Insane Amount Of Energy Required To Put Food On A Plate

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In their latest episode of the VALUE: After Hours Podcast, Taylor, Carlisle, and Travis discussed the Insane Amount Of Energy Required To Put Food On A Plate. Here’s an excerpt from the episode:

Jake: Give you a little sense of, Smil breaks down like what certain food types require, like, how much diesel and how much energy is required to create this. One kilogram of Great Plains wheat requires 100 milliliters of diesel to produce. That’s about half of a US cup. Imagine like that’s how much. One kilogram of sourdough loaf of bread takes about 250 milliliters. It’s about like one entire cup of diesel. One American chicken, like, one kilogram of edible meat of a chicken requires about three kilograms of grain corn, which then the feed costs alone are about anywhere from 150 to 750 milliliters. And then if you add in retailing, storing, home refrigeration, and cooking, basically all of the energy required to put the chicken onto your plate requires 350 milliliters of crude oil. So, it’s almost basically half a bottle of wine of diesels required to put that chicken on your plate.

Now, actually, it’s pretty comparable to bread, which is why the price per pound of chicken and the price per pound of bread are pretty close together. Then a tomato that is bought in Scandinavian market that’s grown in Spain, which is pretty common. Foods grown somewhere, shipped somewhere else to be consumed. One tomato requires about 650 milliliters of diesel per kilogram. Almost a full bottle of wine of diesel is required to put tomatoes on your plate if they’re transported. Even worse than that, seafood is, the stunning 700 milliliters per kilogram. And a wild shrimp and lobster, if you are caught and all the packaging, everything is more like 10 liters per kilogram. Like an order of magnitude difference. So, that’s why seafood is so expensive. It has a really high energy input to get it onto your plate.

The direct energy usage in the US is about 1% of all the energy that we use is for the production of food. But after adding, and processing, marketing, packaging, transportation, wholesale, retail, storage prep, the grand total is closer to 20% of our energy goes towards food production. In a big component, one of the ways that we might actually be able to fix this and help ourselves is food waste. We waste per capita, the amount of calories that are created are, it’s somewhere like between 3,500 and 4,000 kcals, kilocalories. But the consumption requirements are almost half of that. We call it between 2,000 and 2,500 depending on what your size is.

Tobias: If you are cutting or bulking.

Jake: Yeah, if you’re in a bulking phase. [laughs] Basically, we lose almost half of all the crops, the fruits, the vegetables, about a third of all fish, 30% of cereals, 20% of meat and dairy products. If you sum it all together, about a third of the world’s food supply basically ends up as waste. If we can do things to improve that, we can actually pretty dramatically reduce the amount of energy required. I’m going to close by a really great quote that Smil has in here. “We will be eating transformed fossil fuels, be it as loaves of bread or as fishes for decades to come.”

The amount of energy required and this is again, we were saying to get all of society off of fossil fuels, which is going to require an incredible amount of time, and ingenuity, and discipline to get off of fossil fuels that provide all the food for us and to not have an existential crisis is going to require a crazy amount of time, and ingenuity, and effort. If you’re trying to cut fossil fuels to zero, you’re basically saying like, “I’m okay with starving a billion people or more.” You don’t really hear him phrase it that way. But that’s the hard economic reality of it.

Tobias: So, two questions. One is, spiking energy prices in Germany. Does that then have a knock-on effect? That was pretty sobering. All of those statistics that said is, what trouble is Germany in with energy prices going where they are?

Jake: Well, I think just the general, any energy price input costs going up is going to be it, because food is such an energy intensive, good to produce, it’s going to have impact. Rising food prices are the true guillotine risk. All the Arab Spring, any of that stuff came– The precedent of that was rising food prices. That’s when people get pissed and start taking to the streets is when food gets too expensive. So, I feel it has to have some impact eventually. You can’t hide food costs.

Tobias: I read that the Egyptian pharaohs, “You’re a great pharaoh when the Nile was up, because that produced a lot of food.” Then you could build monuments, which are basically gigantic wastes of– [crosstalk]

Jake: Of the food, like, converted right into your prestige. [laughs]

Tobias: Of human power, to build gigantic pyramids and then when the waters receded, and you couldn’t make as much food, then you got your head taken off, and new dynasty got there to run. So, yeah, that’s been at risk for a long time.

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