Apr 16 , 2020
An old friend posted a beautiful picture recently on Instagram (here it is, thanks for sharing, Amarina) of almond trees in bloom in Central California. I've been holding onto the picture because I got the idea to write this blog post just as the Covid-19 break out was occurring in the US. I was in Las Vegas when people started going crazy for toilet paper and water, and then just as the city was shutting down. And sharing thoughts on almond groves did not seem appropriate then.
But Earth Day- the 50th anniversary!- will take place on Wednesday, April 22. And now is the time to share. With public health looming as our most pressing national issue, indeed world issue, right now, other newsworthy items are taking a back seat or falling off the radar entirely.
The first Earth Day 50 years ago was an event dreamed up by environmentalist and Wisconsin Senator Gaylord Nelson and designed to raise awareness of environmental problems in this country. “The objective was to get a nationwide demonstration of concern for the environment so large that it would shake the political establishment out of its lethargy,” Senator Nelson said, “and, finally, force this issue permanently onto the national political agenda.” (History: The First Earth Day.)
So, what does Earth Day have to do with almonds? Gem City Fine Foods is a dedicated gluten free and nut free commercial bakery because our mission is to serve celiac, gluten sensitive and food allergic diners. I eat nuts at home, personally, and enjoy almonds among them. We know that for those not allergic to nuts, they are a good source of nutrients, including healthy omega-3 and omega-6 fats and Vitamin E. Recently, with trends toward plant based proteins, and gluten free options, the food industry and grocery shelves have seen an explosion in snacks and processed foods that contain nuts or are made with nut flours, and even nut milks, which fulfill the role of replacing animal products. Cows produce methane, which is a greenhouse gas, and poorly handled manure and fertilizer can be detrimental to water supplies. And... right, Earth Day. Climate change. Cows.
I grew up in dairy farm country and watched family farms slowly go out of business as conglomerates bought them up and forced them out. Should it bother me that dairy sales are down? Maybe not. Maybe those guys are getting what they deserve, so to speak. It's not my place to say. And hey! We do make a great line of full-on dairy-containing cheesecakes! Back to almonds.
Years of schooling and work, both professionally and as my civic responsibility, in environmental issues and politics does not give me the qualifications to tell you here in this column whether or not you should eat almonds or cakes made of almond flour or drink almond milk- or any other, for that matter if you're not allergic to tree nuts. But I do have the license as a responsible business leader attuned to the call for sustainability, buying local- attention to environmental issues that pervade our world 50 years after the first Earth Day- to put forth some ideas and facts.
Water and pesticides are longstanding issues associated with almonds. And mono-culture (single crop farming) of plant has detrimental effects on biological diversity. Let's return to my friends in Ireland. An article from The Irish Times this past January reports, "A single almond takes about three and half litres of water to produce. Most almonds – an estimated 82 per cent – are grown in drought-afflicted California, where it constitutes a multibillion-dollar industry. The number of almond orchards has doubled in the last 20 years in California." (Are Almonds Bad for the Environment?) (3.5 liters is nearly one gallon.)
So, what to do? "Everything in moderation," the old proverb goes. Anything in excess can be harmful. If we are all make ourselves informed, think critically, and act responsibly, we can temper our individual footprints on this planet. I will continue to eat almonds on occasion. I will not drink almond milk. (I don't drink cow milk either; I'm lactose intolerant and enjoy other foods and beverages in my diet to get my nutrients.
Earth Day 2020: 50th Anniversary. April 22. What will you do?
Respectfully, and always interested in a good conversation,
(Lisa Cox is CEO/ SVP Sales & Marketing at Gem City Fine Foods, LLC. Her views are her own and do not necessarily represent those of other members of the Gem City Fine Foods team, or the company itself. She holds Masters degrees in Education, Public Administration and Environment & Natural Resources, and Soil Science, and has served professionally and in her civic life in teaching and environmental research, as well as in her current role.