• Bernard Brown says making a peanut butter and jelly (or PB and fruit) sandwich is better for the environment than eating a burger or chicken nuggets. (Photo by Jennifer Szweda Jordan)

What could be more American, more humble, than a peanut butter and jelly
sandwich? And yet one activist suggests a PB and J a day could help slow
global warming. Jennifer Szweda Jordan recently visited the founder of the
PB and J Campaign:


What could be more American, more humble, than a peanut butter and jelly
sandwich? And yet one activist suggests a PB and J a day could help slow
global warming. Jennifer Szweda Jordan recently visited the founder of the
PB and J Campaign:

(Brown:) “So we just spread some peanut butter on your banana bread.
Would you like to try it?”

(Jordan:) “Yeah. Yeah.”

Bernard Brown is trying to get people to see the peanut butter and jelly
sandwich in a new light. On his website, there’s a saintly glow behind a
graphic of the sandwich. He thinks eating a peanut butter and jelly sandwich
could just save the planet.

Brown estimates that eating one peanut butter and jelly sandwich for lunch
versus, say, a ham sandwich, or a burger, saves nearly three and a half
pounds of greenhouse gas emissions and 280 gallons of water. In Brown’s
kitchen, he waves a peanut butter covered knife. He explains why he’s using
this comfort food to change the world:

(Jordan:) “Why peanut butter and jelly? Like it’s a pretty processed, highly
processed kind of…”

(Brown:) “Yeah, it’s because it’s the most familiar food I could think of that
didn’t have, that was sort of purely plant-based and wasn’t animal-based at
all. It’s one of these things like people might be scared by words like vegan
or vegetarian. But there’s absolutely nothing alternative about peanut butter
and jelly.”

What’s more, some experts suggest Brown’s not, well, nuts. A Princeton
bioethicist says if 100 million Americans – that’s one of three of us – traded a
burger for a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, it would make an impact on
the environment. And if we made the same choice three times a week, it
would make a huge impact.

Those who worry that Brown’s dietary suggestions might make a huge impact on the
waistline, take heart. A serving of two tablespoons of peanut butter does have nearly 200
calories and 16 grams of fat. But the fat is not the worrisome saturated type and there’s
some evidence that eating a small amount of nuts each day might reduce the risk of heart
disease, and even prevent cancer.

Of course, Brown and nutritionists still suggest partnering a low-sugar peanut butter with
whole grain breads, and low-sugar jellies, or even fresh fruit. And Brown hopes people
consider moving beyond the peanut butter and jelly:

“On the website, we go into other different, other foods people could try – a
bean burrito’s a good example. Black bean soup. Falafel. We even tried
mentioning tofu. I’m not sure if it scares people away.”

Brown really wants to win over people by keeping the campaign from
becoming a crusade. He says that even a vegetarian like him is turned off by
overly radical, moralistic or bloody efforts against meat-eating, or for saving
the world:

“I think have a lot of messages that, ‘Things are very scary, you must change
your life.’ And so, it’s to try to come in with a softer approach, I think. The
ideal is to reach people who aren’t reached with more intense messages.”

Brown hopes to disarm you with playfulness. And what could be more playful than
playing with your food – turning peanut butter and jelly sandwiches into

(Sound of fast typing)

On a laptop computer, Brown calls up a slide show he’s made of a
gingerbread-style cutout couple, peanut butter and jelly boy and girl. They’re
making a snowman and chatting. When PBJ boy gets a little sad, his
companion wonders why:

“He’s concerned that maybe global warming will mean there won’t be
conditions for making snowmen in the future.”

(Jordan:) “Can you read this one? They’re very sophisticated?”

(Brown:) “PBJ Girl says, ‘Well, anthropogenic climate change is a serious
problem. It should only affect the climate gradually. I’m positive we’ll able
to build a snowman next year.’ And then PBJ boy says, ‘Well, I guess that
makes me feel better, but what if our grandkids never see snow?'”

The girl says if we reduce greenhouse gas emissions, it might stay snowy in
the winter. Then she backs up Brown’s claim that it’s easy enough to do: just
have a sandwich that looks a lot like her and visit the pbjcampaign.org

PBJ boy and girl are just the beginning.

(Sound of jingling cookie cutters)

Brown has a jar full of more cookie cutters like those he used to make the
boy and girl. He figures a wider variety of peanut butter and jelly creatures
could act in slide shows and carry out other environmental messages.

Brown’s not just limiting his work to online skits. He’s also trying to build a
calculator into his site so visitors can register the number of peanut butter
and jelly sandwiches they’ve eaten. Then he can track the impact. No
matter what, though, Brown plans for the campaign to remain light, fun, and
easy to swallow.

For the Environment Report, this is Jennifer Szweda Jordan.

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