Wednesday, February 20, 2008

How Much Energy Was Used For That Carrot: Vegetarianism and Energy

Ideas from Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver
Jo Hunter Adams

One general theme discussed in Animal, Vegetable, Mineral is the concept of the energy used to make processed food and transport food overall. She sets this energy use against the backdrop of the vast amounts of energy used to raise and transport animals, as well as the moral implications of actually killing animals for food. The Kingsolver family is not vegetarian, but during the year actually raised her own turkeys, chickens, and only bought meat raised free-range by virtual neighbors.

She responds to vegetarians who accuse meat-eaters of sanctioning violence in order to feed their need for a luxury: she argues that one causes suffering in many different ways-- not least by having a highly fuel-needy lifestyle which fuels violence and even war in oil rich countries-- but that animals, when raised with respect, can be an excellent and otherwise difficult to find source of nutrients.

I was a vegetarian for several years, but am not right now, for practical reasons and because it just wasn't as important to me as earlier in my life. Although I hope that my meat eating will eventually exclude factory raised animals, that's not where I am right now. Thus I appreciated learning how much energy it takes for my food to reach me, and simple ways I can decrease my fuel consumption without making changes that I'm not yet ready to make.

One way to decrease my fuel consumption is to reduce the number of ingredients in foods that I eat. For example, carrots only have carrots but a processed food may contain twenty different ingredients, each shipped to the manufacturing factory. Personally, this was a simple way to decrease the distance the food I eat has been shipped, particularly as this method is also generally healthier. Making our own bread has been one small step in this direction, and there will be more such steps in the future.

A second way to decrease fuel consumption is to eat less meat, particularly less meat raised in regular US factory environments. I certainly can't take the high ground on this, as I very rarely buy organic or free-range meats. I would like to consider this in the long-term, and as a start gradually decrease our portion sizes of meat.

A third way to decrease fuel consumption is to buy local, or grow your own food. I'll definitely be doing this this coming year, and will talk about it here.

The overarching disjoint between food production and food consumption was clear in the book. The concept that our relationship with what we eat-- our realization that everything that we eat was once alive and should be treated as such-- is largely absent from day-to-day American life. Reclaiming this link is a key to decreasing our consumption.

These concerns can appear as "the concerns of privilege" which I think they actually are. But I think there is no problem with acknowledging this, as I hopefully will not impose these concerns on people who have other (more pressing, more difficult or more overwhelming) concerns. The point is, I recognize my privilege and my consumption can directly increase the problems of other people. To me, this does not mean that I decrease my consumption to the point that I fail to appreciate and be grateful for what I have. That doesn't seem to make sense. Rather, because small changes are relatively easy for me and don't significantly decrease my engagement with other pressing issues: they become a means to be more consistent.

Coming Soon

More thoughts from Barbara Kingsolver's Animal, Vegetable, Miracle
Thoughts from The Botany of Desireby Michael Pollan
Thoughts on our bread machine
Our Plants

No comments: