Monday, April 5, 2010
Thoughts: The 64,000 Mile Question: What Did It Take to Get You that Taco?
Living in Los Angeles, knowing where to find the best tacos is a matter of pride. Tasty, cheap and convenient, tacos are a staple of the city's diet, and without a map or GPS, most Angelenos can still easily locate the nearest stand or truck.
Finding out how far the ingredients have traveled to get to your taco, however, is significantly more challenging—for starters, you definitely need a map. Which is exactly what a group of architecture students from URBANlab, a program of The California College of the Arts, set out to create. By tracing the origin of each ingredient in a single taco, the students made a map that illustrates the complexities of globalization and the industrial food system through the prism of a single taco. And for such a seemingly simple meal, that lone taco can rack up some serious food miles—64,000, to be exact.
Each student followed one ingredient back to its source, untangling a confusing web to create a map that includes farms, factories, corporate offices, and even the routes taken by trucks, planes and shipping containers. The students didn't just immediately condemn the ingredients that had traveled the farthest, as many rabid locavores are wont to do. Instead, they looked closely at the overall impact of producing and shipping the ingredients. Good explains:
“ Key to this process was a close look at the embodied energy in each ingredient, or the sum total of the energy necessary for its entire life-cycle. The students compared tomatoes grown in a greenhouse with those shipped from the Southern Hemisphere, where they’d been grown in summer weather. They looked at aluminum foil, which originated as an aluminum alloy that was mined in New Zealand, and had traveled farther than the elements of the taco, but can be recycled indefinitely without degrading in quality. ”
The research was conducted with the help of landscape architect David Fletcher and members of the art and design studio Rebar (also responsible for the Victory Garden at Slow Food Nation), and the group plans to publish a book on its findings. You can learn more about the project from Good and stay tuned for a thorough explanation of the research in the next issue of Meat Paper magazine.
YOUR TACO DECONSTRUCTED
Examining the ingredients in a taco paints a picture of the globalization of our food production network.
Look closely enough at anything and you can start to see the sum of its parts. Even, for instance, a single taco, which, when examined recently by a group of architecture students, became a window into the complexities of globalization. The assignment was part of URBANlab, a program of The California College of the Arts that took place under the guidance of landscape architect David Fletcher and members of the art and design studio Rebar.
The goal was to map the local “tacoshed,” which, much like a watershed, establishes the geographical boundaries of a taco’s origins—the source of everything from the corn in the tortilla to the tomatoes in the salsa.
By thoroughly understanding what it takes to make a taco, the class hoped to become “better able to propose and design a speculative model of a holistic and sustainable urban future.” The final product is a surprisingly useful microcosm of the industrial food system and its “richly complex network of systems, flows, and ecologies.” According to the class findings, within a single taco, the ingredients had traveled a total of 64,000 miles, or just over two and a half times the circumference of the earth.
For the project, each student worked to trace one ingredient back to its source, a task that turned out to be harder than it sounds. “It was difficult to trace the origins of these foods because of the intense obfuscation by the corporations that produce them,” said Rebar’s John Bela at a recent unveiling of the research at San Francisco’s Studio for Urban Projects. The students spent hours on the phone, spoke to customer representatives in corporate offices and eventually gathered the data necessary to create a map that includes farms, corporate offices, and the exact routes traveled by planes, trucks, and shipping containers.
The taco the group deconstructed was from Juan’s Taco Truck in the city’s Mission District, where every ingredient had been purchased from either Costco or Restaurant Depot, and had been chosen because it was the absolute most economical option possible—making it the taco most people are likely to eat.
“We talked a lot about what the moral taco would look like, or the locavore taco, but this was the cheapest taco you can produce in San Francisco,” said Annalise Aldrich, a CCA student who helped present the group’s findings. Aldrich and another student, Rachael Yu, walked the audience through some highlights of their research.
The students were surprised to find that several ingredients were produced locally, such as the salt, which had come from just south of San Francisco. The cheese, which appeared at Restaurant Depot as an in-house brand called Supremo Italiano, was actually from a company with 10 regional plants around the West that source ingredients and sell locally, despite their larger national brand.
Other ingredients had come from much further away. The various spices in the Adobo seasoning, for instance, had traveled a combined 15,000 miles. The avocados had traveled from Chile, home of the world’s largest avocado grower (a company that was said to produce 300 million fruit per year). The rice was imported from Thailand, despite an abundance of California-grown rice, and was packaged under an array of brand names. “The taco truck owner may have bought the bag with the Sombrero on it, while another shopper at Restaurant Depot might have bought the exact same rice with a Buddha on the package,” said Bela.
Rather than emphasize the current polarity between local and globally produced food, the students were given a chance to examine the values of both modes of production, from a systems perspective. Key to this process was a close look at the embodied energy in each ingredient, or the sum total of the energy necessary for its entire life-cycle. The students compared tomatoes grown in a greenhouse with those shipped from the Southern Hemisphere, where they’d been grown in summer weather. They looked at aluminum foil, which originated as an aluminum alloy that was mined in New Zealand, and had traveled farther than the elements of the taco, but can be recycled indefinitely without degrading in quality.
“We left the project critical of the dogma that tends to frame the issue of provenance,” David Fletcher said. Or, as Edlrich told the audience: “We came away with the idea that global isn’t necessarily bad.”
Read more: http://www.good.is/post/your-taco-deconstructed/#ixzz0kLE1Fd7g
This article on http://www.takepart.com/news/2010/03/03/your-taco-deconstructed-the-globalization-of-our-food-system and to read more like articles www.foodincmovie.com
Challenges: We have become such a complicated species. That is not subjective. It is fact. Complicated in the dictionary is : composed of elaborately interconnected parts; complex. A taco is complicated. A salad with lettuce, spinach, olive oil and avocado is complicated. An animal doesn't go up 5 different trees to make a salad or travel over 64,000 miles to collect everything it needs to make one meal. When we make the meal complicated, we also make it complicated for our bodies to digest. Do humans think we are so superior to have this luxury. I am willing to give up complicated meals and eat seasonal foods and one thing at a time for the sake of the earth and all human beings. Any other takers? Or should I say givers!?! ;)
Triumphs: Every human being is the author of his own health or disease. - Buddha4
What I Ate Today:
Breakfast: Hemp protein. Water with lemon squeezed in it. Beet, carrot, celery and ginger juice. 2 nectarines.
Lunch: Chocolate balls with walnuts. 6 Strawberries. 1 nectarine.
Dinner: Dinner with family. With what I just talked about yes this is a complicated meal, made complicated by human. Fiddleheads with garlic. Carrots cooked in orange juice and tarragon. Mushroom is balsamic vinegar. A sweet potato. Recipe below.
What is Vinegar?
The dictionary defines vinegar as “sour wine” or “a sour liquid obtained by acetic fermentation of dilute alcoholic liquids and used as a condiment or preservative.”
Mushroom (the steak of vegetables) drizzled in balsamic vinegar and cooked in the oven.
Dessert: 3 nectarines, chocolate balls with walnuts
Snacks: 2 nectarines
Recipe: Recipe for chocolate balls is in blog Day 115!
Irene's Orange Carrots
1. Squeeze fresh orange into a saucepan. Scrape out the pulp also.
2. Add the fresh spice tarragon
3. Add carrots
4. Boil the carrots until firm or soft however you like them.
FIDDLEHEADS WITH SESAME SEEDS
A quick and easy vegetable dish that’s good warm or cold.
3 cups fiddleheads
2 Tbsps sesame oil
1 thinly sliced hot or sweet pepper, to suit taste
1 clove minced garlic
2 tsps lemon juice
seasoned salt and pepper to taste
1/4 cup toasted sesame seeds (or slivered almonds)
lemon slices to garnish
Boil fiddleheads until fork tender. While cooking, heat oil in small skillet and sauté pepper and garlic until soft. Remove from heat and add lemon juice and seasonings. Drain fiddleheads and toss with the oil mixture. Sprinkle with seeds and garnish with lemon.
North American aboriginal people are credited with being first to cash in on the nutritional value of fiddleheads. After surviving long winters with scarce greenery, spring fiddleheads were a much needed treat for the body, mind and soul. They were a highly-prized medicinal plant, said to act as a natural cleansing agent ridding the body of accumulated impurities and toxins. It is also reported that fiddleheads were an olden day treatment for high blood pressure, and eaten to ward off scurvy.
Exercise: A walk around the neighbourhood here and a swing in the park in Florida.
211 days to go!!!