My lunch ruined the planet and killed 1.000 species today.
I must admit, I was quite hungry when the lunch arrived. The courier brought the package, I unpacked and ate. Yes, it tasted good. Within a few minutes I consumed most of my Sushi. But I paused for a brief moment and had a dramatic, mind blowing thought. And it went like this…
We have cultivated rice for ten thousand years, it feeds half of the worlds population. But on the downside, rice production is responsible for 12% of the global methane production. Today, I am eating Sushi for lunch. Where did the rice come from and how was it produced? China is by far the biggest producer followed, followed by India and it is likely that my rice in my Sushi lunch came from there. Most certainly it has been produced in the cheapest possible way, not caring for water, biological impact and climate impact. Who planted the rice, and how did the farmer get to the field? How often was he there? Where did the grains come from. How much water was used to produce the rice. How long did it grow before someone harvested it. How was it stored, transported, cleaned, packaged and prepared for sending it. A truck drove it to a distribution center, it was reloaded to another truck that delivered it too a port, where it was stored for a few months. Probably a big ship was loaded with the precious goods. The ship was owned by a sailing company, with thousands of people that make a living from transporting not only my rice. But my rice was on that ship. Shipping is responsible for 3% of the global CO2 emissions. My rice arrived in some European country. Probably it was relabelled there, wrapped in plastic packaging that will last for 500 years. A truck picked up the package to transport it to a wholesales, who transported it to a distributer, where it was reloaded to a truck that drove it to a store. I imagine 1.000 people that have been evolved. If I look at the bigger picture it was probably 10.000 people. Do you understand what is going on?
Then there is the fish. Red tuna, salmon, shrimp. But also cucumber, avocado, sea weed. People have been fishing for 100.000s of years. But recent reports are highly disturbing. The twin crisis of climate change and biodiversity are often treated as separate events. But in reality the two feed into each other. For the oceans, one of the biggest drivers of biodiversity loss is industrial-scale fishing. Fish stocks and ocean ecosystems are in decline because of overfishing. Again I imagine 10.000 of people playing a role in my Sushi fish being put on my lunch table. How was it transported, how much energy was used to cool it, how many hands touched it before it was prepared in the restaurant, handed over to the courier, who delivered it into my office. What a human masterpiece to deliver the first bite into my mouth. A masterpiece of stupidity. Consumed in just one second, I eat a universe of biodiversity, transportational power, economic value chains, massive energy consumption, human suffering, human fortune. I want more and take another bite.
Then I notice the wrapping in plastic. My Sushi lunch has a bottom tray made up of plastic. A transparent plastic cover is put on top. A plastic bin for the edamame, one plastic bin for the soy sauce, one for the wakame, one for the ginger, another one for the overall packaging. Each of those has a lid. What a feast, what a wonderful piece of human ingenuity. This package will last 500 years. It has a similar story than the rice and the fish and has probably been shipped around the planet. But it does not replenish. Good thing I live in Germany, where I put it in the recycle bin afterward, where another 10.000 people are involved before it lands in the ocean far away to decay in the next 500 years. Yes, Germans are masters in collecting recyclable goods. But only 1/3 is actually being recycled, 2/3rds are sold to poor countries. My plastic lunch wrapping probably will get sold. A truck will pick it up, will bring it to a distribution center, where it will be sorted by a huge industrial machine before getting repackaged. Then a truck will pick it up, drive it 200km to the port, where a huge ship will be loaded, to ship it 6.000 miles to a poor country, that will burry it in the ground or in most cases will dump it directly into the ocean. By the time it gets dumped there, my plastic packaging will have gone through a wonderful journey across half of the planet with 10.000 people involved. Now it can rest and decay in the ocean for 500 years. I can even measure that, maybe one day I will swallow it, when I go swimming. Ok, I will be dead in 50 years, but 20 generations after me can continue to observe its decay. Sorry, I am getting too dramatic. The numbers don‘t add up, because at the rate we are going there will be more plastic than water by that time if we continue the exponential growth of plastic lunches. I am sure we will find a way to dump it in the universe.
That is not the end of the story, let me describe the journey of the wakame, Sushi sticks, soy sauce, ginger, … . But I don‘t want to bore you with more of the same.
What if I had just brought a lunch box today, with a local bread from local wheat, with local seasonable vegetables (we have planty of those), maybe grown in my garden. Would I have been just as full and satisfied with my lunch? I compare the CO2 impact and suddenly I know that I have just spent a life long worth of CO2 emissions for my Sushi lunch.
How did we get here? And how can we ever awaken to this reality?
I am what I eat. Simply a fool. Good news: we are not likely to survive this stupidity for very long.