FM Frequency: Feel Free To Blame Tortilla Chips

By Charles Carpenter
Published in the August 2010 issue of
Today’s Facility Manager

Lately, there seems to be a desire to be able to blame all of our problems elsewhere. Maybe facility managers (fms) could blame their problems on tortilla chips. Similar to six degrees of Kevin Bacon, tortilla chips might make an easier scapegoat than most fms think. Dirt spots on carpets? Sure. Broken furniture and rising energy prices? Why not?!

Tortilla chips used to be plain, followed by the fabric staining nacho cheese flavor. When you look at tortilla chips now, one national brand boasts over 15 flavors. More variety might be good, but it comes at a price when you look at all the embodied energy that comes with a tortilla chip.

For starters, grocery stores have grown cavernous in order to house more varieties of tortilla chips and other products. Vending machines are larger, taking up more facility space. Consumers have felt the need for bigger and bigger houses complete with lots of cabinet space for things like…tortilla chips.

So let’s start the blame game by pointing out that all these larger stores and houses use more electricity, which drives up electricity costs because of higher demand. Larger building footprints also mean larger subdivisions and retail outlets where farmland once stood; meaning our farm products have to travel greater distances to our stores, which raises the cost of food and increases the demand for petroleum…and our facilities follow suit.

What is the principle ingredient in tortilla chips? Corn. Everything seems to revolve around corn these days. Ranchers use corn as feed for cattle. Ethanol demand spiked an interest in corn over more efficient crops like sorghum.

Sustainability solutions have even looked at making biodegradable grocery bags and disposable cups out of corn byproducts. Those suspect tortilla chips might have caused a ripple effect that drives up our prices.

Although the reasons for high gas prices are complicated, the truth is that demand drives price. Transporting our corn and chips greater distances, driving gas guzzling cars that can hold more bags of chips and heftier humans, and plastic bags to hold our bags of chips all contribute to the ever increasing demand for petroleum. This demand has helped drive up energy prices. When you think about it, it is taking more gas to drive tortilla chips to the people and people to the tortilla chips.

Photo: Itstock FreeWhile we are at it, let’s blame the financial crisis on tortilla chips too. Remember those bigger houses with more cabinet space to store tortilla chips? Spending more of their money on food and fuel has left a number of people without money to pay the mortgage on a house that was probably too big and too expensive for them in the first place.

Water issues? Whether shortages or water quality, it must be in the chips.

That ideal farmland has been replaced with facilities and homes, which means farming takes place in less than ideal places. This deficient farmland requires more fertilizers and fresh water. Those fertilizers require more energy to produce. Streams, rivers, and aquifers end up being pushed to their limits by farming activities; furthermore, these water sources are contaminated by the overuse of fertilizers to grow specific cash crops that are necessary in order to keep up with the demand for things like ethanol…and tortilla chips.

Maybe the chips are not so much to blame as their bags. We find ourselves with overflowing landfills that are full of tortilla chip bags that never seem to biodegrade. Examining a bag of chips, you have to wonder if you really need to provide such a big bag. These oversized bags take up more room in trucks coming to the store, on store shelves, and inside peoples’ homes, and push our farms out even more (due to expanding landfills). Maybe there should be a LEED point for eliminating tortilla chips from a facility.

Heavyset employees breaking furniture; the cancellation of “Better Off Ted”; rolling blackouts; climate change….When you connect the dots, instead of a circle, you might just create the shape of a tortilla chip, once you return to where you started.

In the end, it seems as though you really can start blaming tortilla chips for your fm problems. (Just remember to save some Cool Ranch.)

Carpenter is a facility manager in Austin, TX and has been in the profession since 1995.

For past FM Frequency columns, visit this link. To share some of your personal experiences in real time, com to FacilityBlog.