In the afterglow of COP28, sustainability is still in the spotlight of the news. It sparked a much-needed debate on how sustainable our daily activities are, including the growing, processing, transportation, and consumption of food. However, certain food groups remain outside of the focus of sustainability research.
Meat processing is rightfully in the spotlight of studies on the environmental impact of food products. In fact, people are actively being encouraged to substitute meat in their diets with plant-based alternatives or even simply discard meat from their plates entirely. Yet fruits and vegetables have their own sustainability concerns, including the high use of water for irrigation, and the transportation of the products among other processes in the path of fruits and vegetables from the fields to our tables.
Watermelon has been a student favorite dessert, snack, and even whole dish on the NYUAD campus for quite a while. And while we already have a lot of statistics on the environmental impact of all kinds of activities at the university, the sourcing of the D2 watermelon has never been a part of them. There are quite a few external studies done on the topic, so we can attempt to extrapolate how the consumption of watermelon impacts campus sustainability.
A 2013 study in Northern Iran
shows that the production of rain-fed watermelons produces some amount of greenhouse gasses that may not be too high to be of concern, but the business of growing watermelons is not making decisive steps to completely mitigate its carbon footprint. With only 1.4% of renewables used in the production of watermelons, most of the processes are still powered by fossil fuels. The most surprising aspect and the main contributor to the carbon footprint of watermelons is actually the chemical fertilizers used to keep the produce safe from pests and diseases.
Statistics often do not include watermelon as a great pollutant but still highlight that it is more important to think about sourcing locally than consuming products that have been imported
from far away. Sadly, watermelon is not a product that can be produced globally, since it requires very specific climatic conditions. Top producers in the world
are China, Turkey, and Iran, and the UAE is among the countries with the greatest import quantities.
Coming back to how this impacts NYUAD’s sustainability, it turns out that our geographic location makes watermelon a fairly sustainable choice. Since Iran is a fairly close destination, watermelon sourced from this neighboring (in a sense) country makes the transportation footprint fairly small. If the watermelon producers switch the alternative and organic fertilizers and integrate innovative machinery and technology in the production process, soon enough watermelon might become the most sustainable food item on campus.
Yana Peeva is Senior Columns Editor. Email them at firstname.lastname@example.org.