The term ‘embodied energy’ refers to the total amount of energy used at every stage of the manufacturing and transportation of a product. ‘Food Miles’ refers to the distance food travels, from where it is produced to the person who finally eats it. Food miles incorporates the issue of the use of non-renewable resources, such as fossil fuels, and the pollution caused in transporting food.
Regarding the ‘embodied energy’ part of food we must look back far… to the inception of the equipment and tools necessary to get the seed into the ground. The human hours and supplies that go into the design of the planting tractors, combines, harvesters, the delivery trucks, and the vehicle that ultimately gets you to the store where you purchase the food item or product to bring home; the metals, plastics, and rubber which goes into the manufacturing of these enormous machines. Wow! Already this ‘embodied energy’ is huge; and we haven’t even planted the seed in the plowed field laced with chemical fertilizers, pesticides and fungicides!
It seems to me the extraction of the raw materials and man-made chemicals that go into each of the different types of vehicles and machines, long before anything reaches the farm, has got to produce tons of pollution!
So, the equipment is designed and manufactured and purchased by the farms, or large companies who now own most farms in the USA, and delivered to the sites. Then comes the operating of these huge machines; they spray chemicals, water, plant the seeds, harvest the not ripe produce, and go through many different hands or vehicles before they get to the storage and distribution buildings… which also required enormous amounts of embodied energy to construct… you can’t build a refrigerated warehouse with a combine. Then, the produce is handled by smaller machines and ushered onto delivery trucks that stop at the store where you shop, health food stores included, and remember… those stores required equipment to construct too!
I have not seen any dollar figures on how all of this equipment and materials that go into constructing these buildings that build the machines and warehouse the goods that are trucked to the store and then to our homes. I can only guess that it’s a significant amount of money, pollution to our streams, air and land… and it’s not finished yet… there’s the stove and refrigerator, your kitchen design in your house where you store and eat and throw away these foods and scraps.
Just thinking about the entire process; from the drawing board of the machinery to the table, is enough to make my brain spin! So much so that I’m not even sure if it’s possible for anyone to accurately calculate the costs and damages to the environment.
In my mind, it’s more than calculating ‘where’ the food item was grown and how far it traveled before it reached my table.
I see the onion in my local chain store being sold for $1 a pound, one onion costs me about $1. Is it even possible that my one little dollar could pay for that big seed planting tractor that was probably manufactured in China and shipped to Brazil where it planted the onion seed, that grew the plant I am now sauteing in a recipe for dinner tonight?
I’m wondering, if this whole process is too enormous for us to even see… too difficult for our brains to absorb and realize.
One thing I know for certain, this absolutely sets the stage for all the reasons ‘why’ we need to be thinking, buying, and growing locally. I know the farmer down the road has a small tractor and a small amount of land in comparison to the big factory farms whose tractors have tires larger than my camping tent and fields of monoculture that would take me hours to walk. I think this all speaks volumes for living simply and keeping our money in our own communities.
Native Plant Landscaper, Gardener, Labyrinth Design, Feng Shui Practitioner, Aromatherapy / Essential Oils, Big Fan of Nature and Living Simply.
"There is nothing in a caterpillar that tells you it's going to be a butterfly."
~ R. Buckminster Fuller