LB Consumption

In the United States, each person consumes an average of 2,175 pounds of food per year. This provides the US consumer with an average daily energy intake of 3,600 calories. The world average is 2,700 calories per day.'5 Every day, a quarter of the US population eats fast food (based on survey data gathered from 1994-1996). This figure is up from one-sixth of the population reported in a similar survey five years earlier. Fast food provides up to one-third of the average US citizen's daily caloric intake.16 And there is good reason to believe that these figures have gone up since the years when this survey was conducted.

One third of the caloric intake of the average American comes from animal sources (including dairy products), totaling 800 pounds per person per year. This diet means that US citizens derive 40 percent of their calories from fat — nearly half of their diet.17

Americans are also grand consumers of water. As of one decade ago, Americans were consuming 1,450 gallons/day/capita (g/d/c), with the largest amount expended on agriculture. Allowing for projected population increase, consumption by 2050 is expected to drop to 700 g/d/c, which hydrologists consider minimal for human needs.18 This is without taking into consideration declining fossil fuel production. As it declines, less energy will be available to power irrigation equipment.

To provide all of this food requires the application of 1.2 billion pounds of pesticides in the United States per year. The US accounts for one-fifth of the total annual world pesticide use, estimated at between five and six billion pounds. This equates to five pounds of pesticides for every man, woman and child in the nation." Among the hydrocarbon-based pesticides are Methyl Parathion, Aldrin, Dieldrin, Endrin, Endosulfan, Chlordane, DDT, Heptaclor, Kepone, Lindane, Mirex, and Toxaphene. There are many others. All of them are powerful neurotoxins and are very persistent in the environment, due to their complex hydrocarbon backbones. Monsanto's Roundup, the most widely used herbicide in the world, is not hydrocarbon-based. It is, rather, a chain built on phosphorus and nitrogen. However, Monsanto's claims that Roundup is nontoxic for humans are being disproved. Roundup has been linked to non-Hodgkin's lymphoma.20

According to a recent study based on data supplied by the Centers for Disease Control, virtually every resident of the US has pesticide residue in their body. The average person has '3 pesticides or pesticide breakdown products in their body. The most prevalent chemicals — found in virtually all of the test subjects — are TCP (a metabolite of the insecticide chlorpyrifos, commonly known by the product name Dursban) and p,p-DDE (a breakdown product of DDT). Children contained the most pesticides, followed by women and Mexican-Americans. Many of these pesticides are present in amounts well in excess of established safety levels.2'

In the last two decades, the use of hydrocarbon-based pesticides in the US has increased thirty-three-fold, yet each year we lose more crops to pests.22 This is the result of abandoning traditional crop rotation practices. Nearly 50 percent of US corn is grown as a monoculture.23 This results in an increase in corn pests that in turn requires the use of more pesticides. Pesticide use on corn crops had increased a thousandfold even before the introduction of genetically engineered, pesticide-resistant corn. However, corn losses have still risen fourfold.24

Worldwide, more nitrogen fertilizer is used per year than can be supplied through natural sources. Likewise, water is pumped out of underground aquifers at a much higher rate than it is recharged. And stocks of important minerals, such as phosphorus and potassium, are quickly approaching exhaustion.25

Total US energy consumption is more than three times the amount of solar energy harvested as crop and forest products. The United States consumes 40 percent more energy annually than the total amount of solar energy captured yearly by all US plant biomass. Per capita use of fossil energy in North America is five times the world average.2'

Our prosperity is built on the principal of exhausting the world's resources as quickly as possible, without any thought to our neighbors, other life forms on this planet, or our children.

Food Miles

Food miles represent the distance food travels from where it is produced to where it is consumed. Food miles have increased dramatically in the last couple of decades, largely as a result of globalization. In 1981, food journeying across the US to the Chicago market traveled an average of 1,2*5 miles; by 1998, this had increased 22 percent, to 1,518 miles.27 In 1965, 787,000 combination trucks were registered in the United States, and these vehicles consumed 6.658 billion gallons of fuel. In 1997, there were 1,790,000 combination trucks that used 20.29* billion gallons of fuel.28 In 1979, David and Marcia Pimentel estimated that 60 percent of all food and related products in the US traveled by truck and the other 40 percent by rail.29 By 1996, almost 93 percent of fresh produce was moved by truck.30

These studies only consider food traveling inside the United States. When we take into consideration all the food imports, and the distance they travel to reach their destination, the figure for food miles grows prodigiously. In the three decades from 1968 to 1998, world food production increased 84 percent, world population increased 91 percent, but food trade increased 184 percent.31 An increasing percentage of the food eaten in the US is grown in other countries, including an estimated 39 percent of fruits, 12 percent of vegetables, 40 percent of lamb, and 78 percent of fish and shellfish in 200 1.32 The typical American prepared meal contains, on average, ingredients from at least five other countries.33 Overall, agricultural imports into the US increased 26 percent by weight from 1995 to 1999.34

Using a measure of weighted average source distance (WASD), one study found that produce destined for consumers in Toronto, Canada traveled an average of 3,333 miles.35 Computing food miles is not as straightforward as it would seem. For instance, most of the food coming into the US and Canada travels through

Los Angeles. Even food distributed within North America is first shipped to LA. So pears and apples from Washington State, right next to the Canadian border, make a longer journey to reach Toronto than carrots from California.36

A study of table grapes found that in 1972-73 the WASD of table grapes bound for Iowa was 1,590 miles. By 1988-89, this distance had increased to 2,848 miles. This is mostly explained by an increase in exports of Chilean table grapes. In 1998-99, the distance had diminished slightly to 2,839 miles, due to an increased percentage of Mexican table grape imports.37

This phenomenon is not confined to North America. In the UK, the distance traveled by food increased 50 percent between 1978 and 1 999.38 A Swedish study of the food miles involved in a typical breakfast (apple, bread, butter, cheese, coffee, cream, orange juice, sugar) found that the mileage estimated for the entire meal was equivalent to the circumference of the Earth.39

The increase in food miles is, of course, made possible by an increase in fossil fuel consumption. So the globalization of food production and the atrophying of localized food infrastructure are subsidized by cheap and abundant fossil fuels. As fossil fuels become less abundant and more expensive, this system will become increasingly strained until it finally collapses, leaving local communities without the ability to feed themselves.

The globalization of food has an adverse effect on local farmers as well. From the indigenous farmers of third world countries who can no longer compete with cheap grain imports from the US, to the farms of the American Midwest that are losing their agricultural diversity, food security is threatened by globalization. Consider Iowa, which is blessed with some of the richest farmland the world over.

In 1920, Iowa produced 34 different commodities on at least 1 percent of its farms, and 10 different commodities were produced on over half of its farms.40 In 1870, virtually all the apples consumed in Iowa were grown locally.41 By 1999, only 15 percent of the apples consumed in Iowa were produced locally.42 Overall, by the 1970s, one percent of Iowa farms were producing no fruit or vegetables. By 1997, only corn and soybeans were produced on over half of Iowa's farms." By 1998, the state that had once been the world leader in canned sweet corn production had only two remaining canning facilities in the entire state." Excepting meat production, most Iowa farms no longer produce food to supply Iowa consumers directly.*5

Globalized food production is a threat to food security, not only because of the collapse of local food production, but through importing diseases, invasive species, and poisons. The latter is due to the overseas use of pesticides that have been banned for use within the United States. The increasing distance between food production and markets also promotes consumer ignorance, as consumers are isolated from the true social and environmental costs of the products they consume.

The only way to grasp all these unacknowledged expenses is through a life-cycle assessment, which is a very complicated procedure. As an example, the life-cycle assessment of coffee production shows that a morning cup of Colombian Java has the following global effects:

♦ In the Antioquia region of Colombia endangered cloud forests are cleared and the watershed polluted several times annually by the application of pesticides.

♦ In Europe's Rhone River Valley the effluents of pesticide production have helped to turn the Rhone River into one of the most heavily polluted rivers in the world.

♦In Papua New Guinea, iron is mined from stolen tribal lands for the ships that transport the beans, leaving the land disturbed and polluted.

♦ In New Orleans the beans are roasted and packaged in plastics made from oil shipped by tanker from Venezuela and the Middle East and produced at factories in Louisiana's "cancer corridor," with its disproportionately black surrounding population.

♦ In the ancestral lands of the Australian Aborigines bauxite ore is strip-mined for the packaging's aluminum layer.

♦ On the west coast of the USA the bauxite is refined using hydroelectric power from the Colombia River, the harnessing of which destroyed local American Indian salmon fisheries.

♦Near Philadelphia oil to transport the packaged coffee is refined at a plant where heavy air and water pollution have been linked to cancer clusters, contaminated fish, and a decline of marine wildlife throughout the Delaware River basin.

♦All over the continent that cup of coffee depends on oil, natural gas, and coal in a hundred other incidental ways — including lighting, heating, and cooling the high-rise offices of advertising and food company executives, as well as the media executives whose magazines and TV shows carried ads for the coffee.46

Similar life-cycle assessments can be made for any globalized food commodity. All of them will show environmental destruction and degradation, the exploitation of indigenous peoples and cultural minorities, and the wasteful consumption of fossil fuels. This system is destructive and unsustainable.

Not only is our entire agricultural and food system based upon the availability of cheap fossil fuels — we do not even use them in a wise and frugal manner. We squander them on flagrant consumerism in order to maximize short-term profit, while destroying the localized systems that once sustained our culture.

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