Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Future of Food - Hershey's Chocolate Bar

Future of Food - The Hershey's Chocolate Bar

One of my favorite snacks is the Hershey's milk chocolate bar. I have always wondered just how environmentally safe it was, being aware of course of how unhealthy they are as a food item. I recall seeing on the back of a Mar's M&M's wrapper one time that they had a seal that guaranteed that the chocolate was produced with sustainability in mind, but in recent times I have not seen this seal. But as far as chocolate goes, Hershey is usually my choice.

I visited a page on the Hershey website - - and found some basic information. On this page, the company discusses how the chocolate is processed from the cacao beans found in places such as Brazil, Indonesia, The Ivory Coast, and Ghana, although when I called Hershey, Venezuela, The Dominican Republic, and Ecuador were also part of that list (as well as other places). The seeds are taken from pods that grow on the cacao tree, then the beans are transported by boat and then by railroad to the factories. The Hershey's representative that I spoke with on the phone told me that 90% of the factories were in either the United States or Canada, and some were located in Mexico.

The Hershey website goes on to explain that once the seeds are brought to the factories, they are cleaned and stored. Beans from different countries have different flavors and are kept separate. From what I gathered from the information on the page, the beans are added probably on the basis of some sort of ratio for each country, and this is what gives "that special Hershey taste." The web page continues by saying that the beans are roasted and the inner part or "nib" is what is actually used in the production of chocolate.

The cacao beans are where Hershey gets two of the main ingredients for its milk chocolate bars - the cocoa butter and chocolate liquor. The representative I spoke with enlightened me a little further as to where the sugar is acquired. She told me that any beat sugar that is used is from North Dakota, and the sugar from sugar cane is taken from Florida, Hawaii, and South America. The website mentions that the milk component is fresh whole milk that has been tested and pasteurized at the factory.

On the topic of Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO), the Hershey representative gave me a whole speech that seemed to be a disclaimer. However, some of the key things that she stated were that any GMO's in the chocolate were safe to consume and that there may only be GMO's in the soy, and canola components. Sugar, she said, may be genetically modified in the future. Her explanation for why the soy and canola may have GMO's is that it is difficult to separate out GMO's from commodities such as those.

I have seen organic chocolate many times before, so Hershey's excuses may not be good, but I can somewhat understand how it would be more expensive for the company and consumers if Hershey only used non-GMO soy and canola. Also, as was the topic of the case with Monsanto in "Future of Food", it may be incredibly difficult to find non-GMO varieties of these commodities if the altered seeds are being dispersed all over the place. Hershey could do it, I think, as they are a huge company, but there are definitely pros and cons that must be weighed. GMO's themselves aren't necessarily bad, I am to understand, the problem is when companies like Monsanto try to monopolize the patented seeds.

Through further research, notably at this website - - I learned that Mars was working to decode the genetics of the cacao plant in order to use genetic engineering to make the plant resistant to disease, pests, and water shortages. According to this article, which was published by the BBC in June of 2008, it would take five years to crack the code, therefore it should still be under way. This information indirectly shows that cacao trees have not been modified up until this point, which is nice to know.
The film "Future of Food" was informative, though a little creepy. I definitely think that the laws need to be changed concerning the patenting of seeds. Perhaps the law should read "any living organism or any stage of an organism's life cycle cannot be patented." The fact that seeds that are capable of being carried by the wind or that could fall out of trucks could be sued for was scary to me, and I think scaring people was the film's intention. Some of the techniques used to genetically modify the seeds were suspect as well, for instance, when the film showed viruses being used to break down cell walls.

In addition, I definitely believe that people should have access to a food's list of ingredients and nutritional information. Just as with cigarettes, there should be warnings, which for food would include information about any GMO ingredients in the food.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Your Neighbordhood - Suburbs or Tropical Forest?!

Suburbs or Tropical Forest?!

I ask this question, because as I toured the areas around my neighborhood, it became apparent that there was no shortage of tropical vegetation. In fact, 90% of the houses I saw had some type of large horticultural display, and 100% of the houses I saw had at least something more than a lawn full of grass.

I had never before noticed just how thoroughly vegetated the area was. It's a quiet suburb in the oldest part of Cape Coral (which actually is only about fifty years old), but compared to some parts of Cape Coral and other suburban areas I have visited, this is DEFINITELY an environmentally conscious neighborhood!

Here is a photo of part of the front portion of my house. There are palms and other trees planted around the house. My parents have done their part to beautify our property.

Taking a stroll down the street behind my house, I came across the facade of one of the houses behind me, which as you can see, has a very Southwestern motif, with various cacti in the center and around the house. I am very fascinated by bizarre plants like cacti and their functions in the environment.

From the street behind my house there's a winding road that branches off into a small maze-like cul-de-sac. Here is a highly foliaged street in that area. You can see just how diversely the peoples' tastes in plant-life are in this suburb. Pine trees, different types of palms and bushes, possible oak trees, it has it all.

Coming back around to the other side of my street, I came upon this tree in one of my neighbor's yard. At first I thought it was a Betel palm which I had learned about before. But upon further investigation at and this site I found in a google search - - I came to the conclusion that it is a Queen palm, because Queen's are native to Florida, whereas Betel palms are more likely to be found in Southeast Asia. However, they both have similar looking, orange fruit.

I was disappointed that I did not find more wildlife. Most of the birds were nothing special, usually small grey birds, with white striped wings. I hoped to see egrets or blue jays, which I have seen before, but I am to understand that birds such as those only come down here during certain seasons, most likely in the winter.

However, I was fortunate to find some squirrels having a good time running back and forth on a power line that ran between some trees. Squirrels may not be very out of the ordinary, but some of the squirrels down here certainly have strange behaviors!

In the same spot as the squirrels were a couple of very fecund coconut palms. I could not find any type of gardening setup for sustainability, but decided that the occasional coconut palms in my neighborhood were about as close as it got.

I ended my trek a small ways down the road at the entrance to an out of business golf course. You can see the small pond that still remains. Surprisingly there was no wildlife that I happened to notice here, but the scene sort of reminds me of something one might see in a South American or Vietnamese jungle (less the power lines and light post)!

Clearly, there is no worry of complete ecological meltdown in my neighborhood. There's at least as much volume of plant life as there is of homes! Even so, I am surprised that less people are involved in cultivating plants for food, it all seems to be for horticultural purposes. Maybe some believe that there is just not enough space on their property or don't think that they have the time. I may have to change that! I feel that I am very fortunate to live in an area like this, and think that I may have to take more walks around my neighborhood.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Sense of Place - Some Like it Hot!

A birds-eye view of the city of São Paulo, Brazil, taken from:

I am a very adaptable person. I try to find my sense of place wherever I go. However, I have thought about this before. I think everybody does. Would you rather live in a big city or small city? Up north or down south? Near beaches, etc.? I have come to the conclusion that I do not like cold weather. If it goes lower than fifty degrees here in Southwest Florida, I am usually very irritated. I therefore have no desire to live up north permanently.

Don't get me wrong, I am very willing to try things. I wouldn't mind working on Wall Street in New York someday, but at this point in time I am perfectly content to live in moderately-populated Southwest Florida. I enjoy warm weather. I don't mind either being drenched in sweat or enjoying a cool breeze from the Gulf of Mexico. It makes me feel healthy and alive.

The tropical foliage in warmer climates is also something that appeals to me. I would love to venture into jungles in South America...well, at least provided that I can avoid the dangers.

The location of my work is also a good example of sense of place. I enjoy being outside handling luggage at the airport, come rain or shine. Another advantage of working at the airport is my exposure to people from different cultures. I feel pretty at home in a place like that.

However, when I'm not outside working, I am most comfortable just hanging out at home. I'm a homebody...with an adventurous streak from time to time. But I am just as happy to be relaxed at home as I am to be anywhere. I like to have food, books, TV, and the Internet at hand. This may not sound very environmentally related or interesting to some, but to me, that is paradise.

My professor brought to my attention that I could work in a more a large city that was more suitable to my tastes than New York. Hong Kong was suggested, which could be a possibility. Considering my interest in Latin languages, and Spanish in particular, other ideas that I have entertained are Miami, or perhaps Mexico City or São Paulo, Brazil. In fact, I have taken up learning Portuguese lately in addition to Spanish, so the latter sounds nice. Mexico City I believe has a stock exchange, but really any large city will necessitate accountants. Who knows, I feel pretty comfortable right here in the United States too!

Friday, September 11, 2009

Field Trip #1 - ECHO: A Deeper Understanding of Sustainability

The field trip to ECHO - Environmental Concerns for Hunger Organization (I read on the website that the "H" once stood for "Haiti") - proved to be very informative and a pleasant experience. I have always been intrigued and have learned much about herbal remedies and exotic foods, so this trip was right up my alley. Also, I work with many South Americans and Haitians and so the messages of the trip to ECHO were of further relational importance to me.

The main theme of the tour through the farm was sustainability. In other words, it dealt with how people can recycle man-made objects, and provide their own food, in order to survive and preserve the environment. The term "appropriate technology" was used much by the guide, which refers to the development of contraptions from found items that both perform a needed function and recycle the found items. One such item was a laundry detergent bottle that was fashioned into a device to wash your hands. By tipping the bottle, a small stream of water flowed out, and attached to its bottom was a bar of soap. This device not only conserved clean water (a scarce commodity in much of the world), but also lent towards sanitation and the prevention of disease. It is attached to the right side of this ten person hut:

The "appropriate technology" concept can also be observed with this tractor tire, which has been converted into a tree pot: I learned that vulcanized rubber tires are very tough and resistant to decomposition. The same goes for aluminum cans. Hence, ECHO suggests using tires to pot trees and plants and burying aluminum cans in the soil held within them.

Other aspects of the tour through the farm that I enjoyed were the recreations of various environments, for instance tropical highlands, pictured here:

This type of climate is of particular interest to me, because I am fascinated by the Andean Mountain Range of South America, where this type of environment is abundant. However, I had no idea that stones were used to terrace the mountainsides.

Another alluring subject to me is the use of plants has healing aids, and the cultivation of "superfoods." I am already familiar with quinoa, which is grown in the Andes, and its high nutritional value. But I have never heard of the "miracle tree", or mirenga, shown growing here:

The mirenga, as the class was told, is full of several different vitamins and minerals. The cultivation of cinnamon trees was also of importance to me, because my mother is a diabetic, and I always see her using cinnamon to help her blood sugar levels. I had no idea what a cinnamon tree looked like before visiting ECHO:

Growing my own food and sustaining myself sounds like something I'd be interested in doing. My past experience is limited, but I did attempt growing vegetables when I was much younger. I have also had small bonsai trees, Venus fly traps, and cacti. Clearly, in addition to my affinity for plants that offer health benefits, I am intrigued by exotic plants.

I think that I would be most interested in growing something like the "miracle tree," and I should suggest to my mother that she may want to grow cinnamon. Personally, I think it would be amazing to have an infinite supply of something so beneficial and life-giving as the "miracle tree."

I guess I should stop being a "vegetable" and tree-t myself to some sustainable living!

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Incoming Reflection: Perhaps This "Environment" Thing is Important...VERY IMPORTANT!

What did I think about the environment and the University Colloquium class before coming to FGCU? Read on to find out:

Perhaps surprisingly, I had not heard about the course University Colloquium until I attended the initial orientation for Florida Gulf Coast University. At this gathering, it was revealed to me that every student attending the university had to take this course in order to graduate, and the person explaining this then played a video on a projector. The video showed students at various local nature parks. I thought to myself sarcastically, "oh brother, that sounds terrific!" I did a little more research into it, however, and decided that it would be best to take the course now, rather than later. "Get it out of the way," I told myself.

Perhaps it was the abysmal environmental camp I took part in the summer after 5th grade that turned me off to any interest in the environment. There was also this socially ingrained image that I had of environmentalists being hippies and weirdos. A few years ago, I took a course called Bugs and People at the University of Florida, and that piqued my interest in nature somewhat, mostly in regards to agriculture, but essentially up until taking this course I have thought about the environment about as much as the non-sentient flora and fauna of nature has ever thought about me.

Not to say that I haven't showed awe at the Grand Canyon when I visited it some time ago. I have also been through the Joyce Kilmer Memorial Forest in North Carolina and breathed in the clean air of the vibrant green foliage. But these were just places to visit I thought. Here in Florida nature generally involves mosquitoes, humidity, and sunburn. Only in recent times have I even been able to tolerate the beach! Furthermore, I recycle. I am aware of hybrid cars. I use water and electricity sparingly. I thought I was doing my part.

My problem was that I had not been thinking about the impact that people were having on the environment. The progress of cities seemed as much a natural phenomenon as nature itself, and I must admit that I figured that there was still enough land out there to develop for centuries to come. But my new, enlightened education was about to begin with University Colloquium.

Before the course commenced, I read A Land Remembered by Patrick D. Smith, and thought, "wow, what a great story," and of course I felt bad for all of the Native Americans who were killed and were losing their land. The last chapters of the book also deal with the fact that all of the buildings and cultivation of the land that occurred as Florida grew had caused animals to go extinct and threw the whole ecosystem out of whack. That did not sound very cool!

In the few weeks of this University Colloquium course, I have been convinced thoroughly enough about the poor trajectory of the environment to consider possibly working towards a degree in environmental engineering after I have received my current degree in accounting. I will say that I have always wanted to do extraordinary things. Certain events in my life have caused me to pursue accounting, which I find interesting and fulfilling, but I would just be another "bean-counter." No glory...perhaps infamy! I see many possibilities in the field of environmental engineering. I could be the person that figures out the solution for removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere or helping to avert food shortages. Even if I didn't become famous for my work, I think I would feel I was doing peaceful, heroic work that will ultimately benefit mankind, myself, and oh yeah...the environment.

I would also like to mention that I have recently been reading adventure books by Clive Cussler which take place in ocean and sea settings. I also enjoy watching the travel channel and learning about South American countries and the rain forest. I hope that this course will bring me adventure and help me learn about possibilities for future endeavors. If I do not follow through with being an environmental engineer, you can rest assured that I will be a very environmentally conscious accountant!

Some tree-huggers I can live with! Courtesy of Jones Soda Company.