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.
Between 1997 and 2002, in fact, over 80 percent of the increase in annual U.S. energy consumption was food related.
And 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, according to the report, which measured both the direct energy used to power machines and appliances (like trucks and microwave ovens) as well as the “embodied” energy used to manufacture, store and distribute food products.
“This is what they call a fossil fuel party,” says Kamyar Enshayan, director of the Center for Energy & Environmental Education at the University of Northern Iowa. “We’ve created a food system that relies heavily on fossil energy, and it’s become so globalized that there are literally grapes from South Africa in the grocery store in Cedar Falls, Iowa. It’s a long-distance shipping economy, which makes all of us vulnerable to disruptions in the supply chain and other unforeseen emergencies.”
That’s particularly troublesome, he notes, when so much of the U.S. — particularly the Midwest — has such potential for primary production.