July 18, 2007

The PB&J Campaign

The environmental impact of lunch

When I was younger and didn’t have a lot of money to spend on lunches outside the office, I often brought a bag lunch to work which usually (although not always) featured a peanut butter sandwich. My coworkers teased me about this habit, chalking it up to frugal necessity, but it really was a matter of preference. I really liked, maybe even loved, peanut butter sandwiches, and as a vegetarian at the time, it was also an easy way to get some protein into my diet.

According to a new online initiative called the PB&J Campaign (referring to peanut butter and jelly, for those uninitiated into this North American tradition), it turns out I was not only saving money and my health, but the environment as well. Through their Web site at www.pbjcampaign.org, the organizers behind the campaign lay out the facts about how incorporating this humble treat into your lunch plans can be a simple way to help the planet.

Butter Me Up
The PB&J Campaign gives four main reasons why choosing a peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwich over other types of lunch food can have a positive impact on the environment. These reasons are all based on how much of the earth’s resources are needed to produce a meal that contains no animal protein, such as a PB&J sandwich, versus a meal that contains animal protein, such as meat, eggs, or cheese.

By chowing down on a PB&J more often, an individual can make a difference in four areas, according to the campaign: global warming, water conservation, land conservation, and animal welfare. Because of the greater resources needed to raise livestock, the group argues that by eating a PB&J sandwich rather than a hamburger for lunch, a diner could save almost 3.5 pounds (1.6kg) of carbon dioxide emissions, and about 280 gallons of water. That meatless lunch could also preserve 12 to 50 square feet (about 4 to 15 square meters) of land from deforestation or other harmful practices. Lastly, a meal without animal protein would definitely have an effect on the animals concerned; the group estimates that eating 16 PB&J sandwiches is equal to saving the life of a chicken.

Hard Nut to Crack
Whatever your beliefs are about eating meat, I think this campaign is a simple and positive way to make a difference on environmental issues. I am no longer a vegetarian, but I can see the value of giving greater thought to the resources involved in putting food on my plate. Practical suggestions like the PB&J Campaign make it easier for those of us concerned about the environment to integrate enviro-friendly changes into our lives. I also like the fact that instead of being told what not to do, this group is advocating something we should do.

All that being said, I worry that this effort, and others like it, may be too simplistic, and may only make me feel better about things I’m already doing (although unfortunately I’ve had to give up peanut butter because it no longer agrees with me). In addition, this is not a one-size-fits-all campaign; those with peanut allergies or sensitivities, or even those concerned about the fat or sugar content of a PB&J, cannot jump on the bandwagon. And this campaign disregards the preferences of those of us who do not like jelly with our peanut butter, but would rather have a PB&H (honey) or PB&B (banana), or other less-mainstream combinations.

Sticking To It
I’m playing devil’s advocate of course, because the PB&J Campaign itself addresses many of these potential pitfalls on its Web site. They even provide alternatives to PB&J, like black bean chili, vegetarian burritos, and falafel. It’s clear that the call to greater PB&J consumption is not meant to be taken literally, but rather as a means to a worthwhile end.

However, I do think touting this mostly unsung culinary creation is a great strategy; there is something very familiar, at least to North Americans, and therefore iconic about the melding of bread, peanut butter, and gelatinized fruit. Now if only I can find some information about how eating chocolate croissants for breakfast every morning can stop global warming, I’d be very happy indeed. —Morgen Jahnke

More Information about The PB&J Campaign…

Thanks to reader Bernard Brown for suggesting today’s topic!

The main Web site for the campaign is www.pbjcampaign.org. They also have a blog about their continuing activities.

cover art

If you’re looking for inspiration about how to get more creative with peanut butter, you might like The Peanut Butter & Co. Cookbooks: Recipes from the World’s Nuttiest Sandwich Shop.

I grew up listening to the great Canadian children’s music trio of Sharon, Lois & Bram. The song “Peanut Butter (and Jelly)” from their album Smorgasbord is a classic.