Growth and Connection

Monday, November 2, 2009

Wasted Energy in Food Production

There is an interesting interplay between the energy it takes to grow food, and the process in which food gets to people who actually eat it. For just one calorie of energy used in growing food, five more are needed to process it, store it, and distribute it. The reason there is such an imbalance has resulted from the industrialization of food, which is part of a cycle between oil production, food production, and population levels.

Once oil production increased, food production could increase because machines are much more efficient than human labour. As a result of food production increasing, this leads to a rise in population levels. With a rise in population, more food would need to be produced, followed by more oil production to provide energy to grow the food. This shows how reliant our system of food production is on the oil and gas sector, which leads to the thought that if there are oil shortages, our high use of energy for food would easily cause food prices to soar.

Where is all this energy used in the food industry? As mentioned before, a lot more energy is used in the storage, packaging, and distribution of food than actually growing it. Fuel is needed to run machines in factories for processing foods, energy to refrigerate foods to store them, and the fuel needed for transportation all add up. All of these factors in the food processing system are needed because of the way that cities are set up, and the need to bring food from far distances into cities.

So what happens if oil runs out, or even an oil shortage shoots food prices high up? Is there a way to fix this kind of problem before it actually happens? There are probably many separate and distinct solutions, but all of them must have some kind of relationship to the planning of a city and its surrounding areas.

Arranging a city, whether fully developed or still developing, to accommodate some kind of urban farming, would greatly save in the energy used after food is grown. If food is more localized, there is less need for processing, storage, and transportation. One solution could be urban greenhouses, as the concept by Plantagon proposes an energy-efficient greenhouse to control food production within a city, making enough revenue to sustain itself.

Another solution might be to re-examine how cities brought in food before there was such a reliance on transportation. The answer could also lie in keeping small cities the size they are, which creates a small unit that could potentially sustain itself in food production, and energy production, providing that alternative energy sources become more economically viable. These are a few possible answers, but each and every city, town, slum, and suburb would have to rely on some basic principles of these problems to come up with a satisfying local solution.

- Desiree Geib


Church, Norman. "Why Our Food is so Dependent on Oil". April 1, 2005. (Accessed November 1, 2009).

Lester, Paul. "Plantagon Urban Greenhouse Concept". July 20, 2009. (Accessed November 1, 2009).

Steel, Carolyn. "How Food Shapes Our Cities". July 2009. (Accessed October 31, 2009)

Tumber, Catherine. "Small, Green, and Good: the role of neglected cities in a sustainable future". April 2009. (Accessed November 2, 2009).

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