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  • Beth Hoffman

4 Ways Your Dinner Uses Energy




Hog confinement, antibiotics fed to animals on a daily basis, a lack of support for small farms who don’t want to produce animals or feed en masse...we have been talking a lot in this blog about the evils of meat production in the US and abroad.

But of all our daily human activities, it is arguably easier to impact the earth via what we eat than it is to do in any other arena of our lives.

So which foods should you buy? Here are some important things to think about next time you visit the grocery store.

1. Your food’s ‘carbon footprint’ does not only come from it being grown far away.

A common myth is that the food system uses so much fossil fuel because we ship food around the globe. And while it clearly takes energy to transport food, the truth is that our addiction to “convenience foods” uses far more energy.

From the making of fertilizer to the running your refrigerator, the food system uses an enormous amount of energy. In fact, according to the USDA, while per capita energy use in the United States dropped almost 2 percent, our food-related per capita energy use increased more than 16 percent.

But this is not only from shipping food from here to there - it is from processing what we eat from a recognizable vegetable, meat or grain, into something easily opened and heated.

We do spend about an hour in the kitchen each day - which, if you split evenly between the crazy morning time when we are making lunch for kids and ourselves while also trying to cram food into our mouths and dinner, mean only 30 minutes per meal (or less). As anyone who makes even pasta and sauce can tell you, it is hard to cook an entire meal from scratch in 30 minutes.

And so we turn to cans and boxes, individually wrapped packages and plastic trays.

Not only are most of those fast and packaged foods higher in sugar and lower on nutrients. They are also wasting valuable energy resources.

2. ‘Conventional’ food uses far more energy than organic

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, in 2007, U.S. agriculture used more than a billion pounds of pesticides (which works out to be only a fifth of the pesticides used world wide, however). The USDA also reports farmers used 22 million tons of synthetic fertilizer in 2011.

That is a lot of chemicals to be spraying on the land.

But petroleum chemicals such as ethylene, propylene and methane are also used to create many of the pesticides on the market today. And the amount of energy used to create synthetic nitrogen fertilizer (more than 13 million tons) could heat 5.5 million homes for a year.

Additionally more than half the nitrogen (also made from oil) used as fertilizer in the U.S. today now comes from places like Russia and the Persian Gulf.

Livestock, on the other hand, produce fertilizer (poop). Therefore, with effective use of livestock on cropland (before planting), we can also reduce our fertilizer use.

3. Agri-chemicals are tested on animals

Many avoid cosmetics tested on animals - but what about the chemicals used to grow the food you eat? How do companies test for the toxicity of chemicals used in agriculture?

The answer is that agricultural chemicals are also tested on animals. And not just lab rats and mice. Dogs and cats, rabbits and monkeys [click here to read an example of the kinds of tests performed].

Enough said.

4. Junk food wastes money and precious resources

The argument against eating organic foods or better raised meat (which, by the way, you should also eat much less of) is that it costs too much. "Whole Paycheck," right? But what do we spend our money on, and is it worth what we pay?

In 2014, Americans drank 40 gallons of soda per person (at a cost of about $150 per person). And yet we willingly pay 1000 times more for that can of soda then what it actually costs. It turns out, it is not organic food that is the rip off, but all that snack food we put in our shopping carts without second thought.

In other words, simply refraining from drinking soda could free up more than $10 a month to spend on better raised food. The National Institutes of Health also estimates that bringing lunch to work one day a week could also save $270 and 48,000 calories a year.