Sunday, September 14, 2008

More on less

I caught the tag end of an interesting interview with Professor David Pimentel (Cornell) on Living on Earth yesterday.

While driving home from the garden I learned that a 12 oz can of diet soda, which contributes 1 calorie of food energy to one's body, requires 2200 calories of energy to get to you. Specifically, it takes 600 calories to produce, and 1600 calories to put it in the aluminum can.

Pimentel and his colleagues have been coming up with figures like this for a number of the foods on our plates. He suggests that we could reduce the amount of oil that goes into our food system - about 500 gallons per person per year - and thus reduce what our food system contributes to greenhouse gases - by changing our habits. 50% - think about it. That may be the biggest prediction of possible change I've heard yet.

But think about it - while we can make changes as individuals, we also need to somehow make these changes in concert - by exerting real pressure on agribusiness and industrial food production and marketing. Just because I stop buying diet sodas doesn't mean they don't still take up half an aisle in most markets I visit. Just because I buy my pears from the grower doesn't mean the specials on pears shipped from hundreds of miles away that never ripen quite right will stop.

I also have been thinking - the diet soda example inspired me - that the American way of reducing diets probably increases the energy expenditure per calorie. Whether it's the prepared meals of some plans, or the pressure to eat out of season foods because they are diet foods, or the meat laden high protein diets - these strategies that reduce calorie consumption have got to increase planetary cost per food calorie.

And then there's the question of how we make the case for reform in our congregations. Shunning meat a few days a week and eating seasonally just isn't as sexy as buying a prius or maybe even changing the light bulbs. Maybe because it isn't a technological solution, but a set of choices must closer to our hearts, technically and metaphorically. People get emotional about their cars, not so much about their light bulbs - but less emotional about both, I'm thinking, than their mother's meatloaf (pro or con), their glass of milk or macaroni and cheese, their right to eat the foods they like most every week of the year. So - continuing to muse - shouldn't we in the religion business be able to touch those emotions somehow, to reshape attitudes and practices around our participation in our food systems?

Some things to do:

Work toward cutting the total amount of meat, dairy and eggs in our diets by 2/3. That's 2/3 of the average American consumption now. (And, yes, I recognize that there is room for some cuts in even my diet, without going totally vegan, by reducing my consumption of cheese and ice cream.)

And cut the amount of waste in our food purchases - both in overbuying and in reducing the number of shopping trips powered by fossil fuels.

Next I want to know if in Pimentel's team's interdisciplinary work they have compared the energy costs of methods of food preservation. As I've suggested before, I think freezing is probably the most energy greedy, but need to do some more searching for data.

You can read or listen to the interview which inspired this post here:

1 comment:

John Leech said...

Obviously this is not the Dave Pimentel who drives a hay truck for Barlas Feed in Petaluma.

Friends connect community 'pea patch' gardens with promoting the passing along of home arts (canning, quilting) as well as traditional wood arts (as at Blue Ox Millworks, Eureka) and traditional music and cultural heritage (broadening music festivals out into cultural heritage events).