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.


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