Beets, Broccoli, and Bikes

By Frances Einterz, Big Red Eats Green Fall Festival Intern

While admiring the kaleidoscope of produce at the stalls of the Bloomington farmer’s market, I find it easy to identify the exact travel distance of the beets and broccoli I will be morphing into this evening’s dinner. However, as I mount my bicycle, which was recently repaired for free at the Bloomington Bike Project, it occurs to me that I cannot similarly identify the origins of my bike. I recognize that perhaps I am part of a hypocritical farce in which I haughtily minimize food miles without applying similar consideration to other products I buy. I am an omnivore with a consumer’s dilemma.

Putting aside the broccoli and beets, I decide to mentally disassemble my bike. I am a recent and proud convert to the commuter cyclist lifestyle, but I question how “green” is the physical production of my bike? Bloomington plays host to at least ten local bike stores, but it seems doubtful that the bikes they sell are made in the U.S., much less in Indiana. For training, I ride a Cannondale, and using I learn that the Cannondale road bike is made of rubber from Venezuela, aluminum from Kentucky, and cardboard from Virginia. The carbon fiber frame travels roughly 8000 miles from China before landing in Bedford, PA where its final assembly takes place.

In 2009, Cannondale was one of the few bikes still made in the United States until, in 2010, its mother company, Dorel industries, moved all of its aluminum frame production to Taichun, Tawain and closed all but one of its factories in the United States. It is estimated that one bike’s production emits about 530 lbs of greenhouse gases, but after 400 miles of bike rides, the bike pays off its carbon emission debt.

There is no question that a bike as means of transportation is better than a car, starting with the fact that a car’s  production uses ten times more energy, not to mention the more obvious gas-guzzling feature of a motor vehicle.  What should be apparent from this small investigation are the greener consequences of supporting organizations such as the Bike Project.  The Bike Project is a heavenly junkyard filled with angelic bike mechanics that replace the broken rim of my Schwinn mountain bike, simultaneously redeeming old bike parts and saving my wallet. Here, the fiscally disadvantaged and bike-less souls have the chance to build themselves a bike from the remnants of other unwanted cast-offs. Just as importantly, the Bike Project prevents the build-up of waste by taking in old bikes from the streets and stalls the superfluous production of more bikes or bike anatomy, that would otherwise be spewing emissions as parts are manufactured, assembled, and then shipped halfway across the world.

I now return to my beets, roasting in the oven and turning my hands pink, and am comforted to know I can identify their origin as the farm ten miles away if you just follow Vernal Pike. But I also know that shopping for clothes from goodwill, for bike parts from the bike project, and for furniture from the Hoosier to Hoosier sale takes on a whole new meaning. As I take the beets out of the oven their sweet smell fills the apartment, and I can’t help but wonder about the carbon footprint of the production of my oven.


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