Food Carbon

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Thanks to documentaries like Food Inc., consumers are learning the truth about the climate impact resulting from unsustainable, industrial, food supply systems. Investigative food journalist Michael Pollan, reports that the amount of energy required by these hi- tech, fossil fuel based food factories, causes more greenhouse gases than our entire transportation sector.

Industrial agriculture is dependent on applications of toxic chemical fertilizers and pesticides that render the soil lifeless and tend to produce food of dubious quality. This practice can leave toxic residue on the food, and does cause a litany of damage to air, land, and water as well as to living ecosystems.

Laurie Guevara-Stone is an Energy Engineer and International Program Manager for Solar Energy International, in Carbondale, CO. She became inspired to work for clean, renewable food and energy systems while living in Nicaragua and understands the role that ‘embodied food energy’ plays in climate change.

Guevara-Stone: Not many people think about the actual amount of energy that goes into producing and processing food, which is extremely high. And that can include things like fuel for the machinery, energy required to make any chemical pesticides and fertilizers, the packaging of food and of course all these things are affecting our environment. And meat has one of the highest embodied energies of all types of foods. It actually takes about 16 pounds of grain to produce one pound of beef and so all the fertilizers and pesticides that go into that grain, that adds up to a lot of embodied energy.

Guevara-Stone says local food sources offer citizens a healthier option than supporting industrialized food systems.

Guevara-Stone: By eating locally, you’re cutting way down on the amount of fuel that’s going into transportation. By eating organically, you’re not supporting all the pesticides that are polluting our bodies and our planet, and of course not contributing to all the fossil fuels that go into producing those fertilizers and pesticides. Eating less processed and less packaged food…all of this change in your diet can greatly reduce the amount of carbon you’re putting into the atmosphere.

Joel Salatin and his family have operated Polyface Farms in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley, for three generations. They advocate using natural systems for sustainable agriculture and Salatin says we can and must lower the amount of greenhouse gases created by industrial food supply systems.

Salatin: The average morsel of food in America travels 1500 miles from field to fork. It takes 15 calories of energy to get one calorie of food on the average American’s plate. These are staggering numbers and if you just consider that there is enough animal manure in the United States to fertilize everything that’s being grown, you begin to realize the magnitude of the situation. That there is not a single reason, from a production standpoint, to use petroleum based fertilizers if we captured and leveraged all of the nutrients that are in animal manure and decomposable vegetable material that’s in the plant that’s growing the feedstock.

Salatin offers solutions that can empower individuals to help offset climate change from factory foods.

Salatin: The key to an environmentally sensible food system is re-localization, on many fronts. People ask me all the time ‘what can I do?’ My first answer is ‘opt out,’ you don’t have to patronize industrial foods. Less then 5% of all food items are coming from within 100 miles of the retail spot of sale. One of the big reasons is that people are buying processed food. If we buy unprocessed food, we would fundamentally change the packaging, the transport, the production and the preparation of all of that food. Go on a treasure hunt in your community and find the production that is there and go patronize them and that then will grow and grow and you’ll create the landscape you want your grandchildren to inherit, one bite at a time.

For more info on how you can get involved in reducing your food related carbon footprint, please visit us at

Change happens… from the bottom up… when millions of people change their minds. By learning about options, we can all make smarter choices and get involved in the shift toward sustainability.

I’m Tami Graham and I’m Tom Bartels. Thanks for joining us on Good Dirt Radio, digging up good news…. for a change.

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