Featured Image: Luca Nebuloni, https://flic.kr/p/XJssoN
1 box(pound) / spaghetti pasta
2 tbsp / olive oil
2 tsp / minced garlic
8-10 Kalamata olives
¼ cup / roasted red peppers
The recipe I chose is a red pepper and olive spaghetti dish. This dish is made with just 5 ingredients; roasted red peppers, Kalamata olives, olive oil, minced garlic, and spaghetti in the amounts shown above. The
simplicity of this recipe might explain why this was the first real meal I learned to cook. This recipe allows for a quick and easy meal at a low cost. The ingredients are very widely available in many grocery stores. While this meal is certainly accessible to people at any level of cooking expertise, is it a sustainable recipe?
One of the largest factors of sustainability is often thought to be the environment. To get a baseline of how much of an impact the recipe has, we need to find out how much our ingredients emit greenhouse gases. In a document from The World Pasta Congress, they note that a kilogram of pasta will produce about 1.9 kilograms of carbon dioxide with certain companies, like Barilla, producing only 0.85 kilograms of carbon dioxide per kilogram of pasta. This document also notes that a liter of olive oil produces about 3.1 kilograms of carbon dioxide. While this might seem like a large number, remember that we’re only using a couple teaspoons for the recipe. Fruits and vegetables are listed as emitting around 0.5 to 0.8 kilograms of carbon dioxide per kilogram of produce. For simplicity, we’ll say the peppers, olives, and garlic all produce 0.8 kilograms of carbon dioxide per kilogram. I’m choosing to use the higher end of the spectrum because some of the ingredients we’re using are pre-processed. For example, I chose to buy a jar of garlic that had already been minced and bell peppers that had already been roasted.
Now that we have our base numbers, we can figure out how much carbon dioxide we’re producing with this recipe. If we used an entire kilogram or liter of each ingredient, we’d be emitting a total 7.4 kilograms of carbon dioxide(kg CO2). Of course, we’re not actually using an entire kilogram of each thing. To make the recipe, we’d be emitting about 1.1 kilogram of carbon dioxide to make one batch of pasta. The breakdown for this 0.86 kg CO2 for the generic box of pasta, 0.092 kg CO2 for 2 tbsp of olive oil, 0.086 kg CO2 for approximately half a cup of olives, 0.045 kg CO2 for the peppers, and less than 0.01 kg CO2 for the garlic.
This seems pretty good, but can we do better? A simple thing to do would be to switch out the generic pasta we used for the more environmentally friendly Barilla pasta. This brings the carbon contribution from the pasta down to 0.39 kg CO2. This reduces our overall carbon emissions to 0.63 kg CO2. This is an easy to make substitutions that doesn’t really change the outcome of the dish at all.
While it is important to consider the environmental impact of our dish, this isn’t the only factor in making a sustainable meal. In The Omnivore’s Dilemma, author Michael Pollan notes that
There exists a fundamental tension between the logic of nature and the logic of human industry […] A great many of the health and environmental problems created by our food system owe to our attempts to oversimplify nature’s complexities. (9)
It’s this industrial desire to oversimplify the food production process that makes certain foods so bad for the environment. This plague of simplification is primarily driven by economics, another pillar of sustainability along with the environment. This is why a more generic pasta, like Publix’s brand, has a higher rate of carbon emissions and can be offered at a cheaper price of $1.00 per pound. Barilla, however, works to better there practices to have less of a negative impact on the environment. This effort increases their pricing, with a pound of Barilla spaghetti costing $1.65.
When using the generic brand, purchasing all the necessary ingr
edients costs $11.26. Using Barilla, the total comes out to $11.91. Each of the ingredients can be used to make multiple batches of the meal. The pasta is the only item that needs to be purchased for each meal. For $10.26, you can get all the multiuse ingredients. Then you have to face the pasta decisions. This trade-off between environment and economy is what’s discussed by Pollan.
An extra 65 cents seems like a small price to pay for nearly half as much carbon dioxide emissions but it can be a hard decisions for some to make. Most people will probably consider their own financial situation before worrying about their environment. As Pollan points out, so will industries. However, Barilla shows that for a small financial sacrifice, we can have less of a negative impact on the environment. Economics and the environment both play in to sustainability. It’s left up to each person to choose which aspect they value more.
Boil water for pasta. While the water boils/pasta cooks, cut up olives and red peppers in to small chunks. After pasta cooks, drain in to colander.
In a small wok/saucepan on the stove, add olive oil and garlic. Cook on medium heat while stirring. Wait for garlic to start to brown. Turn heat to low and add olives and peppers, stir. After mixing, add pasta and stir until mixed.
Makes about 4-6 bowls. Serve with cheese(optional).
Pollan, Michael. The Omnivore’s Dilemma. New York, The Penguin Press, 2006
Ruini, Luca. Pasta & Sustainability. Milan, World Pasta Congress, October 2015