Eating Fuel

My last post talked about how to use less gas, which had a link to an article that had a lot of tips, but it forgot to mention one important thing and that was food.

I read a book not that long ago called Animal, Vegetable Miracle about a family who gardened and tried to live local for a year. The following information/numbers I received from that book.

One thing that most people don’t consider when they calculate their gas consumption is their food. Four hundred gallons per citizen in one year goes toward agriculture. That’s a hefty 17 percent. Tractors, combines, harvesters, irrigations, sprayers, tillers, balers and other petroleum ticks are all taken into account for this calculation. Synthetic fertilizers are also petroleum based.

And considering all of that, the growing process only takes one-fifth of that 400 gallons.

The average meal, consisting of only food grown in America, travels over 1,500 miles. This number doesn’t include the energy consumed drying, cutting, sorting, baking, packaging (plastic is a petroleum product) warehousing and refrigeration.

The energy that we actually get from these foods is a far cry from the energy that it took to actually get it to our plates.

If you don’t think just drinking straight gas would be a good solution then I have a proposition. If every U.S. citizen ate just one meal a week 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.

There are many arguments against local food systems. One is that we are helping to support third world countries. Who is giving these arguments? It certainly isn’t the farmers from those countries, but those humble, kind, loving, innocent, caring CEO from those loving, do good, multi-billion/million dollar corporations that are known for the money they donate to charities. Developed nations promote domestic overproduction of commodity crops that are sold on the international market at well below market value, weakening those fragile economies. This drives farmers to get a job, decreasing agricultural output of that country, which forces them to end up buying those same commodity crops that put them in that position. They will no longer be farm owners, but will become farm laborers. Not to mention the miles of deforestation that will occur. These countries will now be poorer and will own less giving corporations the muscle to do the dirty work in the poorest conditions; environmental policies and human rights out the window.

What does exporting and importing really accomplish anyway? The U.S. exports 1.1 million pounds of potatoes, but it imports 1.4 million pounds of potatoes!!!! What kind of logic is that?!

At first glance, industrial/unhealthy/processed food seems cheaper than organic/healthy/unprocessed food. But we pay for it and not just in health or environmental ways, but in the pocket book, in taxes. Twenty-two billion dollars in taxes are paid for the agricultural fuel, $3 billion for the farm bill, which goes to corporations and not small farms, $10 billion for food related illnesses, $17 billion in chemical clean-up costs (I don’t even want to know how much we paid for the oil spill clean-up), $8 billion for collateral costs of pesticide use, and last, but not least, $20 billion in nutrients lost in soil erosion. That is $80 billion in subsidies, approximately $725 per household not including the price of our ‘cheap’ food.

Organic practices build the soil using manure and cover crops, eliminate herbicides and pesticides by using biological pest controls. Not to mention true organic farms use less packaging and distribute closer to their farms. In Oklahoma we don’t even have to pay tax for food that was sold on the same farm that it was grown.

So, how can we buy food with less gas?

Become a locavore. Like I mentioned earlier, if every family in America ate one local meal a week (food made within 100 miles) then we could save 1.1 million gallons of gas. If this isn’t possible then start as close as you can and work your way out. Check the Community Supported Agriculture site and check for co-ops in your area. Farmer’s Markets are also a great place to find local food.

The Eat Well Guide is also a great site to help find local food from farms, restaurants, CSAs and more.

Gardening is probably the most gas efficient thing you can do. If done right, it doesn’t take any pesticides, fertilizers or gasoline to grow your own food. If you don’t have enough space, community gardens are a great alternative.

If neither of those things are options, then eating seasonally is the next best option. When we eat out of season foods, we are eating foods that have been shipped thousands of miles because they’re coming from places with different climates. These foods are often processed to keep them from going bad on the ride. They’re not as fresh and have lost much of the nutrients on the car ride. If nothing else, when that particular food you can’t give up is in season, make sure you buy it local instead of buying the same food from 3000 miles away.


2 responses to “Eating Fuel

  1. Thanks for this post. I never thought of it this way before… Growing food in your back yard is the obvious, simple answer. Perhaps we will all go back to that, one day. 🙂

    • That would be nice. Or at least back to respecting our farmers, especially the local ones. If we could get our food industry straightened out, I think we could solve a lot of our other problems. Thanks for the comment!

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