After cars, the food system uses more fossil fuel than any other sector of the economy — 19 percent. And while the experts disagree about the exact amount, the way we feed ourselves contributes more greenhouse gases to the atmosphere than anything else we do — as much as 37 percent, according to one study. Whenever farmers clear land for crops and till the soil, large quantities of carbon are released into the air. But the 20th-century industrialization of agriculture has increased the amount of greenhouse gases emitted by the food system by an order of magnitude; chemical fertilizers (made from natural gas), pesticides (made from petroleum), farm machinery, modern food processing and packaging and transportation have together transformed a system that in 1940 produced 2.3 calories of food energy for every calorie of fossil-fuel energy it used into one that now takes 10 calories of fossil-fuel energy to produce a single calorie of modern supermarket food. Put another way, when we eat from the industrial-food system, we are eating oil and spewing greenhouse gases. (My emphasis)
Just spent an hour in the garden gathering my very last tomatoes, zuccini and green beans of the season. (Yes, it is November but remember this is Los Angeles!)
Our gardening efforts over the past few years have been a great learning experience–about seasons, soil and our particular micro-climate. Now I see it all as just a warmup to some major changes I hope to make, probably starting with the new year.
I am being re-educated and inspired by a book loaned to me by my daughter and son-in-law (and I actually think it originally came from his dad.) The book is Animal, Vegetable, Miracle written by novelist Barbara Kingsolver and members of her family. It is their story of trying to eat only or mostly their own home-grown food and/or food available from others living locally. The story is inspiring because it forces you to think about eating seasonally–meaning creating meals based on what is growing now–mixed in with whatever you or others have been able to preserve. This was a wake-up call to me; as you know I have been a hippie/sustainability nut for a long time but somehow I remained perverted by the complete access to a variety of food available at my trusty Von’s and Trader Joe’s.
My first step has been to become aware of the origin of my purchases. For instance, that sale on those beatiful fat asparagus spears in August is a dead giveaway of a Chilean import-check the label. This is not just an issue of food health. Whether those spears were organic or not, they entailed the expenditure of an enormous amount of oil. As food writer Michael Pollan says:
I urge you to read more about what Pollan has to say if you are interested in this subject. His New York Times article “Farmer in Chief” is excellent. He tries to educate the next president in what we need to do with regard to food policy in this country, something rarely discussed.
If you start exposing yourself to these ideas it won’t be long before you start thinking there could be some radical changes ahead. And if a long term energy crisis comes our way these changes in purchases and eating habits could become not just the actions of some purists but de rigueur!! The key point here is that food policy is intricately intertwined with global climate change, energy policy and national security!
There is much to learn about this way of approaching our family food production. I found this video that is in the same vein as Kingsolver’s book, a little less radical, but also requiring a lot of work. Scott is a landscaper so he spends his days with his hands in the soil. His connection with nature is deep and his acquired wisdom is strong but so simple.
Think about the food you eat and where it comes from. It’s not just about organic!