Homegrown products save environment, money: UCLA project has potential to show how food grown locally can decrease greenhouse gases
Before ending up in last nights salad, a lettuce head undergoes a long and rough journey. From the moment a farmer picks it, the lettuce head travels for many miles, reaching a grocery store where store employees wash, refrigerate and sell its head of fresh leaves.
If you choose to eat chicken over beef, youre taking a step to be much more sustainable,
By Adrienne Law
According to UCLA environmentalists, the journey of produce from the farms to the dinner tables can be a wasteful use of energy because most products can be grown at home.
In recent years, UCLA has become more aware of sustaining the environment and promoting earth-friendly actions through research, activism and teaching.
“Do you know how your food gets to your table?” said Erick Sanchez de Leon, a fifth-year geography student. “It’s a long chain of oil and trucks.”
Sanchez is involved in a student group called Team Green Bite. Its members help build community gardens for poverty-stricken neighborhoods such as south Los Angeles.
Much of the transporting process of supermarket produce is unnecessary because it could have just been planted in your backyard, Sanchez de Leon said.
Such community gardens are economically more affordable and socially beneficial to neighborhoods in south Los Angeles, said Joseph Adams, a fourth-year political science student who is also involved in Team Green Bite.
Besides teaching, environmentalists are also researching the implementation of sophisticated technology to help sustain the earth by making all people aware of their green impact. Their hope is that this knowledge will make people understand how every step they take makes a difference and will allow them to see how wasteful the journey of the lettuce really is.
Members of the UCLA Center for Embedded Networked Sensing are working on the Personal Environmental Impact Report, which will have the ability to track each person’s influence on the environment.
This project is led by Deborah Estrin, a computer science professor at UCLA.
They use a software program installed on cell phones to track the carbon emission and pollution exposure based on where they go and how much they drive, said Katie Shilton, a graduate student of information studies and a researcher of the project.
“PEIR allows you to go beyond static measure of your carbon footprint by adding in your habits, like if you want to drive or if you want to take the bus,” she said.
After logging in, users can modify their means of transportation on the PEIR Web site and compare their personal exposure and contribution to pollution with Facebook friends, said Min Mun, a graduate student of computer science and also a researcher of the project.
PEIR researchers are still testing the program, but the public will be able to download it free of charge starting this fall.
The PEIR team envisions future broad uses for the program. Anyone who drives frequently, like truck drivers, could use their cell phone to benefit from this tool, Shilton said.
“This system could really be tied into things like our food supply,” she added.
This sort of program will assist in letting communities know the benefits of saving energy on all things, such as growing your own fruits and vegetables.
Some environmental activists let communities know the benefits of consuming public fruit, such as those overhanging a public sidewalk because it is more environmentally friendly.
Fallen Fruit is an organization made by three artists who have been tracking Los Angeles’ public fruit trees and mapping them for almost five years.
As a UCLA alumnus, Fallen Fruit co-creator Matias Viegener added that such fruit trees exist on campus.
Additionally, UCLA researchers said to be aware when shopping for produce in grocery stores.
Generally, it is better to purchase something local and organic because it utilizes less energy than buying produce shipped from another country, said Robert Gilbert, a graduate student of environmental health science and a researcher of UCLA Sustainability.
UCLA researchers also said the choice of what we eat affects greenhouse gas emissions, or gas that is released from vehicles that contribute to global warming.
The cost of the maintenance of cows, especially from their carbon output, is significantly higher than other animals we eat, said Cully Nordby, an academic director of the UCLA Institute of the Environment and the chairwoman of the UCLA Sustainability Committee.
“If you choose to eat chicken over beef, you’re taking a step to be much more sustainable,” she said.
Researchers of the UCLA Institute of the Environment said they like to emphasize the sustainability of eating foods that are in season locally.
For example, buying star fruit in the time of year when California does not grow it might mean that it comes from overseas, said Matthew Kahn, a professor of the UCLA Institute of the Environment.
“If we are serious about mitigating greenhouse gases, we need to change our diet or the seasonality of our diet,” he said.
The good news is consumers could actually find excitement and enjoyment in a seasonal diet, Nordby said.
“If you have to wait for your raspberries and then they finally show up at the store, you’re so excited, and they are so much better-tasting than raspberries you would get at other times of the year,” she said.
Published: Monday, August 11, 2008