Five Percent: Conserve Energy

Climate Change Is Important: Energy Conservation is the First Step


November 3, 2005

Organic Foods: Not There Yet (But Still Worth It)

Category: Household,Organic & Local Food,Sustainability,Technology,Tips – Tom Harrison – 10:35 pm

In several posts, I have talked about the massive energy cost of food, and food related waste. So I have started trying to address this problem by making changes, specifically by trying to buy organic or locally grown food, and by considering ways to reduce how much needs to get hauled off to be recycled. It’s only been a couple weeks so far, but I have to report that neither endeavor is proving to be easy. But I still think there are incremental changes I can make that will have value.

Eating organic food is harder than I had imagined. We do eat a lot of fruits and vegetables, and relatively not a lot of meat, I would guess. I figured I would be able to almost completely replace conventional fruits and vegetables with organic. But even though we live a couple of blocks away from a Whole Foods Market store, one of the leading purveyors of such things, I still found it hard to get even a majority of my fruits and vegetables in organic variants. Many vegetables and herbs were easy to find, and prices were a little more, but nothing excessive. But for fruit, the options were pretty weak. Out of apples, grapes, oranges and bananas, I was only able to find bananas. None of the produce was locally grown, although apples should be available by now. I was able to buy some organic packaged food, like beans, pasta, and corn chips. But many of the staples like milk and meat were “natural”, but that’s not organic. We got some dishwasher detergent that is supposed to be better for the environment, but the math in terms of energy use here is a little hard to pin down.

Again, the primary benefit of organic that I see is the reduction in use of inorganic fertilizer, which accounts for almost one third of the energy cost of food production. So eating chicken or beef raised naturally on corn grown inorganically is missing a lot of the point.

As for reducing our trash output, our town has an exceptionally good curbside recycling program; about 2/3 of our trash is recyclable. Recycling is no panacea — it takes a lot of energy to recycle (sometimes as much as it does to create), and it still has to be hauled away. But on the whole, it’s significantly better than just putting it in a landfill. The main things I see that just seem a complete waste are junk mail and excessive packaging.

But back to the subject: we try to eat organic and reduce waste. It’s a little more expensive, but more to the point, it’s just hard to make a majority of your food organic. And for us, at least, the vast majority of food waste doesn’t end up in a landfill (and we’re giving composting a try).

What’s the bottom line. We can make only a little difference in changing what we buy and throw away. But a small difference is the whole idea of this 5% site — just because there’s not a big bang, doesn’t mean it’s not worth it.

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