Thursday, January 25, 2007

Internal combustion power

So my friend Kt pointed out that the biggest producer of greenhouse gases, the biggest contributor to the carbon load, is the internal combustion engine. I think she was trying to draw my attention to things like driving habits and the need for mass transportation, but I of course saw it as the perfect way to simplify all my talk about food. (Yes, I really do think about food 98% of the time. Okay, that might be an exaggeration--but not much of one!)

You see, pretty much anything you buy was produced, processed and shipped to you using an internal combustion engine. The wheat in my sprouted wheat bread today was harvested using a (probably diesel-fueled) combine, which shot the wheat berries into the back of an idling truck (also probably diesel-fueled--if anybody needs biodiesel, it's a wheat farmer). The truck takes the wheat to the farmer's grain co-op or grain buyer, which probably sells the bulk of its grain to an international food conglomerate, like Archer Daniels. They're the middleman. My wheat somehow went from the grain co-op to Bob's Red Mill, who probably doesn't shop from Archer Daniels. In fact, my wheat was very likely magically loaded by a mysterious middleman, trucked from the middleman to a barge on the Columbia River (because my wheat is probably from Eastern Washington), and then barged down to Portland. The barge was also probably diesel-powered. From Port of Portland, it was trucked to Milwaukie (this is the best possible scenario; there is a good chance this stuff wasn't sent directly to Bob), where it was put into barrels for the bulk bins at Fred Meyer. Then Bob's loaded the barrels onto a truck, which probably went to the central Fred Meyer werehouse, was sorted into orders for the various stores and finally trucked to my Fred Meyer, 1 mile from my house. John drove me to Freddie's, and I bought it, drove it 1 mile home, and began sprouting it 2 days ago.

[Sidenote: This whole process, with a little planning could have gone like this:
ME, on the phone: Dad, could you buy 10 lbs of wheat berries from your neighbor when you help him with his harvest? I'll give him $.89/lb, plus $6 for Priority mail.
DAD: (choking on his coffee): $.89/lb? Are you crazy? I'm going to start growing wheat and selling it to you crazy cityslickers! I'll be a millionaire!]

Now these are raw wheatberries. The flour in the bread went from Eastern Washington on a diesel-powered train to the Midwest, where it was processed into flour, then shipped back to Oregon ... etc, etc.

We're talking about food with mileage, and that's not even food that was grown in another country. I shudder to think about the trip a banana takes, or how much gasoline was used up in its journey. BTW, non-food items really get nailed. My laptop, for example, when you take into account the trips the original raw materials took to the US to be made into components, then the trip the components took to China or the Phillipines to be assembled, then the trip from China to the US port, from the port to the regional werehouse, from the werehouse to the store, to my house, has more mileage on it than your average second-hand Honda Civic.

So what I'm saying is, you don't even have to own a car to use gallons and gallons of gas just about every day. Everything you buy is guzzling the stuff like crazy. You have to remember that it matters where things come from. It matters who sells it. It matters how much it's been processed.

So this summer, when I turn my back porch into a vegetable garden, you'll know why. I like knowing my tomato only had to travel 5 feet before I ate it.

1 comment:

Kt said...

I wasn't just referring to individual cars. You pretty much nailed it. Our society is so dependent on long-distance goods that it's nearly impossible for the consumer to track where everything comes from. Did you know that massive sections of rainforest are burned and cleared in Central America just so Coca-Cola can grow oranges exclusively to make Sprite? How can the average Joe possibly know that the can he's just popped open was responsible for the loss of so much habitat? It's frustrating to the point of insanity. Local farmers markets and home gardens are a small step, but better than no step at all.

That said, there's another snag in the arguement. Many third world countries depend so heavily on their exports, like coffee, that to cut them off would cripple what infrastructure they have. Our nation is lucky to be able to survive on local goods, but most absolutely need long-distance trade unless they are to return to an agrarian society. (Which wouldn't be a bad thing, believe you me, but we'd have to be the first to volunteer for it.)