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What a Waste of Energy!

What a Waste of Energy!

Yes, I am talking to you. Do you have any idea what that glass of milk did to the environment on its journey to your mouth? And do not even get me started on the steak you were eyeing last night!

Not sure why I am so irate? This may shock you, but the food we eat in the United States is incredibly inefficient both in terms of the distance that it travels to reach our plates and the total energy required to produce it. Most foods we eat contain significantly less energy than was expended to create them.

How bad is this deficit? Corn is one of if not the best foods in as far as its ratio in energy per pound to energy to produced, and it contains only 2% more energy than it consumes. The worst offender is beef: it takes over 23 times as much energy to produce a pound of beef as the product actually contains. So what does this mean? We are putting a lot of energy (and carbon pollution) into the atmosphere with every bite we take.

Part of the reason these foods take so much energy to grow and produce is the extraordinary distances they must travel to reach our tables. The average American meal travels between 1500 and 2500 miles from where the ingredients are grown or raised and where they are consumed. That is a lot of fossil fuel that must be consumed to haul all of this food to our communities. However, we cannot necessarily assume that it is more efficient to only buy foods grown locally. The complexity of the global food market requires us to take a close look at the foods we consume and determine how best to reduce our carbon emissions on an item-by-item basis.

Granted, maybe 10% of the energy we consume worldwide every day is the result of food, but that is still something we can reduce, thereby cutting our emission of greenhouse gasses. However, there are still plenty of other impacts that the food we eat inflict on our climate; for example, cooking 4 hamburger patties in a fast food joint puts the same amount of Volatile Organic Compounds (VOC) into the atmosphere as driving a car 1000 miles. Just imagine how many hamburgers are sold each day at these fast food joints all over the world!

The reality for us as socially-conscious Jews who are concerned about our climate is that there is more to be done to reduce our environmental footprint than just driving a hybrid or installing solar panels on our rooftops. Our society has become dependent on energy and resource intensive sources for many of the things we need to survive. Food is no exception. On this Food Day, let us take some time to reflect on what our food is doing to the environment and think of ways we can mitigate the damage our meals do to the environment on their way to our tables.

Image Courtesy of nicolesenior.com.au.

Published: 10/16/2012

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