We Use A Whole Lot of Energy To Produce our Food
Getting food from the farm to the table eats up 10% of our nations energy budget. In 2007, 7,790 trillion BTUs of energy went into food production. To put that in perspective, the world energy consumption per capita, or average amount of energy usage per person in the world, is 74 million BTUs.
That means the energy usage to produce our food was the same as the energy usage of 105,270,270 people. Put another way, the US consumes about as much energy preparing and transporting food as the energy used in powering the entire country of Mexico.
Where does that Energy Go?
The energy in food production can be broken down into four parts: agriculture, transportation, processing, and food handling.
The growth and cultivation of food crops consumes roughly 21% of the total energy that goes into producing food. Agricultural energy uses includes everything from the production of fertilizers and pesticides to the fuel used by John Deere tractors to harvest the crops. In total, agriculture consumes roughly 2,100 trillion BTUs of energy each year.
The transportation of food from farm to table accounts for about 14% of the energy that goes into producing food. That’s equivalent to about 2% of the nation’s total energy consumption. Food transportation consumes 1,360 trillion BTUs of energy per year.
Food processing takes up an increasingly large share of the energy used in food production. In recent years, it has jumped from 11%-16% of the total amount of energy use in the food system Processing refers to the transformation of raw ingredients into a food product, such as the processing of raw corn into cereal. Food processing consumes 1,640 trillion BTUs of energy per year.
Food handling is the largest sector of energy in producing food, and accounts for nearly half of the energy used in food production – over 5,000 trillion BTUs. This sector of the food system includes food packaging, service and sales, and residential energy consumption. In other words, it refers to the energy used to package milk and keep it refrigerated both in the grocery store and at home.
How Can We Do Better?
Buy only as much food as you eat. One of the easiest ways to help conserve energy on food production is to ultimately waste less food. It’s estimated that 40% of food goes uneaten in the United States, which is 20 pounds per person, every month.
Buy food that is locally sourced. Rather than buying produce flown in from Chile, head to your local farmer’s market to buy fruit and vegetables that were grown nearby. Your locally-grown fruits and veggies will not only taste great they’ll be better for the planet as well.
Energy-efficient food storage. Get an EnergyStar refrigerator, which use 20%-30% less energy. Also, keep your refrigerator fully stocked. If you don’t have enough food, keep containers of water in there instead. It may sound counterintuitive, but your refrigerator works most efficiently when it’s full.