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A weekly dose of nutty history, pop culture, and recipes from Lee Zalben, aka The Peanut Butter Guy.

Why You Should Eat Peanuts on Earth Day

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©iStockphoto.com/Kursad

What does Earth Day have to do with peanuts? Well, there are many ways that eating more peanuts (and peanut butter) can contribute to improving the health of our planet. Here are my top three reasons:

1. Peanuts Are a Vegetarian Source of Protein

We all need protein in our diets—it's a fact of life. Substituting peanuts and peanut butter for animal protein can help save the planet. According to the PB&J Campaign, vegetarian sources of protein (like peanuts and peanut butter) require less natural resources (like land and water) to produce than animal sources of protein.

Raising peanuts also creates fewer greenhouse gases. If you're not ready to go completely vegetarian or vegan, that's OK! How about pledging to forgo that lunchtime hamburger or turkey sandwich just one or two days a week in favor of a tasty PB&J? Imagine the effect if everyone joined in.

2. Peanuts Help Recharge the Soil, Naturally

Some crops that farmers grow, like cotton and corn, deplete the soil of certain nutrients, like nitrogen. Peanuts, a member of the legume family, naturally enrich the soil with nitrogen. Farmers that rotate their cotton and corn crops with peanuts (as first recommended by George Washington Carver) are using peanuts to naturally recharge the soil and can thus use less fertilizer in the future. So support this common sense approach to farming by eating more peanuts and peanut butter!

3. Peanut Farmers Are on the Cutting Edge of Sustainable Farming

There are over 10,000 peanut farmers in the USA. According to the National Peanut Board, every year they collectively invest over a million dollars in research toward increasing the productivity and sustainability of their farms.

According to the latest USDA Agricultural Resource Management Survey (in 2004), peanut farmers in the U.S. reduced their pesticide usage by 13-percent versus five years earlier. In addition, significantly less fertilizer is applied to peanuts compared to corn and cotton, according to the USDA Survey.

USA peanut farmers are also increasingly adopting conservation tillage practices. That same USDA survey shows that 14.7% of the crop was produced in conservation and reduced tillage systems in 2004, up 3.7 fold from 5 years earlier. Today the percentage of the USA peanut crop produced in conservation and reduced tillage systems is estimated at 30%, according to Marshall Lamb, lead researcher for the USDA/Agricultural Research Service/National Peanut Research Laboratory.

The benefits of this trend are increased soil carbon sequestration, which reduces carbon emissions, and increased water-holding capacity in soils, which reduces irrigation requirements.

If you're in New York City on April 22, Peanut Butter & Co. is giving away free peanut planting kits with every purchase of a PB&J at our New York City sandwich shop.

Do you have any food-related plans to honor Earth Day? Will you join me in a PB&J?

About the author: Lee Zalben was a PB&J-loving kid that grew up to be the founder and president of Peanut Butter & Co., which began as a Greenwich Village sandwich shop serving nothing but peanut butter sandwiches and expanded to include the now-famous line of all natural flavored peanut butter. Lee is a graduate of Vassar College and enjoys traveling the world in search of interesting foods made with peanuts, tree nuts, and seeds. When he's not working, eating, flying or writing, he enjoys scuba diving and training elephants.

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