The following is a short excerpt from Animal Vegetable Miracle: A Year of Food Life, by Barbara Kingsolver (co-written by her husband Steven L Hopp and her daughter Camille Kingsolver). Kingsolver and family moved to a farm in rural Virginia, and commited themselves to a year of eating locally and seasonally, and, whenever possible, restricting themselves to food they've grown or raised themselves. Barbara Kingsolver, with the prose style, insights into human nature and ability relate unfolding events in a fascinating way that has made her an acclaimed and best-selling novelist, tells the story of what they planted, which animals they raised, how they cooked, what food rituals they followed and her thoughts on the subject of our relationship with what we eat. Camille, a 19 year old college student and yoga instructor, gives her perspective on their year-long project, and food in general. Steven L. Hopp, university professor of Environmental Studies, provides sidebars. What follows is one of them.
For anyone interested in the ramfications of our food culture, for anyone who liked The Omnivore's Dilemma and In Defense of Food, for anyone who... eats, I couldn't recommend this book more highly.
It's full of recipes, too.
Americans put almost as much fossil fuel into our refrigerators as our cars. We're consuming about 400 gallons of oil a year per citizen - about 17 percent 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 their 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 US meal has traveled an average of 1500 miles. In addition to direct transport, other fuel-thirsty steps include processing (drying, milling, cutting, sorting, baking), packaging, warehousing, and refrigeration. Energy calories consumed by production, packaging, and shipping far outweigh the energy calories we receive from 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 US 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 over 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.