Friday, May 04, 2007

Oily Food

I received the latest Barbara Kingsolver book yesterday Animal, Vegetable, Miracle and have already jumped in. Just from the first few pages I can see that it will be as enjoyable as her other books. This book is written in collaboration with her scientist husband Steven Hopp and her daughter Camille. Steven contributes little sections of science for the book and the first one is called "Oily Food". When I come across a really interesting one I will scan it and share with you.

Here is Oily Food by Steve Hopp
Americans put almost as much fossil fuel into our refrigerators as our cars. We’re consuming about 400 gallons of oil a year per citizen—about 17 percent of our nation’s energy use—for agriculture, a close second to our vehicular use. Tractors, combines, harvesters, irrigation, sprayers, tillers, balers, and other equipment all use petroleum. Even bigger gas guzzlers on the farm are not the machines, but so-called inputs. Synthetic fertilizers, pesticides, and herbicides use oil and natural gas as their starting materials, and in their manufacturing. More than a quarter of all farming energy goes into synthetic fertilizers.

But getting the crop from seed to harvest takes only one-fifth of the total oil used for our food. The lion’s share is consumed during the trip from the farm to your plate. Each food item in a typical U.S. meal has traveled an average of 1,500 miles. In addition to direct transport, other fuel-thirsty steps include processing (drying, milling, cutting, sorting, baking), packaging, warehousing, and refrigeration. Energy calories consumed by production, packaging, and shipping far outweigh the energy calories we receive from the food.

A quick way to improve food-related fuel economy would be to buy a quart of motor oil and drink it More palatable options are available. If every U.S. citizen ate just one meal a week (any meal) composed of locally and organically raised meats and produce, we would reduce our country’s oil consumption by over 1.1 million barrels of oil every week. That’s not gallons, but barrels. Small changes in buying habits can make big differences. Becoming a less energy-dependent nation may just need to start with a good breakfast.
The highlighting is mine. That is really a lot of energy that could be potentially saved. I know it is not practical or even possible for everyone to acquire locally produced food but if we just keep some of these facts in the backs of our minds when we go to our local market we might just opt for the slightly more expensive or even the slightly less attractive locally produced or organic choice instead of the one that has been trucked across the country or flown in from across the world. We might select the fresh loose green beans instead of the convenient frozen ones.

Individually these kinds of decisions aren't a big thing but collectively they can amount to something. It is worth thinking about and while I knew there was a lot of energy consumed in our vast food distribution network I am a little surprised at the magnitude.

Also don't forget the other big plus to buying locally and organically. Every time you chose the less energy intensive way to eat it is like yelling "Fuck You!" at Dick Cheney, George Bush and all their fossil fuel cronies. Isn't that worth something?

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