Energy use in our food supply

So I read this ERS report when it came out recently and was really interested in how little of our “food dollar” actually goes to farmers and how much goes to marketing.  I’ll have to save that for another time.  I totally missed this report from last year that looks at increasing energy use of our food productions systems, until cnbc alerted me:

A fall 2010 report by the Department of Agriculture’s Economic Research Service, ERS, called “Fuel for Food: Energy Use in the U.S. Food System,” found that while energy consumption per capita fell by 1 percent between 2002 and 2007, food-related energy use grew nearly 8 percent, as the food industry relied on more energy-intensive technologies to produce more food for more people.

….estimates for 2007 suggest the U.S. food system accounted for nearly 16 percent of the nation’s total energy budget, up from 14.4 percent in 2002…

While they may imply that “nearly” 16% of energy consumption for food is alot – I’m sure there is plenty of room for efficiency improvements – but that is pretty impressive that we only need 16% of our energy to feed ourselves!  Although one could argue that per capita, we use more energy than any other country in the world (except China & Canada, but they have excuses…namely producing for us, and the Alberta oil sands, respectively)

This graphic really tells the story:

graph of energy use

So alot of this is actually just from more people..makes sense…

Ah, but:

In 2002, U.S. households used 3.94 qBtu of energy on food-related tasks—28 percent of total food system energy use. ERS research indicates that a typical U.S. household would have used about a half million more Btu per person in 2002 than in 1997 for the same foods…

. . . But Food Processors Showed the Largest Increase

Although households used the most food-related energy, food processing had the largest growth in energy use between 1997 and 2002.

Since the late 1990s, consumers have demanded more convenience foods that involve more processing and preparation services by a processor, services that would otherwise be done by households. “Single serving” and “quick” have ranked among the top 10 claims on new packaged food products since 2001.

So we can add increased energy use (and of course associated GHG emissions) to the list of the evils of industrialized food.  It doesn’t necessarily have to be so – we just have make better choices.

btw, isn’t it funny that cnbc is picking up on an ERS report published literally a year ago?

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One Response to Energy use in our food supply

  1. Christy says:

    I am reading this as I eat my microwave lunch (because I didn’t have time to pack a lunch today) and feeling a growing sense of guilt…

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