Sustainability

Yesterday I began an on-line course called Learning for Sustainability; Developing a Personal Ethic from the University of Edinburg.  This is the second MOOC (Mass On-line Offering Course) I’ve taking on Sustainability through Coursera.

I’ve always been interested in conserving resources and eating naturally, but have more recently realized I didn’t know, and didn’t think about, what went into getting that food or service to my home.  For example, red meat production needs a large carbon footprint.  It’s not just the meat we get from the animal, but all the feed that the animal consumed, the production of the feed, the fuel required by the farm equipment…. and on it goes.

Doug and I also use solar panels to power our home.  We live in a rural area where there is no power grid.  I’ve always felt really good about using solar, a renewable source.  But, again, never really thought about the processes that went into making the panels themselves or the converter and gauges that go along with it.

Our first assignment was to talk about what we had for breakfast.  We were not only to list what we had but to comment on where it had come from.  I am sharing my response here.  Two reasons.  First, I would love to get feedback from any readers on the subject and hear what choices you make to live more sustainably.  Second, I think most people in this class already practice living sustainably and I’m sure I will learn a lot from them.  I would like to open the discussion to a broader audience and hope to do so through my blog.  I believe education and discussion is key to moving our world toward more sustainable practices.  So, here is my response:

Greetings!  I’m Karen and live on the north coast of Peru.  The coast of Peru is a desert, so not much grows here.  The region has an average rainfall of 4 inches, which usually falls during March.  The ground contains a lot of clay and has a high salt content as we are right on the ocean.

One proponent of sustainability is buying locally.  I was thinking about what “local” meant and how far afield one needs to go to find food.  For my purposes, I will define local as the north of Peru with Trujillo being the southern limit.  Anything traveling by road here from Trujillo will travel at least 9 hours and we are 2 hours from the Ecuadorian border.  However, crops like coffee or tea which are grown in the hills and mountains east of here are shipped to Lima (about 18 hours) for processing.  Once processed, they are then shipped throughout Peru and exported to other countries.  I don’t think I can call the coffee I drink as being local even though it may be grown in the north close to my home.

I live in a rural area and don’t have supermarkets available close by.  All of our food comes out of the local market which resembles a farmer’s market you’d find in the states.  Once a month we travel to the city of Piura and will buy a few items from a large chain grocery there.  However, we find the produce is not as tasty or as inexpensive as the local market.

Fish is a staple here and is caught fresh every day.  Tuna, swordfish, Mero, shark and scores of smaller fish lower on the food chain are usually available.  All manner of seafood such as octopus, shrimp, calamari, crab, and clams are also fresh daily.

Chicken. pork and goat meat is available.  The pork and goat meat is locally raised and slaughtered locally.  Pork and goat are generally only available once a week.  Peruvian beef is terrible and what we find in our market is probably raised in Peru.  Beef is imported from Argentina and the US but generally only restaurants and large chain grocery stores have it available.  I suspect the chicken comes from large poultry farm operations south of Trujillo.  My guess is these farms resemble the large poultry operations in other countries where the chickens are grown in crowed conditions and fed antibiotics and growth hormones.  There are some local chickens raised by families in the village, but they are used by the family for subsistence.

Fruits and vegetables generally come from the hills and mountains southeast of us and travel 5 to 6 hours by car or truck twice a week.  Although they are fresh, it is impossible to know whether they are organic or not.  My guess is that most of the chakra farms are organic. I think some of the local venders believe organic to mean it was grown on a “chakra” which is a country family farm as opposed to a large corporate operation.  This does not preclude the chakra farmers from using pesticides or other chemicals.

Dry goods are also trucked in from the larger cities; things like pasta, rice, wheat, beans and lentils are Peruvian.  I buy olive oil, from the south of Peru, from this vendor as well.  The dry goods stall will also have limited supplies of brand name products like Quaker Oats, Jiffy peanut butter.

So, to the question about breakfast….I had oatmeal with apples, soy milk and coffee for breakfast.  The oatmeal is definitely not local as it is Quaker brand and is distributed out of Chile.  The package doesn’t tell me where the oats were grown and harvested.   The apples also come from Chile.  Both the soy milk and the coffee are Peruvian products.

I try to consume only fresh foods available in the market.  I stew my own tomatoes, make my own stock for cooking and rarely buy anything canned or processed.  I think the soy milk is probably the most processed thing I buy.  If I could find a source for soy beans, I might try to make my own.

I am fortunate to live where there is fresh fish, fruits and vegetables of all kinds available year round.
The use of plastic bags here is so prevalent and the lack of environmental awareness regarding the plastic has been hard to deal with.  I try to take my own bags to the market, but they still want to put things into the plastic before it goes into my bag.  Some of the vendors are catching on that I don’t want the plastic bag and will load my bag instead.

Our biggest issue, by far, is water.  It is also our biggest living expense.  We buy a truck of water every 10 days or so for S/.400 (about $130).  The last statistic I heard was that 30% of Peruvians lack access to clean water.  All of our water is trucked to us and stored in a cistern.  It is then pumped up to two elevated tanks that provide gravity fed water to the house.  Even though we buy “potable” water, it isn’t pure enough to drink.  I do not have the luxury of turning on the tap and having clean water.    Therefore, we also have to buy drinking water.  We buy large 21 liter bottles of drinking water which are refilled each week or so.

Even though I try to make good choices, I’m thinking that I am somewhat limited in my choices for living sustainably.  I’d like to have a smaller sustainability footprint, but some things that we need just aren’t available to me.  Food must travel to get here and water only comes by truck.

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