Conservation in the food chain

Many of you may have read the article called "The Oil We Eat" from the February 2004 issues of Harper's Magazine. In that piece, Richard Manning examined the evolution of the human food chain, ending with the Green Revolution which ultimately freed vast amounts of the population (especially in first world countries) from having to grow their own food. The upshot of the Green Revolution, along with advances in storing and transporting food, is that we now expend approximately 7-10 calories of fossil fuels for each food calories that is generated.

Today, the San Francisco Chronicle has a human interest piece called "The oil in your oatmeal: A lot of fossil fuel goes into producing, packaging and shipping our breakfast" that essentially distills the end of the Harper's article into a concise recounting of the amount of fossil fuel energy that goes into making "a bowl of imported McCann's Irish oatmeal topped with Cascadian Farms organic frozen raspberries, and a cup of Peet's Fair Trade Blend coffee."

My breakfast fuels me up with about 400 calories, and it satisfies me. So for just over a buck and half and an hour spent reading the morning paper in my own kitchen, I'm energized for the next few hours. But before I put spoon to cereal, what if I consider this bowl of oatmeal porridge (to which I've just added a little butter, milk and a shake of salt) from a different perspective. Say, a Saudi Arabian one.

Then what you'd be likely to see -- what's really there, just hidden from our view (not to say our taste buds) -- is about 4 ounces of crude oil. Throw in those luscious red raspberries and that cup of java (an additional 3 ounces of crude), and don't forget those modest additions of butter, milk and salt (1 more ounce), and you've got a tiny bit of the Middle East right here in my kitchen.

Maybe the author Chad Heeter is sensationalizing the case a little bit, but the issue is an important one, I think. Now, I know that many of our readers are skeptical about sustainable agriculture and whether eating local and/or organic will be able to feed the world. In all likelihood, it will not. There are way too many people in the world for that, and too many of us live in places where we cannot have access even to the staples. Besides, there was certainly transportation of food before the advent of trucks and cars, so it's not the case that increasing our reliance on local agriculture should mean the end of all oranges from Florida or lettuce from California. It simply means that we should strive to increase the production of local food so that less energy is needed to package, store, cool, and transport our food over thousands of miles. A step toward flattening the peak, if you will.

The way I see it, the call for favoring locally grown foods does not by definition have to mean relying on them exclusively. I'm not talking about what happens long after the peak—I mean right now, while we still have 6.6 billion people in the world and no immediate plans for the decimation of the population. If we can advocate for conservation of heating oil or gasoline for our cars, why can't we have a similar sort of "conservation" of long distance foods? It seems reasonable that if people opt for locally grown items whenever possible, they'll be cutting down on some unnecessary expenditure of fossil fuels.  

Obviously, I'm not the modeler on TOD, but I leave it as an exercise for the reader to determine how many barrels of oil we would save if, say, we decreased the distance that food travels on average by 15% or 20%. (And just to head off the inevitable discussion, yes, Jevons Paradox undoubtedly applies here. We all already know that.)

I think home-grown and organic food tastes better than the glop sold in supermarkets. Also, to buy meat as it is ordinarily raised and processed is too disgusting to put into words.

There are plenty of good arguments in favor of eating local foods whenever possible, but for me, I trust my taste buds.

The sheer satisfaction of growing your own potatoes on a patch of land not larger than 100 m2 is nice too, you know :-)
A bit over a year ago I decided to see if I could be at least 90% self sufficient in vegetables (not counting grains like wheat and rice, pulses) and set a target date of last 1st June as the practical start date. It's been surprisingly easy, I've spent less than £1 per week ($1.75) on vegetables since then, usually on tomatoes or mushrooms.

I rather like the seasonality and look forward to the first parsnips, green beans, lettuce etc. Currently I'm eating: leeks, purple sprouting broccoli (yummy), swede, carrots, parsnips, celery, shallots, tuscan kale, russian red kale, salad onions, garlic, raddichio, jerusalem artichokes, squashes. I don't have a greenhouse, one would increase the variety of vegetables at this time of year. May will probably be the nadir of supply and choice - when the winter veg has run out and the early summer crops are barely starting.

Sadly I am just reaching the end of my stored onions and potatoes (have given too many away, methinks!) - I grew small amounts of 12 different varieties last year and will be planting 20 varieties in a couple of weeks time. It's quite depressing, taste-wise, eating shop bought potatoes again :-(

I tried this too, Agric, and we've still got a lot of potatoes, even though they want to sprout. And we canned 300 pounds of tomatoes.

Since I already live on a small farm, it was pretty easy to eat about 80 percent of our food locally. Especially since we have a herd of delicious Angus cattle.

But we also bought local organic pork, chicken and fish. We have a ranch co-op already in place that sells local meats.

We also have many organic orchards here, so we had lots of apples, apricots, peaches, etc. We also canned a lot of stuff from our big garden. Have you ever tried pickled green beans? Delicious ...

We still have to buy coffee, dairy products (no local dairy) sugar and flour. This year someone is starting a local wheat farm/mill so we can localize that, too.

And of course I still have to buy ice cream ... :-)

Tomatoes and potatoes? Don't you have a late blight problem? What varieties do you grow?

I have: I grow a very early variety that will produce nice excellent tasting tubers but is rather prone to blight (Dore). It will produce before summer though which is the main blight season. I also grow a late variety (Texla) which shows remarkable resitance to late blight. That way I circumvent the blight problem a bit. I hope.

U.S. about to become net food importer
Posted by Ken Meter at 8:23 AM on 10 Feb 2006

The author has some good statistics.  Among them is that California is already a net food importer.   Currently it is cheaper to buy an artichoke from South American than one grown locally in California.  Of course, as energy prices go up, I'm sure that will change.

As I have previously said, I think that one of the best long term investments that we can make is to invest in organic farming--if nothing else, by leasing out the land to an organic farmer.  Short term, the ROI will be poor, but the point is to secure a long term supply of food.  It's a win/win proposition:  you can make money off Peak Oil while making a positive impact on the community (and perhaps providing a job for your unemployed college graduate).  

Another positive move is to sign up for a local food coop program, whereby a group of people make monthly payments to farmers, in exchange for weekly deliveries of produce during the growing season.  

Also, consider joining a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture).  Google CSA and the name of your community, and see if there's a program near you.  Typically, the way these work is members pay a fee, work on the farm a certain number of hours, or both.  They will usually make allowances if you can't afford the fee or are disabled and can't work in the fields.  In exchange, you get a share of the fruits, vegetables, flowers, and herbs produced by the farm.  You go pick it up; often, it's pick-your-own.  

It's a good way to learn farming, if you want to learn but don't have your own land yet.  Also, the surplus goes to local food pantries, so you can help the community while helping yourself.  

I found there is one in walking distance of my home, at a local college.  

For those who are interested in becoming more proficient gardeners (or perhaps, learning the 1st thing about gardening), many states in the US have a Master Gardener Certification program.  The program generally includes about a semester of book learnin' and several hours (40 in Vermont) of community service (farm work, community garden work, tending gardening hot lines, etc.).  Typically it's offered via a University extension program.

I wanted to thank you for that mention of Garret Hardin in a recent thread. I had forgotten that seminal article on the commons he wrote in 1968. It is dead-on relevant for this group. Your book suggestion is on order. I think the TOD readership might want to either reacquaint itself with, or become familiar, with this man. He is a giant.

One of these days I'd like to see a thread on the tragedy of the commons, because it is the single most important concept (IMO) prerequisite to understanding how the world has gotten into its present situation, and, again in my opinion, Garrett Hardin presents unique solutions backed up by rigorous science.

The problem, of course, is that facts and scientific interpretation go contrary to what most of us want to believe.

As I have stated before, there are no limits to human self-deception, and unless and until we face up to the tragedy of the commons there can be no hope of a better world.

In the Environmental Economics class I used to teach back in the seventies, I used Hardin's "Exploring New Ethics for Survival: The Voyage of the Spaceship Beagle" and found the freshman students, even the average ones, were able to grasp the material, and some became passionately interested in the environmental movement as a result of studying the book. Truly, it is a life-transforming volume--and the classic essay (included as an Appendix to the book) is the best place to start.

Prof. Goose tackled the tragedy of the commons way back when. Maybe he'll be able to update someday for the new readership.
Thank you. By all means, let Professor Goose (or somebody) do an update.

BTW, Hardin's thinking is consistent with both capitalism and mainstream economic thinking, because he insists that prices should reflect all costs, not just "accounting" or "internal" costs but also external costs as well.

I know of no economist (no matter how disreputable) who claims that "external" costs should not be taken account of in decision-making. The problem comes in how to implement the idea of internalizing external costs, and also how to implement "mutual coercion, mutually agreed upon."

Obviously, markets cannot function where the commons is destroyed--and that applies not only to population increase but to pollution and to overuse of any and all natural resources.

Unfortunately, Hardin's rigorous scientific conclusions are rejected by politically correct Democrats and both religious-right and "free-market-fat-cat" Republicans. That is one reason I seldom vote for either members of either two major parties--because they both fail, and fail equally, to come to grips with the most fundamental problems.

I hope the issue returns to the forum. I just read "Turning Sludge into Gold" behind WSJ's paywall. It's about the tar sand development. It made me wonder what will be expected of us in the U.S. going forward with coal development given what Canada is prepared to do, is doing, to this wilderness.  
Ah, yes, the tragedy of the commons. If I get to try to explain it to eco-newbies, I have a fun thought experiment - which I would love to bring to reality if I ever hit the lotto.

Here it is. You hit the lotto, set up a bank account for your family with exactly one million bucks in it, and it's a joint account. You invite your family to a table and explain that this joint account is to teach them to cooperate. You hand out the VISA Debit cards and have them sign a no-harassment contract.

Each family member will realise that they gain most by draining the account as quickly as possible, so the race is on, once the first makes the move. The end-game occurs when the last bit of money is in the bank and all of them show up at the bank to extract the last bit of money. With family members packing heat, a shooting or two occurs. And everyone who survives is permanently angry at everyone else. Meanwhile, you DID make sure to hide in Ft. McMurray (which they conviently don't know about) so when they waste money looking for you in resort towns in Europe they never find you.

This thought experiment has all the ingredients of a tragedy of the commons. A commons, the joint account, game theory dictating that players maximise gain by draining it despite it being to others' detriment, and selfishness overriding cooperation. We know that married couples have money squabbles any time a joint account exists, like the extreme case above.

Also, to buy meat as it is ordinarily raised and processed is too disgusting to put into words.

But, but...the free market says that is what the consumer wants!

coff  coff

Free Market my !jack male donkey

VIA I present the free market at work

And that leads to:

Sorry Folks,


Jay Hanson, Reg Morrision, author of "Spirit in the Gene", and ANGRYCHIMP are engaging in a totally mind-stunning debate on instinctive conspiracies & open conspiracies.

If you have not joined the Yahoo forum  DIEOFF_Q&A,  NOW IS THE TIME!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Bob Shaw in Phx,AZ  Are Humans SMarter than Yeast?

Well stated Yankee,

It would also be interesting to do an ERoEI analysis of dehydrating or sun-drying essential fruits and vegetables before shipping them to markets vs moving all the water inside these consumables.  For example, I love bananas, but when the energy costs of shipping them whole from Central America exceeds my budget, I will gladly buy dehydrated banana chips if the cost is reasonable.  Obviously, taste & texture changed, but the essential vitamins and minerals are still there.

This might be a crucial factor going forward to prevent vitamin deficiency diseases like scurvy, beriberi, etc in habitats that cannot grow these foodstuffs locally due to climate [or an alternative foodstuff].  This is based on my assumption that industrial vitamin and mineral supplements have a lower ERoEI ratio than what Nature can provide, or which the future lack of industrial technology can sustain.  Perhaps other posters have better facts?

Bob Shaw in Phx,AZ  Are Humans Smarter than Yeast?

This is the comment from the article that struck me -

'Then there's the rise of perhaps 600 million middle-class Indians and Chinese, already demanding the convenience of packaged meals and foreign flavors.'

No, actually, they aren't. As the first comment here pointed out, it is actually possible to taste the difference between good and 'convenient' food - and strange as it may sound, most people actually choose good, apart from the English speaking world at least.

To put it a slightly different way - when Germans visit America and return, they always remark on how chlorinated the tap water is, and how good it is to actually start enjoying real food again (and no, they don't just mean bread, chocolate, and beer) - the amount of sugar, salt, fat, preservatives, flavorings, colorings, and processing are simply unaccustomed, and quite honestly, they see no reason to get used to it.

And let's not even mention genetically modified crops. It has taken more than a decade for American agribusiness to use various trade organizations to get GMO food into Europe, and still governments here are talking about accepting the fines and not allowing U.S. GMO imports - after all, European citizens remain the ones who determine who keeps power in Europe's capitals, not American multis.

This may also be one of the main reasons Europe has retained local farming to a major degree - people here want it, regardless of how 'inefficient' and 'costly' it is. Politicians can't simply wave the magic wand of 'free market' without people asking why is it every time the free market wand is waved, the rich get richer, and no else does.

Well, that just might be the explanation - unlike Americans, Europeans just don't care much about the sizzle - they actually taste the steak, and that is what they are buying.

I don't think the Chinese and Indians (both with truly thousands of years of culinary history) are any less capable of knowing when something tastes better or worse, regardless of how loud the sizzle.

Expat, sounds like you live in Germany too?

Perhaps I have gone native after all these years, but I sure do like the stuff my mother-in-law buys twice a week at the farmers' market, and the milk (still warm from the cow), meat and game we buy directly from farmers and hunters we know.

Of course we also buy canned and packaged stuff (we're not saints), and for every person buying at the farmers' market, there are probably many here who are only interested in how cheaply they can get processed, preserved, packaged food at Aldi. The fresh stuff is "too expensive" and some of the small farmers who grow it are being driven out of business.

Indeed, the tap water here (near Munich) is filtered but otherwise untreated and tastes great. What I want to know is, in a country where they have the best tap water in the world (at least the parts of it that I've visited), why do so many people prefer bottled water that costs more than gasoline?

The same could be said for the netherlands. Tap water is of top quality and tastes great. Still, there's plenty of packaged minderal waters in stores. The only reason I can think of is marketing. Advertize something enough and people will buy it.
Well, the water tends to be carbonated mineral water, which is pretty much a German taste. Though mixed with apple juice or white wine, it is quite refreshing actually.

And even in an Aldi, a lot of the food is not that processed, and a surprising quantity is actually regional. Of course, the percentage of processed and non-regional products has been growing for years.

This is an interesting subject, which I have been doing some research about. Actually the KRAV organic farming label is a common Swedish marking for sustainable agriculture products, and they don't factor in the transportation distance of the products. This is because (they state) the energy required to produce an amount of tomatoes in a greenhouse in Sweden is ten times the energy needed to produce the same amount of tomatoes in a field in Spain and have them shipped to the Swedish market.

Rather seems eating locally would worsen the problem, so the best option would be to change ones diet to incorporate only the things that can efficiently be grown locally. Good thing I like potatoes and beetroot.

Hello DanP,

If one assumes the difference in solar radiation received between Sweden and Spain is not a magnitude different, then the heat required to create a conducive inside climate suitable for tomatoes to grow must account for the greater part of this difference.   If a cheap way can be found to heat these Swedish greenhouses by wind, tidal-gen, hydro, biofuels, etc, then the embedded energy cost can come down to be price competitive with Spain's outside fields.  If not, you are correct with what you state in your last paragraph.

Bob Shaw in Phx,AZ  Are Humans Smarter than Yeast?  

Perhaps large greenhouses around our nuclear powerplants? The low grade heat from condensing the steam is currently wasted out at sea and a compact greenhouse complex could use lower temperatures then a district heating network.

The heat energy would be almost free but the capital cost for the piping and the certified parts inside the condensors would be expensive. But it would probably have a very long life lenght with good materials and control on the water chemistry of the circulated water. The lifetime energy efficiency might be good.

It is probably a lot simpler to get all the paperwork done for heating with biomass in a simple boiler. But there are a lot of uses for that biomass and almost none for low grade waste heat.

Double pane glass light goes in heat stays in
Yet modern large greenhouses in Sweden use supplemental heating. It might still be cheaper then double pane argon filled IR-refective layer window panes but they surely are past simple double pane glass or equivalent plastic.
Doesn't even have to be double-paned glass. Two sheets of UV-treated plastic work almost as well.

But greenhouses still have their problems. The biggest one being that they heat up a lot during a summer day, and that heat is usually vented, then they cool too much at night. My favourite solution to this is described here.

The system stores excess daytime and summer heat underground and releases it at night and later in the season. I'm building a completely passive version of this system on my farm this summer. It should extend the growing season well into the fall. Of course, since the system is almost closed, I have to find a source of carbon-dioxide. The conventional system is burning propane. For some reason, I don't like that. Carbon-rich composting is the best idea I've come up with.

For big temp drops you can also place large flat pans of water outside during the day to absorb the heat from the sun, then at night move them into the greenhouse in between your plants.  

When things start to cool off outside, the heat transfer from the water will prevent your plants from getting any nighttime frost damage.

I believe this is similar to a system used in the Andes mountains for growing potatos.

Using water as a heat sink definitely dampens the temperature swings. So what you recommend is very useful. One doesn't necessarily have to move the water in and out of the greenhouse either. For example, it is common for greenhouse owners to paint barrels black, fill them with water, and leave them in the greenhouse.

However, if you can incorporate a phase-change (ie. water vapour to/from liquid) you improve the energy storage by approximately two orders of magnitude. This is easy to do and doesn't require much in the way of high-technology.

The passive system I'm building relies on nothing but ADT drainage tubing installed in the soil beneath a terraced greenhouse. The temperature and elevation differentials circulate the air through the system. The main variable I have to tune is the total amount of drainage tubing.

One could grow tomatoes in a unheated greenhouse in Sweden and can them for use through the winter.
Probably, but then again I think it's possible to grow tomatoes year-round in a greenhouse in Spain, producing more harvest per unit of land. I don't claim to know were we'll end up, but I'm pretty sure it's somewhere with much smaller range of choice in what we eat -- and more seasonal as well.
On your first approach to Almeria you are greeted by a huge sheet of light. So vast is the shining reflection of the sun that you can be forgiven for thinking it is the sea. Until you realise that what really lies before you is an unending expanse of plastic greenhouses. Have you ever wondered how our supermarkets defy seasonality? How we can happily munch on salad in the winter? Well here in all its glory lies the answer.
I've been looking for a rather 'to the point' satellite photo to illustrate this on but their server isn't loading at the moment. Thumbnails here Of course, when the price of oil hits the airline industry like a torpedo below the waterline, that will come to a grinding halt unless they ship by fast rail. Better to have the greenhouse as a solar collector on the south side of your dwelling to do double if not triple duty.
I found searching for "Almeria, Spain" on Google Maps did the trick.  Of course, you need to select satellite mode to get anything useful.  Here's a link that should work:  Almeria, Spain
Hi Yankee, interesting post.

In order to achieve that 15-20% cut you would have to interfere with the market, so as the closer the origin of the product the lower its price. That's not easy since agriculture is a perfect competition market. One thing might help though, ending with the outrageos subsidizing. For instance half of the EU budget goes to argiculture, that's a capital mistake.

There are of course other problems, most countries import products bcause they can't grow them at home. For instance China imports a great deal of corn from overseas (much from the US); what in fact China is importing is not corn, but the water spent in growing the corn crops.

I don't believe that the Green Revolution will work at a local level, that's not the way it works. You might have some room to scalling it down to a continental level (i.e. Europe, North America, South America, etc) where with a smaller transport network you can have the same menu at the table. Scalling down beyond that will mean cutting down on the menu and probably on the caloric content of it.

And finally bare in mind that we are 6500 million today, but business as usual will take us near 8000 million 15 years from now.

the remark 'For instance half of the EU budget goes to argiculture, that's a capital mistake.' is the sort of attitude which needs a lot more discussion.

Of course, any government program will have elements of both absurdity and stupidity, and no form of social organization or economic distribution is perfect. Noting flaws, looking for objective points of discussion, and trying to improve how things are done is necessary.

But when I look around at the all the farm fields, forests, the sheep flocks wandering through this region of Germany  grazing slowly from open field to open field (and adding their small part to sustainable fertilizers), I just can't see the 'capital mistake' - even in the sense of a pun - this is a good use of capital.

And for the slightly innocent - another reason Europe is so tenacious in maintaining food sufficiency, however defined, is a few thousand years of experience in war teaches you a few basic lessons which even a generation or two of peace and prosperity won't shake loose.

As a side note - the cover of Der Spiegel is featuring the resource wars - and the two most prominent featured faces are workers. Europe also knows that destruction is a poor way to build. But I can only imagine a Time or Newsweek cover dealing with the theme would likely prominently display weapons - the difference between an old industrial has-been like Germany and the post-industrial wunderkind America could be illustrated right there. America seems to feel the resource wars will be fought with tanks, carriers, and cluster bombs. Other political systems are pretty sure it will be fought mainly with contracts, machinery, and workers. Of course, there is a tank in the upper left corner of the Spiegel cover - this is Germany, after all.

Who then is making a capital mistake, absolutely no pun intended, by thinking carrier battle groups are useful in resource extraction? Ask the Iraqis - it seems as if bombs and guns don't actually increase oil production - who could have guessed?

A strangely ironic thought - not only may America be the first society that went from barbarism to decadence in a leap (sorry, no cite), it may also be the first that actually attacked itself, becoming its own barbarian at the gate, offering nothing but violence and death to itself.

Hi expat.

"Capital mistake" is not put, at least I didn't use it that way.

Can you tell me why half the budget goes to agriculture? Why won't it go to the auto industry (it would help in Germany), or to the aerospace industry?

Think about it, what are you the tax payer and consumer, winning from this heavy subsdizing of agriculture?

   true, I am the one that made the pun - it was not in your original post.

But as for subsidies/tax breaks - the car industry in Germany already gets enough by off-shoring their ownership so they don't pay taxes here anyways.

And the current thinking in farm subsidies is simply making certain the green land is preserved by paying a straight yearly lump sum to farmers, regardless.

Coming originally from Northern Virginia, and watching the total destruction of all farm land in a radius of at least 30 miles of where I was born and grew up, the German idea seems quite intelligent, actually.

And prudent.

One of the few good things with Peak Oil is that higher prices on field products due to fuel and chemical feedstock production gives an opportunity to get rid of the farm subsidy bureacracy.

I regard trimming down government to essential services a must if energy supplies and perhaps also the monetized economy starts to shrink. Governmnet absolutely have to run some things realy well, the rest is an opportunity to free people to do more productive things.

First, agriculture's task is to grow and produce food. Second, and this task became more and more important here in Europe and Germany, is the task to take care of the landscape. The german word "Kulturlandschaft" "cultur landscape" expresses the manmade look of the landscape. Formerly, central Europe was (probably) entirely covered with forests. Today agriculture landscape provides more living habitats than "pure" forest (but of course not compared to pristine forests).

The same is tourism. A landscape which is mixed with trees, small groves of forrest, grain fields etc looks more attractive than giant monoculture fields, like we have in the former GDR today.

A lot of subsidies, being paid in the EU pays the farmer for this task. How many farmers would leave rural areas and go to the cities? It is important to provide living conditions, so people stay (somehow) in these places. Sad enough, the former east looses more and more people who go to the western cities.

A third point is now the new discussion about farmers becoming energy farmers. They can put wind turbines on their fields, run small scale biogas power plants, plant fuel crops etc. To me, this seems to be very important. Again, after around 100 years, the rural land  restarts to provide energy sources for the city. The income from this sources beame a siginficant amount.

Drinkin water: I live in Berlin and water from the tap there is still very good. I never buy bottled water. However the water supply was privatized a couple of years ago, the new owner (a french company) as far as I can tell, tries to make more profit and neglects maintainance in the grid. Which is a pitty. Prost.

My opinion about organic farming feeding the world: I studied a lot about soils, and I think it is in the medium run not possible to do so. Our soils are overused. As well here in Germany!

I was in Berlin in 04, levely place, the cyclist's paradise.

Those subsidies for landscape management you speak of are marginal compared to hole bundle. Farmers receive money mainly to produce more or to help them when natural disaters occur, like droughts.

With the industrialized agriculture of the present day, it doesn't help much in avoiding more people to go livin in Suburbia. With machines a few people can run a very large farm.

You fix people on rural with investment in other industries. In a way that's what happening in Leipzig I believe.

"...agriculture is a perfect competition market."

Surely you jest. Fewer markets are more manipulated than agriculture. Those subsidies you mention are part of the manipulation. I believe the US and Japan are also guilty of that, so there's no reason to single out the EU.

I have always loved to rant about agricultural subsidies. But I've gotten older and wiser (well, older) and come to the conclusion that at the prices people are willing to pay for food, European farmers (especially the non-industrial ones who grow good food) can't stay in business. If people were willing to pay what food is really worth, there might be a lot less need for subsidies. But people want their MTV, their SUV and their Seychelles vacation.

Another point: We could accuse our leadership of dereliction of duty for letting us get into our energy predicament. How would we feel if we were also dependent on hostile foreign powers for our food? Subsidies may help prevent that if they help keep more local farmers in business.

Aye aye Captain.

... European farmers (especially the non-industrial ones who grow good food) can't stay in business.

That's a consequence of a perfect competition market; being unable to differentiate the product the farmer has none or very little profit.

You surely have a point on foreign independence, that's why I suggested scaling down to the continent level. But you won't achieve it with subsidies, because your competitors will answer in the same coin, subsidizing their own production.

The only way of achieving independence from foreign products is to block them, with quotas or other measures of the same kind. Of course none of these actions would be orthodox on a free market, but maybe these are not the times to be orthodox.

I suppose organic or local would be a couple of ways to differentiate the product and increase profit, which is why some of the "majors" have started buying up organic brands. As the article the original poster cited points out (and I guess I have now officially spent too much time on the Net, since I read it last week on an anti-war site, Tomdispatch) the progressive community in the US has discovered that organic by itself simply won't do; organic and local is the ideal energy saving way to go.
Local yes, organic no.

Think of wine. Wine is a successfull business beacause it changes from place to place. The wine I make here will be different from that you'll make where you live (if you can grow vinewards there).

If I grow organic and you grow organic what's the difference?

Make that vineyards. I'm dyslexic today.
If everyone grows organic, yes you are correct.  The situation we have now is between organic and nonorganic so that would seem to be differentiation.
There's no hope in the long for organic to be more profitable than conventional agriculture (which as you know has zero profit).

If your organic business cames successful, I'll just copy it and get a share of that success. This goes on until pofit is equal to zero.

Think again of wine. Port wine has been successful for centuries, why? You can't make it outside the region.

Lads has a point. I don't actually agree that commodity agriculture is necessarily without profit, but I do agree that agricultural practitioners (farmers) need to do something more than produce a commodity to be successful.

I've been searching out farms and farmers that make money independantly (mostly) of subsidies. The common trait is that they aren't just producers, they are also marketers. Not only do they sell food that has personality (heirloom and unusual varieties of meat and produce, ie. tomatoes the size of my head), but they are selling their, and their farm's, personality as well. (One brings produce to market in a wagon pulled by draft horses. Several publish newsletters with details and current events pertaining to their farms. Yet another, brings one of their pet ducks to the market.) These efforts don't necessarily bring them a premium over grocery store food, but it does build a loyal customer-base.

Here's hoping that there is a surge in interest in locally produced foods over the next few years. I'm writing this in the midst of a huge agricultural area, which, almost paradoxically, is completely dependant on food shipped in from elsewhere.

If you think people are sceptical about "Peak Oil", just wait until you start trying to convince them to change their food habits!  Them thar is fighting words pardner...>:-(

Back in the 1970's, as some of us gray haired types will remember, there was the same talk....Rodale Press created a newsletter and project they called "The Cornucopia Project".  I was an avid reader of the newsletter, and had been involved in "raised bed" organic gardening as a hobby of sorts anyway...
all of those who were followers of the "sustainability" press just knew for sure that food prices were soon to take off...fuel supplies could not be counted on, fertilizer would skyrocket in price, transport costs would end the over the road transport of food, and even water and top soil were about gone....and we waited....and waited...and waited....
Guess what?  Food prices actually declined as a percent of inflation.  My family, which had a history of canning such staple foods as beans and peas, finally stopped, because there was no way you could compete with green peas and pinto beans on sale at the super market for .25 cents a was cheaper than dog and cat food....(brief aside...I notice that TOD never touches on the EROEI of keeping kitties and poochies well fed....nice to see some things are sacred!)

Anyway, some folks do still garden in our neck of the woods....of course, home gardening means you need a pick up truck or SUV to carry the garden supplies....and who does try to garden today without the status of a nice Troy built tiller (or a John Deere lawn tractor with garden granddad farmed about 80 acres with a Fordson tractor that produced less horsepower than most folks lawn tractor...(!)

The whole thing becomes farcical in the extreme...transportation costs are still a very small part of food costs (the office overhead and advertising costs are much greater), and if fuel costs move much higher, the transport of canned foods and bulk items (sugar, flour, cereal, etc, all non-refridgerated goods) can be done on rail or barge reducing transport costs to near nothing as a percent of total costs).

There are a few areas where massive reductions in fuel costs are available beside transport...
>Wasted fertilizer.  Fertilizer prices until recently have been so low that the farm rule has been, "If a little does good, more will do better".  This must change for both environmental reasons (water pollution issues are VERY SERIOUS in many areas).  Computer sensing and evaluation of carefully metered fertilizer use could save tons)
>Wasted energy in processing of foods.  The amount of heat energy allowed to go to waste at many processing plants is astronomical.  Combined Heat and Power (CHP) systems are gaining a footing in many food processing facilities.  This is to be encouraged.
>Wasted energy in packaging.  This is nothing short of a wasteful atrocity.
What most people do not realize is that much packaging is in no way a service to the sanitary delivery of food items, but a marketing need to occupy "slot space" or visable shelf space in the market.  The battle is to be as visable to the customer and tie up supermarket shelf space.  Thus, brightly colered packaging that is two and three times larger than need be.  It is  a pain in the backside to have to cut through and remove layers of cardboard, paper and shrink wrap to get to a few ounces of food buried somewhere in the middle.
This must stop.

But, people will eat purchased food.  We are still a long way from the days, as one peak oil advisor actually encouraged people to start doing, of eating grasshoppers!  We need to be careful here not to come across as rejects from the loonie bin.  Work toward the efficiencies listed above, and don't buy a 3/4 ton pickup to haul around your Troy built tiller and tell your friends your saving fuel by home gardening, unless you want to become the amusing cliche' in your neighborhood! :-)

Eating grasshoppers hasn't gone completely out of vogue - if you go to Cambodia for example, you'll find crispy fried grasshoppers (not to mention spiders and other insectoid fare) on sale in the local markets...

I never felt all that enthusiastic about trying them myself - but as Australia has no shortage of insects perhaps we'll ride out any food crisis  better than most :-)

They still serve grasshoppers at a few places in Japan (apparently they ate a lot of them at the end of WWII).  They cook them teriyaki style in soy sauce and sugar,and they're good after you chew them a little. It is a little weird when a leg goes through the hole between your teeth. 8|
Since the oil used in the production of food is largely proportional to the amount of food, a lot of oil could be saved  by eating less. As well as taste, one of the things that Europeans with a decent culinary culture (i.e. not us in the UK ) welcome is reasonably sized portions. The amount of food served in many American eating places is nauseating to many European sensitivities.
There was a recent study of obesity that set out to discover the secret of why obesity is so much less prevalent in France than America when their cuisine has such a heavy emphasis on cream, olive oil, butter and alcohol. Their conclusion was that the French simply eat a lot less of it.
And more importantly, the French actually EAT vegetables, fruit, whole grains, no?  Americans basically don't!
The "French Paradox" was only a paradox because the whole diet was not considered - the more whole plant foods you eat, the better your health will be, period.
And don't forget that processed food is LOADED with sugar. Look on nearly any label on a can, box, etc. and one of the top three ingredients is sugar in some way shape or form. About the only way to avoid added sugar is to eat produce and meat you hunt. Oh, watch the fruit. While fruit has nutrition, nature adds the sugar!

If there is any good news about turning sugar to ethanol for the cars it is that if sugar gets too expensive, companies that process food will switch to a calorie-free sweetener. Better to put the calories in the cars instead of biodiesel to have to get liposuctioned out (and converted to lipodiesel by enterprising surgeons). Becuse sugar doesn't add to fullness from eating, one can be fat and chronically hungry (by dieting) at the same time. All the added sugar helps contribute to obesity and diabetes. Sugar could easally be called a toxin, given the diabetes it generates. Sugar is hard on kidneys too, though nowhere near as toxic as antifreeze.

We can easally undo subsidies to sugar growers and let food processors switch to Splenda (600 times sweeter gram for gram) and put the sugar in the gasohol. Clean the air a little, and cut obesity. Sounds like a winner to me!

It seems like he tried to choose examples to make the result seem worse than it really is.  Then again, maybe this is what he really eats for breakfast.

Oatmeal from Ireland.  Oh, please.  I suppose Fresh Fields would have that sort of thing if I really wanted it, but you could just as well scoop it out of a large bin in the bulk food section.

Raspberries from Chile?  There is another example.  When I was a kid we grew all of our own raspberries, and we had such an abundance that we froze them so we would have them year round.  These days I don't buy the things out of season.  If you want fruit on your oatmeal, try canned peaches instead.

Uhh, I was floored by that article since it almost duplicated what I ate that morning...the organic berries are from Costco, the McCann's is available in most stores here, albeit more expensive than the more "processed" ones. I tend toward Nature's Path myself (comes from Canada).
I eat McCann's oatmeal.  I like it, not because it's from Ireland, but because they make a version that's whole oats (as opposed to quick, flaked, chopped, etc.).  Takes longer to cook, but it's worth it.

I suppose I could buy oats at the feed store instead, but who knows what chemicals they put on it?  I'm not really paranoid about pesticides in foods meant for human consumption, but when it comes to stuff that's not meant for human consumption, some caution is in order.  

I buy organic rolled oats in bulk for 59 cents a pound at an upscale supermarket. I cannot figure out how they can be so much ceaper and so much better than Quaker Oats, but they are.

Generic oatmeals are inferior but edible, in my experience.

Oats for horses is probably safe to eat if you clean it first and cook it enough, but it has a lot of crud and dirt and suchlike in it that you don't find in oats for human consumption.

The fondness for expensive imported products I can understand as a form of status-striving, but the notion of buying such things as bottled water are to me signs of ignorance and shameful decadance.

When vacationing in Jamaica, the locals sometimes called me "two wata' man" because I tied a shoelace to two empty plastic one-liter liquor flasks (with labels removed) and went everywhere with the two bottles slung around my neck.

If you do not trust your local water, boil it. Or, better yet, move to someplace that has abundant good water--preferably so pure that it needs little or no treatment. Why live in a place that has yucky tap water? Or polluted air? Life is too short to poison your system.

Vote with your feet.

Don check this out it is an ultraviolet light about the size of a small flashlight,  90 seconds sterilize a bottle of water.  I use it when I'm overseas or hunting here in the states. No chemicals no fuel to boil your water.  

Hydro Photon SteriPen Ultraviolet Water Purifier - Free Pre Filter + Gifts
Our Price: $149.95
[HYD0001]      * Free Shipping


I take water very very seriously and wonder if such a device will kill amoebas in the cyst stage but will check it out.

Note that civilization cannot grow without safe beverages: Hence Asians brew tea with water that has been vigorously boiled, and most of Western civilization drank beer or diluted wine, because those who drink polluted water sicken and die.

The cavalier attitude that many take to what they ingest in the form of food and beverages is a puzzlement to me.

Don it does get amoebas in every must be able to see through the water, silt blocks the UV.

You are right though water discipline is important.  Three days no water your dead. It doesn't matter how much oatmeal you have :)

ultraviolet light

2 vectors for water serilization.   The UV light is mostlikely not the UV light that makes ozone.  The problem becomes as the UV light goes deeper in the water, the less ability it has to effect spores in the water.

If you really have an interest in treating your own water:

Activated charcol, filter, UV Light, Ozone via discharge (be sure to remove the water otherwise ytou will destroy the electrode), Ozone via UV light, and RO Filter.

The people who sell salt-water fish tanks (like Foster and Smith) can set you up with all the bits you'll need.)

What are you talking about? Ozonation sterilizes water yes,
UV light does not MAKE ozone an electrical arc in presence of O2 does.  UV rays in the upper atmosphere are stopped by ozone (it blocks some of those wavelengths) remember all the fuss about the ozone layer in the 80's

UV light kills everything, it damages the first few cell layers of our skin, Microbes don't have layers to sacrifice so they die.

Ozonation is good for pools etc but is not portable this device is and applies to travel/camping.

UV light does not MAKE ozone

Yes, it does.

185 nm is the common wavelength for making ozone.   And you need to go through extra efforts to make this wavelenght in a UV light source.

UV light kills everything

Not spores, unless the dwell time is long enough.

I stand corrected :)  the purpose of the device though is a single bottle of water not a household system.  It recommends 90 seconds to kill everything and I've been all over South America with it and never gotten sick.
I stand corrected :)

Part of what goes on at TOD is education.   I spent alot of time before I decided on the water purification system I've put  together.   That, and I consulted with waste water treatment operators.

It recommends 90 seconds to kill everything

That's fine.   But 90 seconds is a bit short, and I'm betting cyts would make it.

For $18 you can make a 12DC powered UV sterlizer.   But that one doesn't make Ozone.

and I've been all over South America with it and never gotten sick.

Which is a testiment to how effective stomach acid is.  Not how well the glow-stick does VS cyts.

Do you have a co-op, or co-op style, market near you?

If you are able to scoop cut oats (I believe that is the difference, that the "Scottish" oats are cut rather than rolled) from a bin, you save a lot of upstream petrolium and packaging.

But even as "bad" as 10,000 mile oats are, they pale in comparison to the upstream petrolium and packaging involved in the typical American single-serving oatmeal packet.  Actually it's not just upstream.  Buying a box of 16 servings means more frequent trips to the market by the consumer.

FWIW, I eat rolled oats.  I get the big (2 pounds 10 ounce) paper cannister from Smart & Final, and it lasts me quite a while.

I want whole oats, not rolled or cut.  

I don't eat oatmeal that often (because it takes so long to cook), so buying McCann's isn't going to bankrupt me.  On ordinary workday mornings, it's usually wholegrain Cheerios.  

I think the Henry's near me has whole oats in bulk bins, IIRC.
It helps to soak them for a couple of days first. After which, a very small crockpot works wonders in the dead of night. Set it up with a $5 security timer (for indoor lamps), six or seven hours is sufficient.  
Yeah, I've done both.  But it seems silly to cook breakfest cereal all night in a crock pot.  Energy-wise, I mean.  I usually just soak it overnight, then cook it in the morning.  
Leanan work it out. There's not many watts used to cook that oatmeal with a slow cooker. I am a nazi about wasting energy. My house is at 55F.
Leanan work it out. There's not many watts used to cook that oatmeal with a slow cooker.

Depends on the slow-cooker, I guess.  Mine takes a lot.  I see it in my energy bill when I use it a lot, and it warms the whole kitchen.

Couple of things and then it's a dead horse <g>.

The pot shouldn't be warming the kitchen. That is unusual and I wouldn't be doing an overnight effort if mine did, so I understand.

But more to the point, the price you pay for the current isn't necessarily the best conservation criteria. You know that you are using baseline juice from offpeak generators. No one will throw more coal on or add additional NG to get your oatmeal cooked. There is no marginal consumption of energy or corresponding pollution. So you pay... but get to eat with a happy heart.

Differential metering is usually available, but the utilities make it difficult for consumers. This is one of those great, often mentioned and obvious conservation incentives that somehow always falls through the regulatory (or de-regulatory) cracks. My guess is that when demand  destruction occurs the utilities will make it broadly available... since pricing offpeak power is better than not selling power at all.        

Differential metering is used in some areas of the U.S., but not in my area.  

In any case, I'm probably better off cooking it in the morning.  I get up really early (eat breakfast at 6am), so if I used the crockpot, it would actually be cooking while people washing dishes, doing laundry, watching TV, etc.  If I cook it in the morning, few people are awake and using the juice.

I am fortunate to live in an area where various forms of co-operation go back a long way. The most ingenious co-op is making moderate amounts of "profit" by delivering fresh fruits and vegetables once a week within about a thirty mile radius of several organic farms; you buy a membership and get large quantities of top quality produce for a moderate price.

I do eat lots of oats and am thinking of growing my own, but at 59 cents a pound for easily available good not-over-processed organic oats, that idea is not based on economics but on sentiment.

After all, I've sowed enough wild oats, now maybe it is time to sow some domesticated ones:-)

With agriculture so dependent on petroleum as a feedstock, I'm wondering why we are not currently seeing higher prices at the market.  Naturally, you'd expect some lag as petroleum costs ripple through the economy, but I would think we should be seeing higher prices at this point.  Can one of the economists out there explain who is absorbing these additional costs?
Hi vermont.

I'm no economist, but I remember that the revolution of 79 and the consequent Iran-Iraq war only had impact on the economy in 82.

And the impact is different from place to place. For instance in Asia farmers just can't grow their crops because of prohibitive fertilizers prices, so in the next year or so it will be felt there.

In Europe, in part due to heavy taxing of petroleum derived fuels, the rise in the barrel price is not entirely felt at the pump. Here you have an increase of 34% at the pump since January 2004, while in the same time span crude went up 100%. And still that rise in fuel is offset with agro-diesel subsidies.

We were evidently determined to preserve at all costs a way of life in which we will contemplate no restraints.

Wendell Berry

With agriculture so dependent on petroleum as a feedstock, I'm wondering why we are not currently seeing higher prices at the market.


Because this is the underpinning of the Various(I was going to say US, but it's the same for the EU, Japan, China) Powers(VP).

Agriculture is the Cash Cow of the VP's.

Agriculture is hierarchical.  And very few people benefit from it.

The most significant growth is taking place in those areas
producing the least food.

Jared Diamond calls agriculture "the worst mistake in the history of the human race". "With the advent of agriculture [the] elite became better off, but most people became worse off"

Eastern Arkansas-the leading rice producer in the US-will grow 20% less rice this year.  Corn will be way down.  Reports from Texas(#3 in rice) are that rice production
will be down at least as much.

From my family's memories only bread was imported.  Everday from Little Rock, 70 miles away, on the train, fresh.


With the caveat that I'm neither an economist or farmer, realize that most conventional U.S. crop farming is an annual cycle and that the highest fuel costs hit at harvest and fall work time at the end of 2005 crop season. Commodity farmers are price takers. To protect themselves against price volatility, many commodity farmers use contracts and the futures markets to lock in a profit on a  significant proportion of their crop before they even plant it, speculating with market timing on the balance. So the impact of the abrupt rise in energy prices late last summer and fall is being penciled into their decisions for the 2006 crop season. These decisions include what to plant so there could be some interesting supply effects with the competition for acreage from biofuels, the shortage of water, both rainfall and fossil, in Texas and Oklahoma. So a lag between energy prices and food prices involving commodities that can be stored isn't surprising. Farmers are also eternal optomists so a lot will continue farming below breakeven as long as a bank will loan them money, which occurs as long as they have equity left for collateral.

The other consideration is that the raw commodity price is a small proportion of the cost of many foods on the shelf. Wheat farmers used to get about a nickel of the price of a loaf of bread and as wheat prices haven't changed much, I suspect that is still true. The other day the price of a 50 lb bag of spuds was the same as a 1 lb bag of ready to cook hashbrowns in the refrigeration section.

I'm not an economist, but I watched farming as I grew up in rural Iowa. Costs don't directly affect price. Price is determined by what people will pay, because the farmer generally has to sell whatever he makes. He might feed his corn to his pigs if the price is too low, and then the price of pork falls, and then he sells all his pigs, cheap, and the price of pork is much higher the next year. The price of corn goes up when he goes out of business or the weather destroys much of the crop. In any event, he can't increase the price no matter how high his costs go; he can hold it off the market, but his costs continue as the grain spoils or the pigs continue to eat. He can only go out of business.
Well, I think we need to start giving large scale sustainable agriculture a try. World Changing pointed out an interesting report a couple of months ago:

The study, the largest of its kind to date -- 286 farm projects in 57 countries -- concludes that sustainable agriculture protects the environment in these countries while substantially improving the lives of farmers who adopt the resource-conserving practices.
Yields increased by an average of 79 percent during the study, according to corresponding author Jules Pretty of the University of Essex in England. Working with colleagues in Thailand, China, Sri Lanka and Mexico, Pretty found nearly all of the farm projects increased their yields, and harvests of some crops like maize, potatoes and beans increased 100 percent.

It also looks like Sus. Ag. practices not only used less fossil fuels, but improved carbon sequestration.

We need more rigorous studies like this in the US looking at energy usage to food production. Right now I believe we are in many cases substituting cheap energy for expensive labor.

We need to determine which energy inputs give us the FROEI (Food Return On Energy Invested).

I agree entirely, and would add that we need to get to a pricing structure that is more reflective of what the true costs of the food really is, much like the price of gasoline doesn't reflect the true cost of the energy, roads, pollution, etc.
What about hunting and fishing?

My dad was laid off when I was a kid for 2-3 years.  He worked cash under the table as a mechanic and got catfish out of a pond up the road.  Every deer season he got his bag and my moms.

The FROEI of caught/hunted game is pretty high. This does not apply to metro areas obviously but it works out in the stix.

Country boy can survive.....

But it doesn't scale.  We in Vermont are rural and sparsely populated by most standards (pop. +/- 608,000), and we still need to place restrictive hunting and fishing quotas in order to maintain herds and stock in a quasi-sustainable manner.
Oilrig medic -

Sure, a little hunting and fishing here and there can indeed help a person living in a rural area survive during hard times. The trouble is that the forests and lakes can only generate so many pounds per year of  meat and fish for a given area, so it really doesn't take too many people seriously dependent on hunting and fishing for food to quickly deplete the stock of fish and game.

The hunting and gathering mode of existence could only support relatively small bands of widely scattered people (who jealously guarded their territories and regualarly slaughtered each other).  This is one of the reasons why agriculture came into being: it enabled a far greater concentration of effort and resultant food production, though as pointed out by others at TOD it has not been without its own set of problems.

During the early years of the Great Depression, many rural families lived mainly on venison. By about 1935 or thereabouts deer herds had been hunted so intensively that this tactic failed in many areas. The ones who always had enough to eat were the families of the trappers.

How much wood can a woodchuck chuck? Who cares? But they are mighty tasty, as are all the other four-legged furry critters. Game, of course, is exceptionally lean, and the big problem is to get some fat into your diet--just the opposite of today's diet.

You can get a lot of lard from an autumn-fat bear.

Speaking of tasty... some years ago I was teaching in a small Native American community. A plate of meat was served. Excellent it was. Turned out to be raccoon. Nobody was trapping or shooting them, it was roadkill.
Ground hawgs are real fat. Have lots and lots of little ones for quick replacement of casualties.  Easy to shoot.  Sometimes they  just stand up and blink, trying to figure out what's there. Zappo!  Good- a little chewy.
It's not the distance - it's the packaging.

I like the article, and the rough math used to illustrate the upstream costs.  It is great as an educational device.

That said, I think it is foolish to conflate the costs of shipping a "mostly air" 12 ounce box of breakfast cereal, and say a 40 pound sack of grain.

Obviously, I'm not the modeler on TOD, but I leave it as an exercise for the reader to determine how many barrels of oil we would save if, say, we decreased the distance that food travels on average by 15% or 20%

It is likely true that higher oil prices will drive shorter distances in food delivery, but I think there is even more room for adjustment in the packaging of our foods.  I understand that the modern American supermarket carries 30,000 items.  I doubt that they are uniform in upstream energy costs.  As I said at Gristmill when they covered this story, think of the costs of bulk popcorn, and then think of the costs of our modern microwave packets.

There is a lot of room for improvement, should the "convenience vs. costs" trade off be tipped by higher costs.

Well, the good news is that if we increase our purchases of locally grown foods at places like farmers markets, then we're cutting down on the packaging too. Especially when my local supermarket sells zucchini and other vegetables like this:

Hey, I ate that last night. I would prefer more packaging like this to preserve local veggies through the winter instead of shipping them from far away. March is going to be a tough month for any type of fresh food in the northeast. This is where canning and cold storage comes in...
It isn't just transport miles, it isn't just packaging, it isn't just processing, it isn't just cooking, and it isn't just energy required for basic food production. It's all those things. Transport costs can be dwarved by the total of the other energy costs for food.

Primary energy consumption for food transport in KJ/Tonne-km--

15839 for air
2890 for road
423 for water
677 for rail

This amounts to 30x as much energy for transport compared to energy contained within the food for a watery leaf food such as watercress grown 3000 miles from where it is consumed to much less than 0.1x as much for a calorically dense nut grown within 100 miles of where it is consumed. (Assumes road transport).

I put some numbers here for plant foods:

The really distressing thing about this is that it is precisely those foods that provide the most nutrition and beneficial phytochemicals for the least amount of kcals that cost the most (relatively speaking) to transport.

When we drop the leaves and tomatoes, we will suffer. They are the last things we should give up, not the first.

But again, transport costs aren't everything. Since they can be eaten raw and do not require extensive packaging or processing (if any), they are not such a bad deal on the whole.

The same is not necessarily true for grain foods, which must be cooked and have a much lower nutrient density. And most vegetable fats should be skipped except for possibly raw nuts, seeds, avocadoes, olives: again, minimal or no processing.

We should all be skinny raw vegans who grow most of our own food or purchase food mostly grown close to home. Those who do not wish to be vegan are welcome to eat cicadas, mollulsks, roaches, and grasshoppers. I'd rather take B12 and D2 supplements.

Eating wild game is not the solution: if everyone in the USA did that, it would all be gone in short order.

Have you ever sprouted mung beans?

Interesting that there was a "sprouts" boom in the 70's coinciding with high fuel costs ;-)

Yes, I do sprout mungs. Lentils and blackeyed peas (which are mostly local/regional for me and my number one legume) also.

My dogs are also vegan and it helps a lot to reduce cooking time to sprout their legumes and soak their grains prior to cooking. They get raw pureed fruits and vegetables also (as well as ground flax and sunflower seeds) but these are not a major source of kcals for them.

Most rices will not sprout but quinoa, oat groats, rye, and wheat berries will.

And I have many pots of greens on the terrace, now, but I eat so many greens (about a kg per day) that I can't currently produce enough to meet what I consume, so I still buy them.

But I am looking at the dandelion intruders with evil intent these days.

According to Plants For A Future, Dandelions are a very useful plant.
That's a great table, now that I go look at it.  I see that you do have sprouts there ... with the assumption I suppose that they are sprouted some distance away.

Surely the market must be efficient enough now though that the sprouts in my market are at least grown in my city?

If not, the hippy methods still exist

In addition to the Manning article you might want to read "Eating Fossil Fuels" by Dale Allen Pfeiffer.

The article starts to break down agricultural fossil fuel inputs.  I used both of them, along with an examination of the Cuban response to a dramatic reduction in petroleum availability in the early 90's due to the collapse of the Soviet Union, to put together a little talk for a Peak Oil conference this past Saturday in Durham, NC.  You're welcome to take a gander at it as well.  It's easier to link to it than to rewrite all my thoughts on this topic as a comment so...

Great topic, and not just for the obvious reason (we all need to eat).

I think the ongoing discussions about our food infrastructure are a perfect example of how easy it is to fall into the trap of assuming that the only (or almost the only) thing that will change is the price of energy.

Of course that won't happen; the location and method of food growing and processing, as well as the transportation methods, will all respond to rising energy prices.

In particular, the notion that there's one big solution (e.g. localization) is over simplifying the situation.  As traditional energy forms grow more expensive we'll see production, processing, and transportation methods that use such energy more efficiently benefit.  We'll also see a shift to renewable energy as decisionmakers throughout the production chain seek to avoid the high and volatile energy prices of oil and natural gas.  

(Don't mistake this for "the market will save the universe" idiocy.  I'm merely pointing out there's a huge element of dynamism in any infrastructure this large, complex, and geographically diverse, and that ignoring it is a recipe for making bad predictions.)

Which reminds me: The whole EROEI thing really needs to be focused to ERO(non-renewable)EI.  Truly renewable energy includes those forms we can use as much of as we like at zero marginal cost per unit of energy, like wind, solar, wave, and tidal.  For those forms of energy, the only concern is the economic cost needed to exploit them; if it takes a huge number of calories of renewable energy (and no non-renewable energy) to produce a few calories of a particular food product, then that item can be produced sustainably even though its traditional EROEI is terrible.  As renewable energy costs continue to decline (and utility-scale wind power is already cheap) and we build more infrastructure for harvesting renewable energy, the limitations of fossil fuels on our food system will be relaxed.

The short-term situation will be difficult, no doubt, but I think it's clear that it's more like passing through a very tight portal than it is entering a small and ever-decreasing tunnel.

This is what I'm trying to say too.  Who knows which will drop out first: Fiji Water or Chilean grapes ... but both will be relatively painless to give up.

I'd expect raisins to stay on the shelves even if grapes become more rare or seasonal.

LOL, everybody remember why "preserves" are called that?

The Red Wheelbarrow

so much depends

a red wheel

glazed with rain

beside the white

    -- William Carlos Williams

The food issue is one of the most depressing aspects of Peak Oil for me. But I find most of these discussions naive because just as there is a huge entrenched supply chain involving mega-corporations for energy, the same can be said about Corporate Farming, for example Smithfield, Tyson, Cargil et. al. These corporations are just as powerful as ExxonMobil, BP, Chevron and the other IOCs.

I suggest the movie The Corporation is just as important for our community members to watch as The End of Suburbia. If you can't get the movie, at least visit the website and watch the trailer. These business entities are increasing their stranglehold on all aspects of our lives including, importantly for this thread, food production. Their interests are diametrically opposed to the interests of people discussing family or community farming here on TOD.

These corporations have all the rights but none of the responsibilities of individuals. And they are very, very powerful.

Dave, if we were going to let the powerfulness of corporations stop us from discussing peak oil related issues, then we'd have to close down TOD today. I know, you're the contrarian, but it's exactly for reasons like this that I advocate increasing our preference for locally grown foods bit by bit. Think of it as a guerrilla action that'll unfold over time. We're already forcing the market to change in some ways (as evidenced by Wal-Mart's new line of organics), so it's not impossible to put pressure on these companies (see also Chapter what, 14 or 15 in Collapse. I don't have the book here, but it's the chapter on how public pressure forced mining and forestry corporations to be more responsible).

Sure, the Wal-Mart example isn't a great one, because their insistence on low prices forces factory organic farming, which is a little depressing to the crunchy granola types (myself basically included). But what if we made such a stink in NYC that the Gristedes grocery chain ended up carrying, say, 30% of its produce from local sources? That would be a real victory, IMHO. Whole Foods--a big corporation in some senses--already makes noise in this direction (despite the fact that they have been excoriated for turning local and organic into luxury items. You can't win 'em all.)

My comment is merely a reminder of what we're up against. I did not suggest that we let the "powerfulness of corporations stop us from discussing peak oil related issues". Reality-based community. Just another issue to be considered and a big one at that.
See? This is at the heart of my pessimism regarding modern society's ability to transform itself and not destroy the planet in the process. As you and others readily remind us, there are technical solutions to help us powerdown, even gracefully. And yet here we are discussing forces in our society that won't powerdown short of a lynch mob removing them.

I still contend that the problems from peak oil will come less from the technical side and more from the social, political, and psychological aspects. So the question becomes just how bad does it have to get before we are forced to respond realistically to cascading issues like peak oil, water shortages, overpopulation, topsoil depletion, and global warming? Will we respond rationally today and dedicate ourselves as a species to solving these issues around the entire world? Or will we go right down to extinction, the last man, woman, and child braying at the heavens for just a little more market magic? The actual landing point will be somewhere between those hypothetical extremes of course, but most of those landing spots look like crashes, not soft landings.

Well, the flip side of the inefficiency of 30,000 different items in one supermarket is that there are still those efficient choices (hidden) in there.  And at the health food store.  And at the farmer's market.

It's much easier to choose an alternate path on food, than on transportation, or how our electricity is generated.

I pretty much agree.  Food is the most intractable issue, I fear.  Worse comes to worse, we can do without transportation.  We can do without home heating.  We can do without electricity.  We can't do without food.  

I see most of the ideas discussed in this thread as a way to deal with high prices, not as legitimate post-peak strategies.

I don't think we'll be able to grow enough food for everyone using "sustainable" methods.  The best farmland is owned by the large corporations.  Will the government confiscate it?  Or will the "free market" force us to work on these farms if we want to eat?  Either way, it suggests a level of economic disruption that is scary to comtemplate.

Who will run the farmland in the most efficent way?
Usueally the answer is a market economy with manny entrepreneurs, in this case farmers.
The problem is that food is not like other products.  If there's not enough, you can't just let the price rise until supply equals demand.  Well, you can, but that's the way governments get overthrown.  Sure, next year farmers will have incentive to grow more, but by then, their customers will have starved to death.  

And civil unrest is very bad for business.  China remembers this; many of their rebellions, wars, and dieoffs were due to food shortages.  They are the only large country that still keeps significant food stores.  

In a crisis we both need the free market pricing mechanism and a way to make sure that food do not get stuck in warehouses due to customers being unable to pay. Market economies also use to be good at keeping needed goods from being stuck in warehouses. If a free market solves most of the problem there is less left to solve with government intervention and it is far easier to successfully manipulate a small portion of a society then a large one.

But I am not sure how well this will work in countries with an economy saturated with debt on every level.

The moderates among us (me) see prices as the post-peak issue.
"...while we still have 6.6 billion people in the world and no immediate plans for the decimation of the population."

For some values of "we" it is not the case that no such plans exist.

sr -

Well don't leave us hanging!  

Who do you think is planing to do what to whom, and when?

"I think its best if we don't talk about that till they are actually on the trains." -Cartman on Southpark
Folks, I'm not sure the original story adds up...

The average American eats about 2,000 calories daily.  Those are dietary calories, not chemical calories (1 nutrtion calorie = 1 kcal in chemistry), so that's 2,000 kcal/day.
300,000,000 Americans.  365 days/yr.  That's 2.19x10^14 kcal/yr to feed the U.S.

1 kcal = 3.968 Btu, so that's 8.69x10^14 Btu/yr.
A barrel of oil contains 5.8x10^6 Btu (approximately).

Therefore, the food intake of the U.S. is equal to the energy in about 149,826,207 barrels of oil per year.  The article says the 400 kcal breakfast required 2800 kcal in fossil fuels (a factor of 7).  That would put the US consumption of oil for food at 1,048,783,448 barrels per year.  That's about one seventh of our entire consumption.

I don't know: maybe they're right, but I have a feeling that if you keep adding this up for everything we buy (textiles, electronics, etc.) plus our commuting and electrical generation via oil you would end up with a figure very much greater than our total consumption.  I'm just recommending a pinch of salt we our breakfast oil.  :-)

I wish the story linked back to the original study.  I can't seem to find it or even a site for the University of Michigan's Center for Sustainable Agriculture.  They have a Center of Sustainable Systems, but nothing there on this study.  I guess I'm just a little suspicious when I see numbers thrown around with no sources directly cited to back them up.

None of this, mind you, is meant to imply that we shouldn't reduce our energy consumption in food production:  it's a good thing to do.  I just don't trust the numbers...

Energy used for food production: 10.5% of total USA energy used.

Food production accounts for 17% of all fossil fuel use in the US.

Average consumption is 2100 kcal/day but production is 3774 kcal/day.

refs are in Eshel and Martin, Diet, Energy, and Global Warming

full paper--

Thanks!  That's the kind of meaty (or tofuy for the vegetarians in the group) kind of data I like!
I'm confused by the whole EROEI concept. One poster said we should look at ERO(non-renewable)EI. That seems like a wise modification. Aren't some types of energy more valuable than others? Don't the laws of thermodynamics come into play here? Is there a primer on the EROEI concept that someone could direct me to?


I love the idea of being the "gentleman farmer" and growing my own food, I figure for only a few million dollars I could do that here. An acre or two costs that much. Plus I'd need to invest a certain amount in tall fences and other security paraphanalia.

Then I've thought about what I call 'guerrilla farming' which means going out in the dead of night and planting not easily recognizable as food plants in odd bits of land that only grow weeds now. That's tempting, but it would take considerable sneaking around and what I can only call ninja skills, for both planting and harvesting, because the SWAT team would surely be called out or at least the cops and the guys with the strait jacket and the big net if I were caught so much as planting a single nettle plant on the most inconspicuous block of nondescript greenage on the most abandoned ex-tech property. I'd be in even more trouble if I planted/harvested in public land.

I could buy some land way wayyyy far away, and farm there, but we're talking hundreds of miles, and it would easily still cost me a hundred grand or so. Plus the gas to travel back and forth to it, plus the hinterlands in the US are already rife with the "brigand culture" some of the more aware Collapse writers have warned us will be a feature of rural life when it all goes to hell for the US economy.

This is why I do indeed thing Matt Savinar is right, we're going to get busted right down to the bottom when/if the collapse happens. I hate to get political, but US society is designed to keep nonfarmers from learning to farm, because then it hurts business for the supermarkets. It's why all landscaping in the US is inedible, the one single exception I've seen being the "natal plum" which is a nasty looking, milky-sapped, Christmas tree bulb of a thing, which no one thought anyone would eat. They turn out to be good though, street people and little kids will try anything. Oh and you can eat "sour grass" but it always horrifies people when I pop some of the cute yellow flowers in my mouth, and tell 'em it's good.

Nope the vast majority of the US population is kept ignorant of how to be self-sufficient in the same way as albino lab rats are kept in an artificial environment, and most of us have about the same chances as that white rat when turned loose into the wild.

flean -

Well put!

Within a 30-mile radius of any major city on the Eastern Seaboard and in many other parts of the country farm land is rapidly disappearing. The reason is simple: the land is more valuable for housing development, and farmers can make far more by selling off their land to developers than by stuggling to make a profit growing crops and butting heads with Big Agri-business.  

 Consequently, many of the farms that still exist and are close in to a metropolitan area are owned by your 'gentleman farmers' who either raise horses or do farming as hobby but mainly want a large spread of valuable land as part of their estate. This is hardly what I'd call farming in the true sense of the word.  

So, if one takes a large, well-established metropolitan area, such as the Philadelphia area for example, you are going have to be rich in order to buy a decent size farm within  a 20- to 30-mile radius of center city. And even if money were no object, there just isn't nearly enough farm land left within that radius to support even a small fraction of the several million people who live in the Philadelphia metropolitan area.  Let's face it, large metropolitan areas are almost totally dependent on the import of large amounts of food grown elsewhere. I really don't see how this is going to change regardless of what sort of farming one plans on doing.

This is one reason why I am not as down on the deep exurbs as a lot of people at TOD. A person living in a McMansion on a two-acre lot is theoretically capable of growing  a not insignificant fraction of his food needs in time of extreme crisis. An urban dweller cannot.

We can't have it both ways. We cannot cram our expanding population into even more crowded urban areas and expect them to live independently. On the other hand, independent living requires a minimum amount of land capable of being cultivated, and you can only obtain such land (at affordable prices) far from urban areas. So take your pick.

I'm a peak oil moderate, and I do think this talk of tall fences and SWAT teams is over the top ... but in a situation where food got truly expensive or "tight" ... you might think "open" rather than "closed."

Join, or start, a garden club.  Help your neighbors get their crops in.  Everybody growing, swapping, and trading, is much more productive (and safe) than trying to be the only one.  My memories of the 70's victory gardens is that results were somewhat uneven.  Non-gardeners had a rough time getting started without some help. A garden club will also tell you what grows "like a weed" in your area, so you don't beat your head against the ground trying to grow something unsuited.

Finally, on getting "busted right down to the bottom" ... in what year, at what oil depletion rate?

If we get they symmetrical production curve proposed by Hubbertians, it will take as long to fall from peak to half-peak production as it did to climb from half-peak to peak production.  Thirty or forty years?

I live in a semi-rural area where the housing boom has resulted in several large sloping lots cleared of trees with probably unsalable houses planted in the middle.  I am seriously considering doing some late night gorilla "landscaping" with something edible, hardy, and weed-like, definitely Jerusalem artichokes, maybe amaranth.
< I hate to get political, but US society is designed to keep nonfarmers from learning to farm, because then it hurts business for the supermarkets.>

Is there any real indications that todays farmers know how to "farm"?

I am not being a smart azz, but most "farmers" now are machinery operators who engage in "mono-cropping" of one major commodity crop (i.e., corn, soybeans, wheat) and do most of their actual eating from the supermarket themselves.

My late grandfather, who ate out of a garden, killed his own hogs, cows and chickents for meat, and milked cows, was always amazed and dismissive of the "farmer" with the $80,000 combine (don't laugh, that was big money in the early 1970's when he still farmed) who had to go to the store constantly to get groceries!  How many of the "modern farmers" could actually feed themselves even with 100's of acres of land?

Quick Trivia Game:

Q.  What is America's fastest growing "crop" in acres cultivated, if we define a crop as a plant that is fertilized, pest controlled, and watered, both naturally and artificially, and which is cultivated and maintained by fossil fuel machinery?

Answer at the end of this post.

By the way, did anybody ever bother to do a study on how much fossil fuel is consumed feeding America's cats and dogs and other assorted pets?...these creatures are often better fed than many of the world's human citizens.
Would we consider the pet reduction issue a priority in a real "die off" before we let humans die off?

O.K., time for the answer to the trivia question, which was "Q.  What is America's fastest growing "crop" in acres cultivated, if we define a crop as a plant that is fertilized, pest controlled, and watered, both naturally and artificially, and which is cultivated and maintained by fossil fuel machinery?

Lawn grass.  How's that for a kick in the pants....imagine a nation so wealthy that it spends vast amounts of water, fertilizer, pesticides and herbicides, plus machinary and fuel to raise ad maintain a crop that feeds no one!

The myths that this nation engage in, and the counter mythology of the "sustainable" concerned are a long way from thinking through all realities on these issues.  Would I do without a perfect lawn, and Fido and Kitty to poop on it before I would go without food?

This is one of the reasons I like ethanol, biogas and biodiesels. It gives an excess farming capacity and fuel feedstock that can be used as food in a major emergency.
Golf courts are spare farmland.
A lot of horses could end up as spare protein and their stables as small dairy farms with goats or cows.
No money "wasted" on prepairing for an emergency, only money used for people hobbies.

The fastest growing "crop" in Sweden is probably spruce...

By the way, did anybody ever bother to do a study on how much fossil fuel is consumed feeding America's cats and dogs and other assorted pets?...

If you look at a typical dry dog chow you can see the bulk is cheap scrap grain and cheap scrap legume with sparing amounts of cheap scrap animal flesh and rancid fat, some of which is rendered from euthanized pets, supplemented with a variety of vitamins, minerals, and essential fatty acids. I suspect the EROEI is similar to most processsed human foods with most of the energy due to processing.

these creatures are often better fed than many of the world's human citizens.

Yes, I cook for my dogs using the National Academies Press doggie DRI book and they do eat better than most of the people I know. Also now that I am feeding them raw fats instead of rancid fats, their coats smell of flowers instead of dog. I consider the processing energy to be minimal because I presoak before cooking so as to mimimize cooking time. Their fats, fruits, and vegetables are uncooked but pureed or ground.

They do eat a lot, however, about 1000 kcal each, and their grains and legumes took some energy to grow. Also, although large dogs do have considerable energy requirements, they are considerably less energy intensive than human children.

Would we consider the pet reduction issue a priority in a real "die off" before we let humans die off?

During the Nazi occupation of Greece when 800K Greeks starved, there were no dogs or cats to be seen. But I think it might also be true that some people might rather die than to be separated from their pets, if they really love them (as I do), or find little reason to continue if they should lose their pets. It happens even in times of plenty.

Some people have confessed that they love their dogs more than their children. There are probably too many people who should have children.

That's all it took? Where are the Krauts when you need them? Have you seen the dogs in Greece, now? Try walking around Athens at two in the morning. It's like a real-life Werewolf movie.
Who needs Germans? All you need is Asians of various ethnicities to move to Athens and set up ethnic restaurants. The stray pet problem will dematerialise in an eco-friendly way. Asians are a dog-hater's best friend! (and a cat-hater's best friend too.)
If you look at a typical dry dog chow you can see the bulk is cheap scrap grain and cheap scrap legume with sparing amounts of cheap scrap animal flesh and rancid fat, some of which is rendered from euthanized pets, supplemented with a variety of vitamins, minerals, and essential fatty acids. I suspect the EROEI is similar to most processsed human foods with most of the energy due to processing.

I am doubtful of the euthanized pets being used for petfood.
By products of meat industry yes but I worke in a vet clinic through highschool.  No vet would do that and PETA as well as other animal organizations would have a field day in the media. Where is your source.

Taste buts. That's all there is to it. And conservation. The picture of "organic" vegetables wrapped in plastic shown in a post suck big time. The vegetables shown will remain edible, tasty and moist for months when kept in the right conditions without plastic.
There is nothing better than a meal consisting of new potatoes, green beans, sweet corn (not the Monsanto type) and freshly caught seabass.
Not to mention the onions, garlic, letuce, tomatoes, beetroot, courgette, pumpkins, peas, several types of beans to dry, andive, leak, white and red cabbage, rubarb, strawberries, blackbarries, plums, apples and pears from our 100 m2 garden(probably forgot some)
Yes, the market I buy at, about 100 yards from here, a nice corporate Albertson's, sells vegs w/o the wrapping.

Partially it's a cultural thing, whites/blacks/hispanics don't mind unwrapped vegs, go over to the Chinese market (and perhaps stay for the lower prices and more local food!) and more vegs tend to be wrapped. They really tend to be wrapped in a Japanese market. It's all cultural since you're supposed to wash your veggies or sear 'em well in the wok.

OK now back to what farming or "farming" CAN I do. I'm in a tiny studio apt. I probably can get away with some guerrilla farming, of greens with easily spreadable seeds. I do believe veganism is unnatural and fatuous and thus as a meat-eater as mentioned above I should be willing to eat meat in all of Mother Nature's wonderful forms, and that does mean bugs. Easily raised, mealworms are supposed to be quite good. As well as other tasty bugs. If I moved up to a larger apartment, a certain amount of fish raising becomes possible (have you prices tilapia recently?)

Then there's pseudo-farming, as in my guerrilla farming, the feed a squirrel/eat a squirrel algorithm, "pet" rabbits and guinea pigs, etc.

It's just rather exasperating when you see how things are set up, public plants and trees are intentionally nonedible (edible ones tend to drop unsightly fruit and acorns and so on or get picked by ppl of the wrong caste) and how much people are trained to depend on the corp's.

I can only hope the crash is slow enough that people will have the time to adjust and learn to live sustainably.

I do believe veganism is unnatural

The point is it's viable, it's good for the biosphere, and it could be good for you. Conditionally, because nothing magic happens to one's health when omitting animal foods unless they are replaced with plant foods that are better.

and fatuous

How many papers on veg*nism have you read? It not so easy to dismiss after adequate consideration.

It is more than just viable, but also has many advantages in affluent countries, including greatly reduced risks of CHD and certain types of cancers, gallstones, kidney disease and stones, rheumatoid arthritis, GI diseases, reduced risks of overweight, obesity, NIDDM, and better antioxidant status.  

Walter Willet has stated that these results are not just due to better nondietary lifestyle factors, but also due to lower intake of harmful dietary components (saturated fat, trans fatty acids, oxidized cholesterol, oxidative stressors, animal protein) and higher intakes of the beneficial components (fiber, especially soluble fiber, folate, phytochemicals, antioxidant nutrients, plant proteins, plant sterols and stanols, salicylic acid) that tend to replace flesh in the diet.

The most longevous populations get little to very little animal foods in their diets. It is not much of a stretch to go to zero from there but can result in a dramatically lower environmental impact if one makes the right choices. Even a change from 10% animal to 0% animal food in the diet can slash CO2 emissions in half. This will not be true of course with highly processed plant foods.

It is considerably less energy-intensive to eat a locally grown plant-based diet and take a few mcg of B12 produced directly from bacteria rather than to indirectly use an animal's flesh which obtained it from bacteria in the soil. In addition, the B12 in supplements is more available than that from animal foods. This becomes increasingly important as we age and the intrinsic factor. gastric acidity, and pepsin which allow for adequate assimilation, decline.

and thus as a meat-eater as mentioned above I should be willing to eat meat in all of Mother Nature's wonderful forms, and that does mean bugs.

I wish to be spared of the bug eating but would not rule it out entirely if straits were very dire. There was a recent NYT magazine article on the personalities of animals including drosphila melanogaster.

What's good for Mother Earth is NOT trying, for a change, to cover it with a barely-surviving blanket of humans. If we cut our numbers down, or more likly the Four Horsemen do it for it, and get down to hunter-gatherer population levels, then we can live like we're designed to.

Anything other than hunter-gatherer is unnatural for us, not what we're designed for. Not that we can't live as a seething blanket of 12 billion eating our allotment of factory-grown soy protein and eked out vitamins etc., but why would anyone want this kind of future for mankind? Why are all these crackpot schemes designed to allow even more starving billions to be crammed onto the planet being developed and espoused?

Vegans SCARE me.

A hunter-gatherer culture would be a boring waste of what can be done with intelligence. I would consider such a fate for humanity as an utter disaster, the only worse one would be extinction.
Magnus, I have had to use my wits to their limits while hunting on my 100 hectares of hilly forest, and often  was not up to the task.  Boring it was not.  But now, with the overpopulation of deer, I don't have to leave my back yard to get more than I can eat.  My friends harvest about 35 a year here, and this only keeps even with their reproduction.

And as a result of  fool city people coming in and feeding the dear creatures, they are getting  larded with fat.  Something I never saw before.

By sheer witless good luck, and by avoiding the popular choices of the time, I am now a living representative of what we all could have if we didn't have so many people.  Lots of land, lots of water, lots of food, lots of cooperative friends. And we could live on pretty close to no oil, just as did the people here 100 years before me.

Sure, lots of work too, but why risk boredom?

Of course it would be nice to keep this little laptop that connects me with all you smarter but less lucky people.

I think Magnus is correct.

Hunting and gathering is the way we lived for 99% of the time we've been on the planet, but for technology to advance we need food surpluses that can support at least small cities.

Gardening will do that. Horticultural societies can be very impressive in what they can do, as for example in China before plow agriculture was introduced. Of course these societies used slaves instead of fossil fuels. The pre-Columbian civilizations of Latin America were based on gardening, because there were no suitable draft animals around.

My studies of horticultural societies show that women do almost all of the hard gardening work, while men devote themselves to the more important activities of brewing and drinking beer, hunting, and discussing politics. Ah, those were the days . . . .

The more posts on TOD I read, the more I am convinced that we should go back to asking the truly fundamental questions, questions such as: "How big should a city be?" that Plato and Aristotle focused on. Or "How can excessive concentration of wealth be prevented?" Or "How can population be stabilized?" Or "How can we get the best people into leadership positions and prevent power from corrupting them?" These and a few others are the fundamental questions, but few have the courage to face them nowadays.

By avoiding fundamental questions we have piled up a huge mountain of troubles for modern societies.

> "How big should a city be?"

My own answer depends on the question "what is a city?".
I figure it is an area where it is reasonable to travel to reach manny people, workplaces and traders. This means that mass transportation like fast trains make manny towns into my country into a few cities or city regions. I think this way of distributing a city makes nearly unlimited growth in city region size possible. I regard it as a good political goal to make large parts of my own country into a few such city regions by further developent of rail traffic and city planning of dense houses around the railway stations. Travel by car is more like travel by foot, you get a round city although a large and sparce one.

> "How can excessive concentration of wealth be prevented?"

Is that a problem as long as the wealth is wisely used? It is essentially the same question as how to get good leaders that do not become corrupt. Resent local history tells me that concentration of wealth among good entrepreneurs have done enourmous ammounts of good, but power structures inheriting the wealth seldom do an outstanding job. It seems to often hinge on a few individuals who happen to be at the right place at the right time being smart enough to do productive things and wise enough to do good things. The randomness of the process is a little... worrisome.

Excessive concentration of wealth leads to plutocracy and corruption, usually followed by tyranny and revolution.

Both Plato and Aristotle believed that human fulfillment could only be achieved within a city-state. I think I see the glimmerings of the city-state idea in your words above.

When political units become too large, they tend to become ungovernable empires that tend to split up. When political units become too small, they become weak and helpless.

The nation-state of today is more-or-less an accident of military technology, though that statement is an oversimplification.

I like the way the Swiss work their democracy--much autonomy in small cantons, a new president every year, and universal military service for men. Now that women have the vote in Switzerland, maybe they also should be subject to military service.

I like the (probably not true, but who knows?) story about when Kaiser Wilhelm visited Switzerland around 1910 and said to the President: "You have an excellent army of 250,000 men. But what if I send an army of 750,000 to invade your country?"

At which point the President of Switzerland looked Kaiser in the eye and said:

"I would order each soldier to shoot three times."

Kaiser Bill got the message.

Most of the loss would not be tools like laptops but immense ammounts of culture, much, much, more then can be handed down from parents and local tribe to the local children. Children who randomly are gifted for different things, often other things then what their parents do.

Humans can of course be happy while doing things as you do and have exelent and fulfilling lives. But so manny other lives can also be fullfillig while not being stuck with bad theories on how the world around us works. I do not like the idea of an unknowing haze of a culture with plenty of anecdotes about usefullness of plants but no knowledge of what is beyond the naked eye and a view of the universe that shrinks down to the weak imagination that have given us the current religions.

Countless generations have wonderd "how", "why", "What is  that" and now we are finally getting somewhere with understanding and manipulating our physical environment. Its not guaranteed to be nice to know things, now we know that we are fucking up a lot of things, but I prefer that over "blissfull" ingnorance.

See how hard it is to really communicate with just this little keyboard?  What I meant by "laptop" is "all there is to know in the world".  I shall try again.  I am lucky to live in a copiously bountiful bit of space-time.  By good luck and the work of all who came before me, I have access to all the knowledge of the planet,  So one minute I can be murdering an innocent groundhog for supper and the next minute cranking out a dynamic simulation of an automatic transmission bicycle!  What fun! What luck!

Alas, too many people have no fun and no luck.  Would that the world were a better place.  Let us all try to make it so.

senior citizen got ba before green revolution.

senior citizen recalls that lots starved to death before green revolution.

world population was only slightly greater than 2 billion when senior citizen was graduated from high school.

world population apparently has increased to about 6.5 billion today, thanks to green revolution.

world population may follow oil and other energy production declines senior citizen, 45 days younger than saddam, speculates.

later, i hope

To some extent, US farmers will get cost relief when the price of farmland declines as farmers go bankrupt. You can grow food and make money organically at 100$ an acre a lot better than at 800$ an acre.
Then again, when/if the dollar renormalises and we have balanced import/export levels, agricultural production will be encouraged as US farmers make lots and lots of money at the new, higher prices.
This may happen sequentially. It won't happen at the same time because if the farmes start making money, land prices will go up.
All prices are relative. Will the price of food be high relative to the price of fuel or vice versa? Will the price of fuel and food be higher relative to the median household income? Will people spend a higher percentage of their income for fuel in the future? If so will they spend less for food by simply not eating at restaurants? Will they spend less on fuel by simply coordinating trips to the store or work with one other neighboring household? How much lower will the percentage of the population with a job be if half of current restaurants went belly up?
I really like Manning's book, "Against the Grain" (after you get past the first chapter). Its basic thesis is that agriculture was humanity's big mistake. Nothing like going to the root causes!