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Entries in energy use (3)

Saturday
May132017

What's Better: Canned Food or Frozen Food?

Processing fruits and vegetables wastes less food but uses more energy than using them fresh. It turns out that frozen food takes a lot more energy than canned food. The nutrition depends on a number of factors, including harvesting, processing, storage method, and age, as this study from UC Davis shows.

As the chart below shows, growing a pound of corn kernels takes about 450 calories. (The corn itself contains just 375 calories, so it takes 120 calories of energy to produce 100 calories of corn.) Canning it takes a total of 2031 calories, largely from the energy needed to make the can. Frozen corn takes less packaging but more processing, with 2985 calories needed for a pound of corn, nearly 8 times the energy contained in the corn itself. (Source: Food, Energy, and Society, third edition, by David Pimentel and Marcia H. Pimentel.)

Chart - energy to process fresh corn, canned corn, and frozen corn

Should You Buy Frozen, Canned, or Fresh Vegetables and Fruit?

Buy fresh, local produce in season whenever you possible. If food has to travel a long way or is out of season, consider canned food first and then frozen food. You'll waste less food while still getting good nutrition. Canned tomatoes and beans have good texture and flavor. Frozen greens are a great convenience and work well in sauces and stews. Experiment to find out what works best for your family.

Tuesday
Sep202011

Moving Planet 2011: Let's change the world one pot of beans at a time.

I'm bringing a big pot of beans to my local Moving Planet event. We're celebrating Saturday, September 24 as a worldwide day to move beyond fossil fuels.

To help make this a zero-waste event, I'm going to serve samples salad-bar style. Dip a clean spoon into a bowl of my Cuban Black Beans made with local vegetables and spices, enjoy your sample, and then pop the spoon into the used-spoon bag. Instead of throwing away a hundred or more plastic spoons and composting paper plates, we'll be running these spoons through the dishwasher and using them again for the next tasting. To keep everything super-clean, people dip from a small bowl of beans which can be tossed out if someone enthusiastically dips a spoon back in for seconds.

Hope you'll join us from 2 to 5 p.m. at The Pavilion at Durham Central Park, the usual home of the Durham Farmers' Market. You'll find standing yoga poses, zumba dancing, speakers, educational booths, an environmental quiz, music with Rhythmicity, and cooking with local, sustainable food. Ask questions and add your words of wisdom to a big canvas with our theme, What can the Triangle do for the Sphere? It's easy to help make it a fun, low-carbon event: ride or bike with friends and bring your own water bottle.

Can't come to Durham? Look for other Moving Planet events worldwide.

Friday
Aug202010

Math Lessons for Locavores?!? Here's a tutorial.

Stephen Budiansky writes a op-ed piece in today's New York Times in which he offers Math Lessons for Locavores. The self-styled Liberal Curmudgeon says takes locavores to task for being "self-indulgent — and self-defeating." He says, "The statistics brandished by local-food advocates to support such doctrinaire assertions are always selective, usually misleading and often bogus." And then he proceeds to do the same thing himself. He's even harsher on his blog about the piece, saying that:

The problem is the way the food gurus have turned the whole "locavore" thing into one of those doctrinaire, authoritarian, and joyless religions that all too often make environmentalists their own worst enemies.

Oh, PUH-LEEZE! I'm a flexitarian who is taking stand-up comedy classes. The folks I meet at farmers' markets and sustainability events are full of humor and flexibility, not to mention great food.

But let's look at the sources for his math lessons. Budiansky cites U of M's Center for Sustainable Systems, but their food-system factsheet on the page he links to urges readers to "Eat Locally" and cites a Leopold Center study showing that "increasing Iowa's consumption of regionally grown fresh produce by only 10% would save over 300,000 gallons in transportation fuel a year."

Old, Questionable Source on Use of Food Energy. Budiansky uses a chart which I have seen many times in anti-locavore works. It says that 31.7% of the food energy is used in household storage and preparation. Even if that is true, it's probably higher in my house, since when I buy locally from a farmer, I reduce or eliminate other energy uses in the chart: 6.6% for commercial food service, 6.6% for packaging material, 16.4% for the processing industry, and even 3.7% for food retail, since the market stand doesn't have air conditioning, coolers, freezers, or even electric lights. Many farmers markets don't even have dedicated building or parking lots. Check out the source document for this chart (see appendix B), you'll see that much of the data is at least 15 years old, before the efficiencies Budiansky himself mentions. The researchers make odd assumptions. The household preparation figure is high because it includes all the hot water used in household sinks. (Don't these people use the sinks in their bathrooms?) The packaging figure is low, since it includes only packaging that could be "specifically attributable to food packaging," but not corrugated boxes and plastic wraps.

Locavores also care about the overall productivity of farms. Dr. Tim LaSalle was the keynote speaker at last year's Sustainable Agriculture conference, run by the Carolina Farm Stewardship. Read his report on The Organic Green Revolution to see how organic regenerative farming systems will "sustain and improve the health of our world population, our soil, and our environment."

Eating mostly locally grown, seasonal food that is low on the food chain can lessen your energy use. It also helps support local farms. I want to live in a country full of local farmers, who take care of the land and help supply food to their communities. They also tend to hire local accountants, doctors, and mechanics, helping support non-farm jobs in their communities. As Wendell Berry writes in Bringing it to the Table: On Farming and Food,

The size of landholdings is likewise a political fact. In any given region there is a farm size that is democratic, and a farm size that is plutocratic or totalitarian. The size of landholdings is likewise a political fact. In any given region there is a farm size that is democratic, and a farm size that is plutocratic or totalitarian.