Thursday, August 28, 2008

Oily Food

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, by 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 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.

Sidebar by Steven L. Hopp from Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver.

5 comments:

Maria said...

I LOVED Kingsolver's book, especially her tips on heirloom tomatoes. I will grow no others now.

And I live with a health nut. My innards are about as clean as a whistle...

Eric said...

Yes, it's been a very enjoyable read. Taking a break from it for a while to read The World Without Us.
Actually, taking a break from that too 'cause Labor Day weekend sucks my will to live...

-Sarah- said...

This hits close to home as I read this while choking down my pre-packaged, pre-flavored oatmeal. I'm inspired to by some real oats next time...

Fenix39 said...

Ever read Michael Pollan’s book The Omnivores Dilemma, or Chris Carlsson’s book Nowtopia?

Eric said...

Hi fenix,

I started Botany of Desire, but haven't finished it yet. I do have Omnivore's Dilemma though and hope to get to it soon.