Sonima asks Dr. Kantor about “not so eco friendly health foods”

“A Peak into Non-Eco Friendly “Health Foods”
Dr. Keith Kantor

Sonima- A Peak into Non-Eco Friendly “Health Foods”

Dr. Keith Kantor


Grabbing a handful of raw almonds, eating a side of steamed broccoli, having Greek yogurt as a snack or getting a cup of coffee may seem harmless but in fact these healthy foods do have eco friendly side effects. Typically starting with the farming practices. Sustainable farming practices are optimal.  Livestock farming with a small farm pasture based livestock produces the healthiest meat and is most beneficial to the environment.  Sustainable crop farming using multi cropping practices, minimal or no non- natural pesticide use and an intense focus in soil integrity and health will yield the most nutrient rich produce, while keeping communities safe and farmers healthy.  Sustainable farming is only realistic if we slow down and the demand for convenient foods is eliminated. Fast food is the root of industrial farming, as soon as the demand goes away, so will all of the food waste and unhealthy production practices.  The reality is, we have become too accustomed to having food at our finger tips, sustainable farming is almost a luxury or only available to those who are educated and wealthy enough to afford it.   


Here is a list of healthy foods with both pros and cons due to the demands of industrial farming.


Almonds– both non and eco-friendly.  Aside from consuming almonds raw, in milk and as a nut butter, the shell is also used as a biodegradable polymer in color pigmentation and when concentrated, in the manufacturing of furniture and toys.  Creating a completely new market for agricultural waste products.  The eco-unfriendly problem with almonds is they are grown in the driest areas of California yet, they require copious amounts of water.  A recent UC-Davis study estimated that in the 2014 almond growing season, pumped-up groundwater will replace as much as 75 percent of the surface water that went missing due to the drought.  This is an immediate problem but with a booming agricultural almond industry, the excessive water needed to crop almonds is going to create even larger concerns in the mega-drought areas of California.  State legislation has recently passed a bill that will require deeper regulation on groundwater consumption but the deadline is not for six years, it is simply a baby step in the right direction.


Coffee: According to the Natural Resources Defense Council, the process of separating the seeds of the coffee cherry, or the beans, from the fruit generates enormous volumes of pulp, and the waste finds its way into local water sources, causing profound environmental impacts from pollution. Innovators have tried to make use of the 17 billion pounds of coffee cherries thrown away every year, including turning them into biofuels or building materials, which have not been that successful. The Director(s) of technical services at Starbucks have been working on a coffee waste solution, Coffee Flour is the chestnut-hued, gluten-free flour milled from dried cherry pulp. By intercepting the coffee waste before it reaches water supply it will improve environment along with providing stable jobs for the local population.


Greek yogurt is driven by a huge increase in consumer demand, it has grown to a $2 billion a year industry. Most consumers are unaware of the manufacturing process is creating an ecological disaster. To produce 1 ounce of Greek yogurt 3-4 ounces of milk is used and the excess ounces of milk that is left behind is so acidic that it is considered toxic by many experts. It is illegal for this liquid to be dumped in the environment due to the damage it may cause to natural habitat. When this acidic liquid is released into the waterways it decreases the oxygen level in the water killing fish and other wildlife. The increase in industrialized dairy farms also increases pollution.



Broccoli- both non and eco-friendly. Why spray your crops with environmentally destructive pesticides when the plants can defend themselves? Like other members of the cabbage family, broccoli produces compounds related to a class of industrial pesticides. An isothiocyanate is the chemical group contained in a number of phytochemicals found in cruciferous vegetables, such as broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage and Brussels sprouts. While toxic in large quantities, there is quite a bit of evidence that isothiocyanates have anti-cancer properties at the concentrations found in foods. Some isothiocyanates are also used industrially and in agriculture to control pests and diseases. Don’t worry, though: broccoli’s pest defenses are 100% natural. This means farmers can grow broccoli without the need for excess chemicals.

The non ecofriendly problem with broccoli is that is also consumes a lot of water (5.4 gallons). Since most broccoli comes from California this will add to the severe water shortage.


High-fructose corn syrup, not disguised as a “health food” but worth mentioning. High fructose corn syrup, which is found in most processed sweets, drinks, and even yogurt is one of the most environmentally damaging ingredients for a variety of reasons. Firstly, corn is grown as a “monoculture”, meaning the land is used only for corn and not rotated, which depletes soil nutrients, contributes to erosion and requires more pesticides and fertilizer, especially over a long time. The use of such chemicals contributes to problems like the “Gulf of Mexico dead zone”, a hyper-toxic area of the ocean where nothing can live because the water is starved of oxygen.  Atrazine, a common herbicide used on corn crops, has been shown to turn male frogs into hermaphrodites. Milling and chemically altering corn to produce high-fructose corn syrup is also an energy-intensive practice.


Olive oil has an environmental impact of processing wastes. Olive oil is popular for both the health benefits and the culinary taste benefits. Currently, there are two processes that are used for the extraction of olive oil, the three-phase and the two-phase. Both systems generate large amounts of byproducts.  The two byproducts  produced by the three-phase system are a solid residue known as olive press cake (OPC) and large amounts of aqueous liquid known as olive-mill wastewater (OMW).  The three-phase process usually yields 20% olive oil, 30% OPC waste, and 50% OMW.  This equates to 80% more waste being produced than actual product.

More contemporary is the two-phase system, in this system “the volume of OMW produced is reduced because less water is used and much of that water and toxic substances are held within the solid olive cake, thus producing a semi-solid residue (SOR).” While the two-phase system produces less OMW, the SOR it produces has a “high organic matter concentration giving an elevated polluting load and it cannot be easily handled by traditional technology which deals with the conventional three-phase olive cake.”

Regardless of system used, the effluents produced from olive oil production exhibit highly phytotoxic and antimicrobial properties, mainly due to phenols.  Phenols are a poisonous caustic crystalline compound.  These effluents unless disposed of properly can result in serious environmental damage.  Troublingly, there is no general policy for disposal of this waste in the olive oil producing nations around the world.  This results in inconsistent monitoring and non-uniform application of guidelines across these regions.

In order to properly dispose of the olive oil harmful waste it needs to be properly detoxified which can be expensive for the countries it is produced in. When it is disposed without detoxification it contaminates rain water resulting in contamination of drinking water, which is very dangerous to human health.


Clementine has become a popular fruit in the past few years, possibly contributed to their size, being seedless and easy to peel. Unfortunately this genetically modified fruit has been linked back to being treated from toxic wastewater from California oil companies. The State Water Resources Control Board requires periodic testing of oilfield water that is used for irrigation but has not set limits for many contaminants. Recent tests of irrigation water supplied by Chevron, for instance, turned up benzene, a carcinogen, at higher concentrations than what is allowed in California drinking water.