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Wednesday, March 09, 2011

And your chicken

A post by Michael Bomford at Energy Bulletin goes over the issue of food miles as seen by, presumably, the average locavore. As you can see from this chart:

Where food energy goes chart

food miles are a vanishingly small part of American energy expenditure. Household storage and processing of foods accounts for more than four times as much energy.

If we want to impact energy use by our food choices, the author says, we should perhaps look at the processing and packaging costs. This is a chart of the calories of energy expenditure devoted to food categories, regardless of distance traveled:

 Inverted food pyramid diagram

Cut out the top row, and you'll eat better. And, as it happens, cut out the top row and you'll pump less carbon into the atmosphere. Win-win!

I think this is true as far as it goes. I also think, though, that the article is harder on locavores than it needs to be. Wheat from my local farmer, goes the thinking, yields little energy savings compared to wheat from a distance; we should really only think of the wheat itself in terms of its advantage over Twinkies and Pepsi.

Well, sure. But the locavores I know aren't really perseverating on food miles; they're thinking of encouraging the local farmers to grow something besides grass seed or hybrid poplars. Even if we succeed in doing this, the available farm land in my local county can feed only about nine percent of us (currently we're running about five per cent); so if the world transportation system were to become disrupted, there would be, to put it mildly, problems. There are going to be many things for us to think through; USDA charts are contexted within a framework that's now in danger of shifting into unknown territory.

So I would say, yah, eat low on that inverted pyramid. It's good for you and good for the "planet." But continue cultivating your relationship with your local farmer, your neighbors, your woodstove, your candle, your well, your potatoes, your beans, your squash, your apple trees, and your chicken. There may come a time, and it could be soon, when you will be glad you did.


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