October 15th, 2008 | Published in general
… 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.
It’s an excellent article on the simple premise that the current era factory farming practices must change back to a more balanced system that uses less energy. Pollan covers the topic well, from national security to school nutrition to drug-resistant bacteria strains. It’s a compelling read.
I have a good friend who left the city and career in design work to start an organic farm, and i’ve been a member of his CSA for years now. It’s very satisfying to get food grown by someone i know, and it’s excellent produce too. It’s always a sad day, in the middle of winter, when i realize that the farm vegetables are finally gone and i’m going to have to buy vegetables from the grocery store again.
Being part of a local CSA farm is in some ways a luxury, but it’s also a good direction to be heading in. I’ve been a lot more aware over the last couple of years (before the current labeling guidelines went into affect) of where food comes from, and the total cost of that food. The cheapest food is anything grown in your backyard. For the cost of seed and a few hours of watering and weeding, you have food. Contrast that with a tomato shipped across the country, or the box of cereal that went from field to silo to processor to market and home, using energy at every step of the way.
Minimizing the cost of food is a different quest than spending the least amount of money on food. Rather than dollars per calorie, we really need a scale of food dollars per nutritional unit. The price of my CSA produce is more than buying the same produce at Cub or Target, but i’d bet that the per-pound nutrition value of the CSA produce is higher and therefore more valuable as foodstuff. It sure tastes better. Whether food from organic farms have more nutrients and antioxidants than food raised on artificial fertilizer or not, it’s certain that the organic operation is using less fossil fuel to get the job done.
In a world where the use of energy is increasingly expensive, it’ll be interesting to see how agriculture begins to cope. The organic food movement is looking… dare i say it… downright conservative. A diverse and active community of small farms is going to be the ongoing trend, and if the new administration is smart, they’ll support that trend as a security and health issue as well.