Sunday, June 24, 2012

Follow the Food Trail

This morning started off with a water taxi ride around the harbor and an eventual stop at another point on the island. From there, we began our journey on foot over more rocks than I have seen in a while in order to find our snorkel location. It felt like we would never reach our destination, as most of us were wearing flip flops and attempting to do some hiking. After about twenty minutes, we reached the top of a rocky cliff and when we looked down, we saw our snorkeling venue. The giant walls of rock had created a perfect corridor that could fit a number of snorkelers through at once. The water was a bit murky, though still blue, but we were still able to see some big fish swimming around below us.
After a morning of snorkeling and a quick ceviche for lunch, Professor Nicholson began our lesson on commodity chains and a short history of agriculture. For starters, society has changed from a system of hunters and gatherers to industrial farming, which uses advanced tools and genetically modified seeds and organisms. Also, the process by which our food becomes available to us leaves a large carbon footprint when the factors of transportation, farming and cooking are considered. To help us understand these commodity chains, Professor Nicholson divided the class into four groups and assigned each group one meal that we had eaten previously on Santa Cruz. We then had to trace the origins of each ingredient until we could not go further back. My group was charged with finding the origins of a hamburger that was previously served to us. The ingredients that we traced were the meat, a slice of ham, the bun, lettuce, tomato, cheese, potatoes, bananas and chocolate sauce, which were part of dessert that day.
The first thing we did was visit the restaurant where we had eaten the hamburgers. We talked to the owner of El Chocolate and asked her where the produce and meat had come from. She told us that the meat, lettuce, tomato, banana, some potatoes, eggs and cream were from the highlands of Santa Cruz. Other ingredients, like the ham, some potatoes and oil were imported from the mainland. We were told that the ham was from Guayaquil, Ecuador and were given the names of the farms that supplied the restaurant with ingredients.
After taking a short gelato break to regroup, we decided to try to calculate the carbon footprint of eating this hamburger. Little did we know that a lot more goes into eating a simple hamburger. First, we had to take into account the transportation used to get the ingredients to the restaurant. The transportation can include trucks, ships or planes, and the amount of carbon dioxide released depends on the weight of the items being shipped plus the distance between the start and end points. In general, 10 grams of CO2 are produced for every one ton carried over one kilometer. A number of ingredients came from Guayaquil, so the distance from Guayaquil to the restaurant in Puerto Ayora is about 1167 kilometers.
Also, we had to calculate the transportation we used to get to the restaurant, though it does not just stop at walking. Instead, we calculated our carbon footprint coming from the United States to the Galapagos Islands. We started in Miami, where many people had connecting flights to San José, and included our stops in San José, Quito, Guayaquil and finally, Puerto Ayora. Overall, the Global Scholars had traveled 4250 kilometers by airplane, but the calculations did not stop there. We had also taken a number of boats and taxis to get to shore and to our hotels, which also count. Due to the complex nature of making this calculation, our group decided to give our best shot at calculating a rough carbon footprint and ended up with 106.22 kilograms of CO2 released in order to get the ingredients and the people to the restaurant, never mind the amount of gas used for the restaurant stove or the amount of fuel used in farming machines or slaughterhouses.
Following the commodity chain and calculating a carbon footprint is no easy task, as witnessed by the vast amount of factors taken into account. However, the lesson we can learn from this is that even the smallest actions, like eating a banana or sending an email, can have a tremendous impact on the environment through the release of carbon dioxide.     

A group presenting their findings.

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