Energy Diet

The Case of the Kinder Bueno Bar

I had a certain smugness as I sat down to write this post, where I was required to calculate my water, electricity, natural gas and gasoline usage over a year.

Water I can’t estimate because water in Kosovo isn’t metered (that is, of course, a problem in itself: If everyone pays a flat rate for water, there isn’t much incentive to save). Natural gas isn’t available piped in Kosovo, and we don’t have a car (though we do have the use of a work vehicle from Rob’s job if we need it). Treading lightly, I congratulated myself, and added up the electricity bills for our household (two people) for the past year, which total 14,124 kilowatt hours, which seems reasonable.

As I went through my day, I tried to monitor the choices I was making, the things I spent money on, and the way I was living in my environment, in the hope of finding something I could use as a quantifiable measure of success in reducing my energy consumption over the next couple of months. Perhaps I wasn’t quite relaxing into some of those natural bad habits, but I felt impeccable.

This morning, feeling the eye of National Geographic on me, I mindfully turned off my music while the hoover was going because I couldn’t hear it so it was a waste of battery and power; I did something I’ve never done before and told the shopkeeper of the minimarket by our school not to use a plastic bag to weigh the kids’ morning fruit, but reused an old cardboard box; I put up an exhibition about reducing waste.

Impeccable — until the 5pm munchies hit. On my way to a meeting in downtown Pristina, I passed a minimarket logged on my mental map of energy bursts in town, because in this shop they sell my most relished guilty pleasure: a Kinder Bueno bar.

There are lots of reasons to feel that guilt about a Kinder Bueno bar, even leaving aside the question of the empty calories and sugars that I consume in eating it. I’m more worried about the calories represented in getting this unnecessary product to my mouth. The bars are imported — not just the final product, but inevitably the cocoa products from which they’re made have travelled to be assembled in France, and from there it’s made its way, burning fuel with every mile, to me in Kosovo. It’s amazing it tastes so good — you would think I would have an aftertaste of petrol with each one of those hazelnut creamy bites.

And not only is it imported, but it is so extravagantly packaged. It comes in a plasticised foil wrapper (think non-renewable resource) as two sticks of chocolate and hazelnut wafer. And each of those sticks is also packaged in plastic. I should be choking on it, like the landfill it will soon clog.

There is no good reason to buy this chocolate bar. I could buy one of the beautifully shiny apples at the front of the shop, which I piously enquire about the provenance of (Turkey) or the excellent local cherries in sweet seasonal profusion in the next cardboard box along, or even some Kosovo-produced chocolate. But it’s the Kinder Bueno bar which gives me my 5pm pick-me-up.

And this isn’t the first time. They were on sale for 3-for-the-price-of-2 at the weekend and I bought and ate all three. The bars are becoming a habit I think I need to stop. I remember reading Barbara Kingsolver’s excellent Animal, Vegetable, Miracle account of trying to eat local for a year. For her, the biggest challenge was losing bananas. The Kinder Bueno bar is my banana.

So I’m going to count how many times I fall in the next eight weeks. And no cheating — I can’t just switch to some other, similarly imported, similarly over-packaged product. The Kinder Bueno is representative of an eating and shopping habit I want to change and I’ll let you know how I do. Thank goodness it’s the season of locally grown cherries.

Comments

  1. Christina Nunez
    May 31, 2011, 9:58 pm

    Entertaining post! I shouldn’t say this, but after all that, it seems kind of like you earned a Kinder Bueno bar.

  2. Peter D Richards
    United States
    June 2, 2011, 9:06 pm

    The Bueno Bar can take the place of gelatto or desert (or dinner) when everything else is closed or not available. It’s a piece of paradise in your mouth. That crunchy, creamy delicious wonder is a party for your brain 🙂

  3. Rebecca Jones
    June 3, 2011, 8:22 am

    Give yourself a break, even Ms.Kingsolver gave everyone in her family one cheater food. But if you must do penance look at these: http://www.chrisjordan.com/gallery/midway/#CF000313%2018×24

    I can’t go through them again, they are too haunting for me…but it DID get me to modify my plastic usage so mission accomplished Christopher.

  4. Elizabeth
    June 4, 2011, 3:35 am

    Thanks so much for the link to those extraordinary photos, Rebecca. I’ve just tweeted them, posted them to Facebook and added them to the Facebook group I set up (now nearly 2000 members strong) for ‘Say NO to plastic bags’ in Kosovo. (http://www.facebook.com/home.php#!/group.php?gid=106970309342860) Tomorrow we have a campaign against plastic bags for World Environment Day and these images have really inspired me. They’ll stay with me for a long time.

  5. Chad Lipton
    June 10, 2011, 10:39 am

    Elizabeth–I’ve already commented about this issue in Vanessa’s post, but wanted to share the same sentiment here about food miles.

    It is important to avoid thinking that food miles are the ONLY indicator of carbon footprint. The Kinder Bueno bar or bananas may indeed have a high footprint, however I want to caution against using food miles as the only or primary measure. Food miles do not account for mode of transport, method of production, packaging or other factors. Sea transport has significantly lower emissions than air or road. Products shipped by sea often have a lower footprint than local products transported by trucks.

    One widely used example compares flowers made in Kenya versus the Netherlands. The destination is the UK. Flowers produced in the Netherlands are grown inside and under heat lamps, which is very energy intensive. Taking into consideration both the mode of transport and method of production, flowers produced in Kenya have roughly one-fifth the carbon footprint as flowers grown in the Netherlands.

    Here is a useful article: http://www.panciuc.ro/food-miles-vs-carbon-footprint/