Understand the energy that goes in to putting food on your plate

This article discusses the energy required to put food on our plates, comparing industrial production and distribution (aka agribusiness and supermarkets) with sustainable models (traditional small holding and organic style systems).

Its an easy read to understanding the economic dynamics and consequences for our living planet of industrialised food systems based on fossil fuels.

It illustrates some interesting home truths:

  • Delivered food energy value is a much lower multiple of input energy in industrial systems than in small holder systems.  Eg US tomatoes deliver only a 1/4 of the energy required to produce them.  And US corn delivers only 2x the energy consumed in its delivery, compared to Tanzanian cassava delivering 23x the energy consumed in its delivery.
  • That emerging economies export subsidised energy by selling commodities globally.  Examples include Nicaraguan coffee (discussed) and Africa oil (refer to Iraq, Nigeria et al).
  • “We are intervening, politically and normatively, in very complex systems that we only partially understand.”

It doesn’t mean that a solution is staring us in the face – policy makers are too distracted by the myriad of demands on their intellect and conscience.  A solution will not be found in the industrial system thinking that has created the society of today.  But answers do exist in nature, in the behaviour of sustainability pioneers, in the work of system thinkers and alternative technologies.  We must have courage to let go of the industrial systems we know and embrace the holonic systems of nature.

Article: Feeling the heat of food security by Peter Baker

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