Thursday, September 13, 2007


This is the kind of thing that could just push me over the edge. Here I am, thinking I'm doing a good thing by buying local goods, and it turns out that it maybe doesn't even make a difference:

Even when considering transport-related emissions alone, simply measuring the distance food has covered does not accurately reflect the energy consumption of its journey...

And it turns out our own part in the chain is often the most damaging, since when we drive to the supermarket, we might come back with only a few of bags of food in the car boot. Such a trip is far less fuel efficient than the one taken by that same food on its way to the supermarket in a truck packed with the assistance of load-optimisation software, which determines how to stack cargo so that barely an inch of empty space is left in the back of the vehicle.

A more realistic assessment would be how many pounds of carbon dioxide are generated by transport for each pound of food carried. (via kottke)
It's a good article that weighs out the benefits and costs of food, which is something that I'm pretty interested in. I participate in a gardening project, for example, and drive out to Cumberland every Sunday to work for several hours in the garden that will provide some of our winter food. And just about everyone else drives there, too, although we do really well at carpooling. Besides the fact that I love gardening and learning about how things grow, does it equal out? Would it have been less damaging to the environment to just buy those 50 lbs of potatoes, etc. rather than having everyone drive out to the farm all the time?

I've been thinking, lately, after hanging out with some radical anti-capitalist friends (whom I love intensely) that food politics--and other kinds of anti-capitalist politics--are kind of about control issues: striving for the zero-carbon, zero-waste lifestyle feels similar to eating disorders in that there is an unattainable goal that one is always trying for but can never achieve.

There is no "outside" of capitalism, there's no way to make zero impact on the environment, unless you go feral and live in the woods. I guess that the traditional Native American lifestyle is held up as an example of how that can work, but the logical part of my brain protests that that way of living is just not possible right now, with the population as large as it is. And as nice as it would be to live that way (ha ha ha), that kind of existence is probably short and hard. There is an idealization of that kind of life that I think neglects a lot of the problems that are inherent, like the possibility of mass starvation.

I enjoy a lot of the luxuries of 21st century living, like running water and the internet, but most of all I like having free time to write.

And the idealism of the zero-impact goal makes me feel guilty all the time. Every second I could be doing more, wasting less, and I start to feel frozen, like I can't do anything. I think it would be more helpful to talk to a lot of people about how to reduce their waste and their carbon footprint rather than to individually chase that ever-retreating zero.

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