Oiling Our Food?
Written by Robyn O’Brien
Who knew that oil was so pervasive in our food supply?
But in light of rising fuel prices which are impacting everyone from families to farmers and a report out of the UN that highlights the role that industrial agriculture and its oil-based inputs like chemical fertilizers and pesticides have to do with climate change, it is important to realize exactly that…how dependent our food supply is on oil.
As a matter of fact, every 24 hours, the US spends $1 billion on imported oil, with food production accounting for 10-17% of our energy consumption.
As prices continue to rise at the pump, it is becoming more poignant than ever to also remember that our agricultural system and means of food production in the US is dependent on fossil fuel.
Conventional food production and distribution requires a tremendous amount of energy—one study conducted in 2000 estimated that at least ten percent of the energy used annually in the United States was consumed by the food industry. As highlighted by the Department of Energy, more recent studies suggest that this number is now closer to 17 percent.
• Most pesticides are petroleum-(oil) based
• Increasing numbers of food additives and colorants are petroleum-(oil) based
• All commercial fertilizers are ammonia-based and produced from natural gas
• Oil allowed for farming implements such as tractors, food storage systems such as refrigerators, and food transport systems such as trucks
• In the US, the average piece of food is transported almost 1,500 miles before it gets to your plate.
But despite the fact that Richard Heinberg, a “peak oil” scholar, said: “How dependent on oil is our food system? Enormously dependent. Fatally dependent, I would say,” perhaps we should hold fast to the knowledge that we are a country that was founded by creative and courageous entrepreneurs, and that since we are all at this table together, together, we can create the changes we want to see in the health of our food system.
So where do we start? Right where you stand…in your kitchen.
Here are six steps to reduce your family’s exposure to oil in our food supply. And remember, to take these in “baby steps”, as change doesn’t happen overnight (you don’t potty train a kid overnight either):
- Eat Foods You Can Pronounce (chances are they contain fewer artificial colors, additive and dyes)
- Cook it once, eat it twice (recycle those noodles for salad or that chicken in a stir fry)
- Purchase something organic, because by law, these products are not allowed to contain these synthetic and oil-based ingredients, dyes and pesticides.
- Eat local when possible, as the food miles traveled for these ingredients are far shorter and require less fuel to deliver
- Plant something (just one thing…remember those lima beans in cups in school?)
- Don’t make “the perfect” the enemy of “the good” (remember, none of us can do everything, but all of us can do something)
And if you think that doing one small thing can’t make a difference, remember to focus on progress not perfection.
Because together, we can affect remarkable change.