Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Environmental Guilt

I like shrimp.  They taste so good.  As a kid, it was a real treat to go into San Francisco and eat a shrimp cocktail at Fisherman's Wharf.  Shrimp and I have history.

Shrimp Cocktail @ Fisherman's Wharf, San Francisco, CA
Photo Source
But shrimp farming is destroying mangrove forests in Latin America and Asia.  And I'm an environmental engineer- one who loves wetlands!

What is the carbon footprint of my little shrimp cocktail, you ask? Well let's go through the science a bit...  The soils that are under water in a mangrove forest (or other wetlands) hold much more carbon than most terrestrial habitats because of all the organic material (like dead leaves and other once-living stuff) that can hang out under the water and the mangrove roots without drying up.  (Organic material = lots of carbon).

A mangrove forest - check out that root system! Photo Source
To farm shrimp in these areas, the mangroves have to be removed and the soils have to be dug out to create deeper ponds.  Then since it is no longer under water, the soil oxidizes and releases all that carbon it was storing.  So if you do the calculations (or let them do it for you here: The Carbon Footprint of a Shrimp Cocktail) one little cup of shrimp has a carbon footprint of 198 kilograms of carbon dioxide, the same as using about 24 gallons of gas, or 10 times the footprint of beef grown in the deforested Amazon! That's just so insane!  But if I'm eating shrimp, it's kind of my fault, right?

So now I find myself in Thai restaurants ordering my pad thai without shrimp, which makes me sad.  And I haven't been to Fisherman's Wharf for a shrimp cocktail since I learned all this.  But I still occasionally steal shrimp off a friend's plate when they aren't looking.  Does that make me a horrible person?

Photo Source
I have other environmental guilts as well.  I like hamburgers, and steak, and bacon even though I know eating meat is a much less environmentally efficient way to eat.  I've cut back some, over the years, but I still feel bad about (yet keep eating) those delicious bacon cheeseburgers.

Not that this is at all a current issue in my life, but I've also always imagined myself having a big family- maybe four kids?  But I'm not sure I can justify bringing more than two people into the world with the carbon footprints my kids would likely have growing up in America.  Not to mention that the world probably already has too many people for the environment to sustain us as it is.

Photo Source

So what do I do?  Well, for now, I stop eating shrimp, and I talk to people who don't know about the impacts of shrimp farming (no guilt, just information).  I've also cut back on the amount of meat I eat, but I haven't totally eliminated it (seeing as my last post had pepperoni in it...)  And as to future kids?  Well, I think that decision is quite a ways off still. :)    

Do you have environmental guilt?  How do you handle it?


  1. no guilt....none...absolutly none..

  2. kellie likes to call the people that make you feel guilty "vegan snobs" like they do it more to say they do it than to help the environment...

  3. yay wetlands and mangroves! :) Yeah I try not to eat meat or dairy as much as possible for environmental reasons, but I also think its good to stay reasonable so as not to ward off friendly people :p It's all in the balance.