Smooth vanilla soft serve, whipped cream, and shimmering strawberry syrup—all the essentials rolled into one McDonald’s Strawberry Shake. According to the official McDonald’s Menuif you were to recreate this milkshake yourself, all you would have to do is combine this trifecta of ingredients.
So you pull out your blender and pour in your soft serve, drizzle the sparkling red syrup over your vanilla ice cream, press the mix button and top off your milkshake with a swirl of whipped cream. The process takes about two minutes.
However, if you were to really make the McDonald’s strawberry shake from scratch, your afternoon would suddenly become incredibly complicated.
Let’s start with two-thirds of the milkshake recipe, the dairy. To make Whipped Cream or Vanilla Soft Serve you will need to obtain the following: 4 year old cow. Once you have found your cow, you must milk her. After milking your cow, you would need to precisely heat the milk in a large vat 161 degrees Fahrenheit to pasteurize it, then homogenize, filter, spray dry and permeate through a filter before you can even start processing the milk into edible foods.
If you had succeeded in making your soft serve and whipped cream, you would have put a lot of valuable time into the endeavor and are probably in debt investing tens of thousands of dollars in industrial milking equipment Purchase of hormones and antibiotics for your dairy cows.
All of that effort would only cover two of your three essential milkshake ingredients, and now you must acquire all the necessary components to make a single strawberry. Economic and environmental costs are added to the tab of your milkshake. Until 2017the strawberry industry had the ozone-depleting fumigant methyl bromide thanks to economic gains. Without their champion disease killer, manufacturers have resorted to other forms of chemicals drip fumigation. There is an inherent trade-off between economic abundance and environmentally harmful chemicals. And because strawberry production is highly concentrated in California, if McDonald’s has its strawberries shipped to plants in the US for processing, then additional CO2 emissions from long-distance will sour your sweet treat.
At first, the intellectual exercise of extrapolating what it would be like to make a McDonald’s strawberry shake from scratch might seem like nothing more than a supply chain lesson. However, when one counts the myriad steps required to turn a strawberry seedling into McDonald’s strawberry syrup, a disturbing truth about the modern food landscape becomes apparent. Once a relatively straightforward process, modern industrial farming (or “Big Ag”) Has will expensive, wasteful and incoherent.
Since the beginning of the 20th century agrarian idealism has declined rapidly. While maintaining traditional views of farming as the ideal profession is fundamentally inconsistent with a rapidly urbanized World economy completely rejecting agrarianism Cut the average consumer from their food source. Currently, the ratio of food producers to consumers fading steeply while the peasants stay severely underpaid.
As the number of farmers decreases and the food needs of the ever-growing urban population increase, industrial farms are vulnerable to waste of resources. Industrial companies in the world’s most productive agricultural regions are heavily dependent on it intensive watering which quickly exhausts the water supply. Similar, excessive use of chemical fertilizers emphasizes the already limited amount of arable land. In order to produce enough to feed the growing population, industrial farming operations are operated run away the earth’s natural resources at an alarming rate.
So with that global population expected to reach 9.7 billion by 2050 and a estimated 36,889 McDonald’s locations worldwide, it is highly unlikely that there will be enough land, water or fossil fuels to produce McDonald’s strawberry milkshakes at the current rate in the long term.
Faced with the resource demands of a demanding global food economy, agronomists have developed a fascinating technology – vertical farming. Straight out of a sci-fi novel, vertical farms are commercial greenhouses that can be stacked worth 700 hectares of farmland on shelves below LED lighting Produce year-round crops indoors. Waive Toxic fertilizers, over-watering, pesticides, and large patches of soil all have an extreme impact on vertical farming high yield while a low environmental impact. By consolidating a traditional farm into a self-contained indoor environment, vertical farms can directly feed large urban centers.
In the McDonald’s strawberry milkshake thought experiment, a large amount of CO2 was issued to transport strawberries from a fruit delivery company in Michigan to a McDonald’s location in Shenzhen, China. Shenzhen is a suitable place for the hypothetical strawberry shipment as the city is a bastion of foreign and domestic investments. On the list of its ambitious development projects, Shenzhen is the proposed home of a 51 story vertical farm skyscraperor “farm scraper”.
Shenzhen’s Vertical Farmscraper is a wise use of vertical farming technology. The building proposed by Carlo Ratti from MIT’s Senseable City Labwould grow enough crops within its climate-controlled walls to feed itself 40,000 people a year. Located in the heart of metropolitan Shenzhen, the farm scraper would produce 600,000 pounds of food annually without relying on space or arable land. If the Jian Mu Tower Farmscraper were built, the environmental impact of McDonald’s strawberry milkshake would be drastically reduced.
Eight thousand miles from Shenzhen in Jersey City, NJ is another vertical farm with a very different goal. While the Jian Mu Tower aspires to improve food insecurity Using hydroponic technology, Jersey City’s Mugen Farm is the largest vertical indoor strawberry farm for a private company called Oischii.
Founded by the current CEO Hiroki Koga in 2016, Oishii is a strawberry company using its vertical farm to produce strawberries Omakase berry, a strawberry variety from Japan. On its elegant official website, Oishii presents its strawberries as the epitome of ripeness and flavor. The company has a partnership with Whole Foods Marketwhere the berries are commercially available $2.50 per strawberry and were the titled Berry “rich mother”. after he was promoted goopa notorious luxury lifestyle brand.
Oishii serves as an omen for the potentially unethical direction of vertical farming. While Carlo Ratti’s planned Jian Mu Farmscraper aims to expand vertical farming to solve food insecurity, Oishii uses the same technology to create a hyper-curated luxury food. One farm addresses the inequality of the current food landscape, while the other further entrenches inaccessibility.
Compared to the proposed Jian Mu Tower, Oishii’s Mugen Farm is a small operation that fills a niche of luxury strawberries for the elite. Disgusting maybe, but certainly not scary. Though it may seem like Oishii’s mission to deliver $20 boxes of “perfect” strawberries doesn’t have profound consequences, the luxury strawberry brand’s partnership with Whole Foods enforces the same socially entrenched dietary inequalities that the vertical to improve agriculture.
To hear an expert opinion on the Oishii Whole Foods partnership, I spoke up John Vandermeer, an ecologist at the University of Michigan specializing in the intersection of food, energy, and environmental justice. Our conversation confirmed that Oishii’s partnership with Whole Foods helps “Food gentrification‘, a phenomenon in which developers build economically prohibitive grocery stores to attract affluent consumers.
Not only is the omakase berry being sold at an astronomical price, it’s also being sold through a grocery store that has historically crowded out local grocers. If vertical farming was designed to feed more people in urban areas with less environmental impact, Oishii is doing the opposite.
According to Vandermeer, “food gentrification is something that should be politically combated”. Whole Foods’ position as the primary driver of food gentrification is ironic, Vandemeer says, because “the tide of customers flocking to Whole Foods comes from a genuine desire to eat healthier and less polluting.”
Vandermeer adds that behind the pro-environmental and democratizing facade, “trying to be ‘politically neutral’ has led some people to view Whole Foods as a generally positive player and ignore the incredibly destructive socio-economic force that the company has become is.” As partners, Oishii and Whole Foods both work to cloak their elite food practices behind a mask of environmental and social justice.
In my conversation with Vandermeer, he explained that the most environmentally effective method of producing food per hectare is agroecology, or: “A mode of production based on ecological science, traditional knowledge of agriculture, design principles derived from nature itself, and political struggle at the base level.”
By definition, Oishii’s Mugen Farm does not take an agroecological approach like the omakase berry seeds did based grown in the foothills of the Japanese Alps and in Jersey City. And while it’s the far greener and more efficient operation, neither is the Jian Mu Tower. However, despite its imperfections, the proposed Shenzhen Farmscraper is a far more ethical use of vertical farming technology than Oishii.
Vandermeer’s findings on food gentrification and effective farming practices underscore the need for ethical considerations as vertical farming becomes more popular. To address the challenges ahead as industrial agriculture depletes the Earth’s natural resources, vertical farming must increase, not decrease, access to food. When examining two strawberries destined for a McDonald’s strawberry milkshake, I’m picking the 20¢ berry grown at the Shenzhen Farmscraper, not the $2.50 berry recommended by Gwyneth Paltrow.
Avery Crystal is an opinion columnist and can be reached at [email protected]