greening the transportation of ice cream (and others)

August 25, 2009



Anyone who’s thought about the environmental cost of the various products we consume, from plastic spoons to produce to toys, has thought about the costs involved in shipping these times. If you’re like me, you might think about the fossil fuels required to move a teddy bear from China to Pennsylvania: the gas of the truck from the factory to the shipping yard in China, the diesel of the ocean liner from China to Los Angeles, and then more gas for the truck from LA to Philadelphia. Usually, the longer the journey, the more environmentally expensive it is.

What many don’t consider (or at least not me) is the requirements of some products, especially food, in that transportation. For example: ice cream. It must be made, stored at the factory, shipped, and then stored at our grocery store all at freezing point. As you know, keeping food this cold requires a hefty amount of energy in addition to that required simply to transport it. Thus, as the Times of London and Scientific American report, Unilever (which owns Ben & Jerry’s) is embarking on the crazy-sounding idea of making ice cream that’s made, shipped, and stored at room temperature only to be frozen once you put it in your own freezer.

While the science behind fat, sugar, and consistency has been studied for a good while, it still sounds crazy. I’m quite skeptical that they’ll be able to do it and still have it taste as good as the real deal. But, never underestimate those food scientists, who’ve been able to create ice cream that doesn’t melt (although, again, who knows how it tastes).

Although food science hasn’t really improved the quality of our food that much, it certainly has its advantages (like decently ripe fruit 12 months out of the year), many of which we’re willing to compromise a bit on taste in order to get. And once (as I hope), we start having to confront the calories (or if you prefer metric, joules) of energy the products we buy cost (as the Brits have begun to do), we may be more willing to make sacrifices in flavor for the good of the planet, just like we often do for the good of our waistline and arteries.

2 Responses to “greening the transportation of ice cream (and others)”

  1. Stu Says:

    That’s why freeze pops are so cheap. And they taste good too!

  2. You make a point always worth reminding ourselves of, Drausin, especially those of us fascinated with the Whole Foods revolution and other “organic” offerings brought to us courtesy of economies of scale. As Michael Pollan describes (way better than I could) in “Omnivore’s Dilemma,” our organic asparagus may be coming from as far away as Argentina, 3,000 miles worth of fossil fuels and transit refrigeration. So, we may convince ourselves that these foods are healthier, but let’s not automatically assume they are greener. A bag full of conventionally-grown Safeway produce (drawing from regional, or at least domestic, farms) might end up wining the eco prize, in terms of overall impact.

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