Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life

I've started reading the above-named book by Barbara Kingsolver, recommended to me by my good friend Luminiferous Ether. The book chronicles how Kingsolver, her husband and two children lived for a year entirely on food either grown locally or grown themselves. I'm only in the second chapter, but I've already been challenged and rather stunned. And, she's such a gifted writer, able to craft the book, rather than write some "self-help manual", which it is not!

Here's an excerpt from the book, contributed by Steven Hopp, Ms Kingsolver's partner:

Oily Food

Americans put almost as much fossil fuel into our regrigerators as our cars. We're consiming about 400 gallons of oil a year per citizen-----about 17% of our nation's energy use---for agriculture, a close second to our vehicular use. Tractors, combines, harvesters, irrigation, sprayers, tillers, balers, and other equipment all use petroleum. Even bigger gas guzzlers on the farm are not the machines, but so-called inputs. Synthetic fertilizers, pesticides, and herbicides use oil and natural gas as their starting materials, and in thier manufacturing. More than a quarter of all farming energy goes into synthetic fertilizers.

But getting the crop from seed to harvest takes only one-fifth of the total oil used for our food. The lion's share is consumed during the trip from the farm to your plate. Each food item in a typical U.S. meal has traveled an average of 1,500 miles. In addition to direct transport, other fuel-thirsty steps include processing (drying, milling, cutting, sorting, baking), packaging, warehousing and regrigeration. Energy caories consumed by production, packaging, and shipping far outweigh the energy calories we receive from the food.

A quick way to improve food-related fuel economy would be to buy a quart of motor oil and drink it. More palatable options are available. If every U.S. citizen ate just one meal a week (any meal)composed of locally and organically raised meats and produce, we would reduce our country's oil consumption by 1.1 million barrels of oil every week. That's not gallons, but barrels. Small changes in buying habits can make big differences. Becoming a less energy-dependent nation may just need to start with a good breakfast.


Suzy said...

Now, how could I recommend a book which I haven't even read yet? (It's on my shelf in the queue, thanks to you, my friend. Getting near the top of the stack.)

poodledoc said...

For some reason, the book suddenly jumped to number one in the queue. I realized that there are a lot of skills being lost and that being part of Zehpyr farm puts me in touch with the food crafting skills that were second nature to my gradnmother.

Sminthia said...

OK. How's this for local:
Homemade pickles using CSA cucumbers and carrots, deviled eggs from hens tended by our neighbors, tomatoes grown in our own garden, edamame from our CSA, sweet corn from a local farm. Butter and milk delivered weekly from a local dairy. The only things I can think of that weren't local were the spices, the mayo and mustard for the eggs, the sugar and vinegar for the pickles, and the wine. I guess we could have had local beer instead. That was tonight's dinner, and I thought of you and your blolg, poodledoc. I'm on the waiting list at the library for this book.

poodledoc said...

I'd say that's a fine, local meal! You are inspiring me. I just finished the part in the book about asparagus. Interesting stuff.

Sminthia said...

Easy to eat local in August. Not so much in January.