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Wilford Brimley
March 27, 2006 11:18 PM   Subscribe

The oil in your oatmeal is just a bit of The Oil We Eat.
posted by stbalbach (28 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite

 
The Oil We Eat is an old classic.
posted by stbalbach at 11:21 PM on March 27, 2006


Interesting, thanks, stbalbach. We are approaching a time in history when the examined life is not worth living.
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 12:16 AM on March 28, 2006


This has been a biggish issue for at least five years on this side of the Atlantic. Although I have to admit that "The Oil We Eat" is rather pithier than "food miles + packaging + oil based fertiliser inputs."

Solutions of course are buy from markets where there's less packaging (supermarkets are terrible at this, hello M&S); buy locally grown where possible and buy organic. In fact local food may be greener than organic.

It does throw up some interesting conundrums though. For instance, in Britain, it's actually better to eat Spanish tomatoes in the winter than their UK counterparts. Because the eco cost of heating UK greenhouses outweighs the eco cost of transporting tomatoes that enjoy 'free' heat and light hundreds of miles.

Probably better not to eat toms in the winter though: they have no taste. Eat seasonally instead. Although February and march kind of suck.
posted by rhymer at 12:39 AM on March 28, 2006


Harper's did a great job with this—so good that I felt guilt-ridden for having bought a paper copy that month. :-)

Good point, rhymer. Calculating the energy cost greenhouse-gas-wise leaves me with some very counter-intuitive statistics about the "green" foods I can afford...

See also Bjorn Lomborg and his once-controversial book, The Skeptical Environmentalist.
posted by Yeomans at 2:53 AM on March 28, 2006


Excellent article.. good to see a lucid and clear "joining of the dots" that explains the big energy picture, instead of focusing on figurehead/totemic objects like SUVs etc.

Big question is what will happen when the oil gets more too expensive to take out of the ground?
posted by zog at 4:27 AM on March 28, 2006


I thought the article was going to be about the actual petroleum-based products we eat. Some of them are listed here.

Every time I eat them, they give me gas.
posted by notmtwain at 4:40 AM on March 28, 2006


Petroleum-based additives included here. (Slippery buggers, these.)
posted by notmtwain at 4:42 AM on March 28, 2006


awesome article.... i'v given it to a lot of vegetarians.
posted by trinarian at 4:44 AM on March 28, 2006


Maybe the guy could lay off on the imported oatmeal?
posted by jon_kill at 5:21 AM on March 28, 2006


I was with him until he said the Basque were Cro-Magnons.

(Actually, this is a very good article. But what the fuck, dude. Pre-Indo-European doesn't mean pre-Homo Sapiens.)
posted by nebulawindphone at 5:32 AM on March 28, 2006


Big question is what will happen when the oil gets more too expensive to take out of the ground?
posted by zog at 4:27 AM PST on March 28 [!]


When the value of oil decreases to the point where humanity finds it more trouble than it is worth, humanity won't bother.
posted by rough ashlar at 5:37 AM on March 28, 2006


Just for perspective, I converted the calories (actually, kilocalories) listed into metric in this passage:

An average of more than 7 calories [29.3 kJ] of fossil fuel is burned up for every calorie of energy we get from our food. This means that in eating my 400-calorie [1.7 MJ] breakfast, I will, in effect, have consumed 2,800 calories [11.7 MJ] of fossil fuel energy. (Some researchers claim the ratio is as high as 10 to 1.) But this is only an average. My cup of coffee gives me just a few calories of energy, but to process 1 pound of coffee requires more than 8,000 calories [33.4 MJ] of fossil-fuel energy -- the equivalent energy found in nearly a quart [.94 L] of crude oil, 30 cubic feet [850 L] of natural gas or about 2.5 pounds [1.1 kg] of coal.

11.7 megaJoules for a bowl of porridge seems excessive.
posted by meehawl at 5:49 AM on March 28, 2006


The 'Basques as Cro-Magnons' idea dates back to at least the early 20C (and maybe as far back as the 19C.) This is not a new theory, and given anthropological notions a hundred years ago should, at the very least, be taken with a pinch of salt. It's hard to understand why he presents it in this article as a point of fact rather than just an interesting notion...
posted by ob at 6:24 AM on March 28, 2006


The first article definitely made me think about something I really had never thought about before. Thanks stbalbach.
posted by ryran at 6:30 AM on March 28, 2006


The second article, The Oil We Eat, has been mentioned a few times, but never posted about as far as I can tell. Brilliant (and depressing)!
posted by Chuckles at 6:47 AM on March 28, 2006


Why are we quibbling over Cro-Magnons? If the Basques are not, it only re-enforces his point..
posted by Chuckles at 7:31 AM on March 28, 2006


"According to researchers at the University of Michigan's Center for Sustainable Agriculture, an average of more than 7 calories of fossil fuel is burned up for every calorie of energy we get from our food. This means that in eating my 400-calorie breakfast, I will, in effect, have consumed 2,800 calories of fossil fuel energy. (Some researchers claim the ratio is as high as 10 to 1.)"

Shit. Great post. Thanks.
posted by OmieWise at 7:44 AM on March 28, 2006


What this indicates to me is that our technology hasn't really made food cheaper, it's just changed the coin in which we pay. For half the year at least I could pay a lot more to get food at the farmer's market (which is within walkin distance), eat seasonally and at least trim off much of the transportation energy costs of that equation. Or I can pay less for imported food because the costs are borne by banked energy in the form of fossil fuels, and in environmental impact. In other worlds, I can spend dollars from my wallet, which I earned, or chunks of our world, which I did not.
posted by George_Spiggott at 8:11 AM on March 28, 2006


According to the USDA Forest Service, Forest coverage in the United States stabilized around 1920. Presently forest covers some Eastern states in greater acreage than at the foundation of the nation. How can that be?

Around 1920 is when mechanical farm tractors became widespread, petroleum fertilizers were developed and farmers began using trucks to haul products farther distances. Additionally, trains began using diesel engines and homes and businesses began to be heated with electric and gas around that time.

*the more you know
posted by Pollomacho at 8:19 AM on March 28, 2006


Great post but I doubt enough people will care to make a difference.....it's inevitaby a losing fight. I have family in Asia that would love to even think about being a wasteful as we are. What I am saying is that it will take at least 150 years of Earth staining growth to even let them begin to be conscious about the enivironment.

Has anyone heard of TeraPass? I think it's a stupid plan for cars (the greenhouse gases you kill and the tree planted for it just are not equal) but perhaps it could be worked into tax incentives, or simply laws could encourage local produce access and sales.
posted by narebuc at 8:46 AM on March 28, 2006


I've always been a fan of community gardens. I would also be a fan of neighbourhood greenhouses if they existed anywhere near me.
posted by palinode at 9:18 AM on March 28, 2006


Thanks for posting this.
posted by cybercoitus interruptus at 9:19 AM on March 28, 2006


For another example of lowering prices by transferring costs to the environment, look at factory pig farms. One of these will wreck the local ecosystem and destroy property values for miles. It makes your pork chops cost less at the register, but you're being subsidized by loss of value elsewhere, loss that is not readily recoverable and which is often paid by other people. With enough of this sort of thing, sooner or later, those other people include you.
posted by George_Spiggott at 9:48 AM on March 28, 2006


I think it's a stupid plan for cars (the greenhouse gases you kill and the tree planted for it just are not equal)

Apart from the fact that nobody is killing greenhouse gases, in what way is a carbon offset program wrong? In what way are they not equal?
posted by wilful at 3:10 PM on March 28, 2006


I'm just not sure you can offset as perfectly as the program would have you believe.

I'd rather control what I can today instead of hoping something in the future negates it.

Simply put, SUVs are not required to get from A to B and I doubt there is too much you could do to make that truly not bad.
posted by narebuc at 4:49 PM on March 28, 2006


What this indicates to me is that our technology hasn't really made food cheaper, it's just changed the coin in which we pay.

This is exactly true and at the heart of the matter. "The day is not far off," Kennan concluded, "when we are going to have to deal in straight power concepts."

The Oil We Eat is based on the book Against the Grain : How Agriculture Has Hijacked Civilization by Richard Manning

(I have not read yet but will soon).
posted by stbalbach at 5:53 PM on March 28, 2006


Great post, thx.

I have a friend who is a retired big-deal physics type. He has been horrified over the rampant use of oil for energy for many years, but it was always interesting to see it from his perspective in particular.

Basically, H. would say "these bastards burn it ... do you have any idea what little use you are putting oil to when you burn it into the atmosphere? You're taking all this stuff that we can use, endless amounts of it, and just burning it up... just to power a turbine!!!"

In other words, it's not that we should consume less oil per se, it's that we should use the oil in all the ways it can be used. For him the horror is not in the fact that oil is disappearing, as much as the specific ways in which we've wasted it.
posted by cloudscratcher at 3:05 AM on March 29, 2006


When the value of oil decreases to the point where humanity finds it more trouble than it is worth, humanity won't bother.

At the point where the amount of energy it takes to extract a barrel of oil just exceeds the amount of energy available by burning a barrel of oil, humanity will be paying a fair price for energy.

It's just kind of a shame that all that useful oil will have been used up by then.
posted by flabdablet at 7:57 AM on March 29, 2006


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