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Daily Footprint, #13 – Bread: Five Social and Environmental Factors to Consider.

In the last post I covered a some reasons for choosing organic bread. Now, I want to go through a few other factors to consider when making a decision (and writing a review) on bread. Ultimately, you should rate things according to what matters to you most. So, if Person A cares more about issues 1, 3 and 5 and Person B cares about issues 2, 3, and 4, they may rate the business a little differently depending on the businesses performance in those 5 areas. Person C, consulting Yelp or TripAdvisor to find a good bakery (in the San Francisco Bay Area in the examples below), can read both reviews and make a decision based on what’s more important to them.

So I’ll look at five issues I considered when writing green star reviews of two local bakeries. Follow the links below if you want to see the reviews on Yelp.

Two Bay Area bakeries: Acme and Firebrand

Acme Bread, founded in 1983 in Berkeley, California, was central to the rise (bread-pun alert!) of the artisan bread movement in the US, providing alternatives to the insipid highly-processed breads that had dominated for decades. Firebrand Artisan Breads is a newer bakery, based in nearby Oakland, where bread is baked in a wood-fired oven.

Interior of ACME Bread in Berkeley, California (left) and bread bag from Firebrand Artisan Breads in Oakland, California, showing ingredient listings.

5 ethical factors to consider when choosing bread.

1.  Ingredients in your bread. 

2.  Bread packaging

3.  Energy used in making bread

4.  Bakeries tackling food waste

 5.  Bakery social impact: employees

3D, 360 degree, VR rendering of a baguette.  (Not really)  

Of course, the criteria above can be applied to other businesses too: big or small. There will also be other factors to consider: in the case of Firebrand, which operates as a café, I also took into account the brand of coffee that they served. So, as mentioned above, the weight that each of these factors carries will vary from person to person. Personally, my top three would be to support organic agriculture, reduce food waste, and avoid unnecessary packaging. And palm oil as an ingredient would be a major concern.

Feedback from Green Stars reviews

As mentioned above, the owner of Firebrand got back to me after I wrote my initial review to provide more details on their employees, donation of surplus bread, and contributions to No Kid Hungry. This process of writing a review and then obtaining feedback from the owner can be useful because it shows the business that customers care about these issues, and also provides a means for the owner to share information that may not be otherwise available. Sites like Yelp and TripAdvisor actually have great potential for hosting dialog on social and environmental issues.

Impact of baking your own bread

A friend who regularly bakes his own bread asked about the impact of the oven use versus a more efficient bakery. Going back to the post on carbon footprint of appliances, let’s assume that his oven is 2400 watts and that it’s on for a full 30 minutes during baking (the oven will turn on and off during baking time to match the target temperature). So that’s 2400 watts for half an hour = 1200 watt-hours (or 1.2 kWh). PG&E electricity in California generates around 0.23 kg of CO2 per KWh so that works out to be: 0.23 * 1.2 = 0.28 kg CO2. Compare that to the figure arrived at in the 2017 paper mentioned above – one loaf had a footprint of 0.6 kg CO2 with about one tenth of that (0.06 kg) coming from the baking stage. Baking at home uses a bit more energy than industrial baking but avoids the need for packaging and transportation of the bread, so it saves energy and materials there. When baking, a good option is to do it at night and turn off your home heating so that the dissipated heat warms your living space. The short answer is not to worry too much about the carbon footprint – it’s pretty small compared to other choices that you can make (driving, eating meat, etc.). If you want to bake at home then you should definitely go for it  🙂

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