It's all one issue

My longest-standing readers know that I started out blogging on topics of sustainability, which I rather narrowly defined as issues around energy use. Gradually, I shifted to food issues because I wanted and needed to support my book, "Fat Boy Thin Man."

In the transition, I saw how sustainability, defined as the dictionary does, rather than cloaked in the meaning "we" have attached to it, applies in so many ways to food. Yes, my thinking was absurdly narrow.

* The food system is wholly, completely dependent on energy, whether it's from the sun or from petroluem pumped from the earth. As Michael Pollan points out, our industrial food system consumes 10 times the calories of energy that it produces in calories of food.

* Another aspect of sustainability is how much of the physical environment is applied to food production, and how much the industrial system degrades it — in the chemical burning of the soil, the "extra" methane that arises from feeding corn to rumenants, the endless onslaught of excremental pollution that runs off from feedlots or of chemical fertilzer into river deltas.

* The very condition of obesity worsens all that — because excess food consumption (demand) drives excess food production (supply). 

And there are so many more examples of this, the link between the health of individuals and the health of the planet. Inseparable, period.

Though Pollan's work runs through all of this, what got me to the keyboard just now was a Ted Blog interview with chef Dan Barber. It's all good, but this quote stood out for me:


I think we’re looking at — in our lifetime — great collapses of food services. We need the humbleness and clarity to see that our food, while benefitting from technological advances, has benefitted even more from free ecological resources: Cheap energy, lots of water everywhere, and a stable climate. But studies have shown these are eroding. And if you take these away — if you don’t have those in abundance — you’re not only going to NOT feed the world, you’re not going to be able to eat the way we do now. We’re going to be forced into a new system. The question is: Is that going to be a traumatic transition, or are we going to start preparing for it now?


In a previous post, I mocked the food-police-crying troglodytes who have one principle and then say, effectively, "end of discussion." But as far as stating the problem goes, I find myself wanting to say the same thing.

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