tortilla chips, we eat it with Lebanese flatbread that my grandmother buys from a Middle Eastern/Mediterranean store by her house in St. Paul. Rice with orzo and garlic sauce are other key pieces of the meal.

Last but not least, it wouldn’t really be a family get-together if nobody brought the beer. And indeed, there were Millers and Leinenkugels a-plenty at the lamb dinner.

The plastic bag is an inconspicuous killer. Bags pose a triple threat and a perpetual dangerous cycle for earth and its inhabitants. Animals are killed by consuming or being trapped by a plastic bag. The bags also easily escape landfills and take over the ocean, the side of the road, our backyards, or just about anywhere else that the wind (or a careless person) takes them. And worst of all, these plastic bags can last more than 100 years. This means that even though we are taking steps to reduce the ubiquitous waste, we’ll still be dealing with its effects for years to come. My initial concept of the plastic bag as a threat to animals was essentially Rebecca Hosking’s documentary footage of the bags getting damaging sea coral or getting tangled in dolphins’ fins. I knew it was a nuisance, but I had no idea of the extent to which these plastic bags could torture animals. I was shocked to learn that animals (the documentary used cows as an example) can consume just a small piece of a single bag, and that could be enough to block its stomach, slowly and painfully starving it to death. This leads me to say that there’s no question about it: we must cut down on plastic waste. Many people have already moved toward change. For example, the “I’m not a plastic bag” fashion bag movement has been accepted in London. The video also showed the noble efforts of Rebecca Hosking as she converted an entire small town to cloth and/or biodegradable bag team. Today many large corporate chains are also making the slow conversion to offering reusable cloth bags in addition to paper and plastic. I especially appreciate the gro

Plastic bags can be a threat to the earth, but people are already trying to limit its waste.

Plastic bags can be a threat to the earth, but people are already trying to limit its waste.

cery store Aldi’s policy on bags, which encourages customers to reuse their old bags or pay about 10 cents per plastic bag to lug their goods. Adopting a policy like this is an easy way for any business to act locally, yet thinking globally. However, there’s no need to jump from one bag-consuming extreme to the anti-plastic opposite. Plastic manufacturers aren’t evil for making a product that’s cheap, convenient and readily available. It’s also important to recognize that it’s only a waste if someone carelessly disposes of it or doesn’t reuse it for something else. Cutting down on our plastic waste certainly wouldn’t be a bad thing, but I doubt that bag litter means end-all doom for earth.

Think again: reuse it! Plastic bags don’t have to be evil