Food For Thought: US Squanders Energy On Food Chain
“Accounting for energy use in agriculture is very complex,” says Miguel Gomez, an assistant professor at Cornell’s Dyson School of Applied Economics. “We’ve done studies that look at these huge farms with irrigation and transportation, and compared them with more localized food supply chains, and in terms of energy use it is not clear which one is more efficient.”
While new heat retention technologies that use solar power and compost to warm greenhouses may eventually give local farms the energy upper hand, a more immediate solution (from an environmental perspective) to reduce energy consumption may be to change the way we eat.
In his food-miles paper, Webernotes that red meat is about 150 percent more intensive on green house gas emissions than chicken or fish.
“Thus, we suggest that dietary shift can be a more effective means of lowering an average household’s food-related climate footprint than ‘buying local,’” he writes. “Shifting less than one day per week’s worth of calories from red meat and dairy products to chicken, fish eggs or a vegetable-based diet achieves more GHG reduction than buying all locally-sourced food.”
Adds Pirog: “We are still using way too much energy and fossil fuels to produce and provide our food, but there is much room for improvement. There are all sorts of natural systems being studied [for farm production] and some of the larger food companies are starting to see the value of more regional multi-state procurement systems rather than just relying on getting everything from China.”