Food and carbon footprint


I watch a lot of hours of food programming on such channels as Food, Cooking, and Travel. It constantly amazes me that so many people have so many creative ideas on something as simple as food. But I’ve noticed a disturbing theme. On such series as Man v. Food and Diners, Driveins, and Dives, it seems as though many of these enterprising cooks have concluded that success and excess are inseparable. A leitmotif is “how will I get this in my mouth?”

I’ve heard it said that 20 percent of all the energy we use in the United States goes to produce the food we eat. Partially this is a product of two big factors: Our conquest of seasonality; and our efforts to keep food cheap by massive farming operations. Energy is used in great amounts at every stage of food production: to sow, to fertilize, to harvest, to refrigerate, to package, to ship, to store, to cook. We get some of the world’s cheapest food and with little regard to the weather outside.

One suspects that this is in some way related to our habits of overeating. The ingredients are not likely to be at their peak of flavor. Also, in our energy-squandering culture, the food will tend to be overprocessed. I suppose some business managers shrug that off with “give them ENOUGH tasteless food and they’ll leave satisfied”. Hence, you get a race to do things in a big way. As if sheer size will deaden thought processes.

Now, the part that I find contradictory is that Guy Fieri visits places based upon their unique take on familiar foods. Also, the words “fresh” and “home cooked” are popular. So why are so many of the dishes he is invited to eat on Diners, Driveins, and Dives almost too big to fit in even a big mouth? It seems like some sort of unspoken standard at work. As if to say “Even if your food is full of taste, Americans are used to grandiose presentation, so don’t dare challenge that.”

Back to carbon footprint. Not only are some of these foods loaded with lethal amounts of calories and fat, but they also represent massive amounts of carbon. In some cases, the ingredients come from right outside, but when a carbon heavy ingredient is used and the amount is so far beyond normal, you really are encouraging high carbon living. Funny that there seems to be not one critic who recognizes this trend.

So, what I’d love to see is some sort of series where a major criterion is how the food promotes the eater’s health and the health of the planet. Unless we plan to be the last generation, something needs to intrude on our consciousness and make us think about the quotidian act of sticking food in our mouths.