Sunday, May 18, 2008

What You Can Do About Food & Fuel Prices

We have the power, in our own hands, to slow or stop the rise of fuel and food prices. The solution is easier than you might imagine, eloquent in its simplicity, and you can put it into action without making a time or monetary investment. To understand how this can work, first we will explore the connection between the price of food and the price of fuel.

Most of the food available at grocery stores, supermarkets, and discount chains is produced by large factory farms. Whether we are talking about huge acreages in corn, wheat, or lettuce, poultry and hog houses, or feed lots, all of these enterprises use huge amounts of fuel to produce the food we eat.

Taking a look at field and row crops, first, the land is plowed with large fuel hungry equipment, similar equipment is used for planting, controlling weeds, applying fertilizers and chemicals, and it may also be used to harvest the crop. The produce or grain is then processed, often by more fuel hungry machinery, stored in (energy consuming) climate controlled buildings, transported by fuel guzzling trucks or trains, all before it is packaged and transported to your local market. Animal products including meat, poultry, eggs, and dairy make similar journeys. However, these animals are generally fed lots of grain and may live in climate controlled buildings for their entire lives. The grain and climate control adds to the fuel, food, and energy demands these products make on our supplies, pushing prices upwards.

Ethanol, made primarily from corn (here in the United States) further ties the cost of food to the cost of fuel. Some farmers are choosing to grow crops destined to become fuel rather than food, because they can expect a higher return. We in turn, pay more for food, because less is produced. That is the old rule of supply and demand.

So far, I admit, I have not interjected anything new into this conversation. But here is another little tid-bit to ponder. Most of the electricity produced in the United States comes from burning fossil fuels. This ties demand for electricity to the cost of fuel and food. It is much harder for utility companies to raise prices than it is for gas stations and grocery stores, but when they begin the next round of rate hearings, we are bound not to like the outcome of our constant demands.

Many of us first heard of supply and demand when we were in grade school. I know I did. But I always thought this supply and demand was caused by those masses of people out there. You know the ones; they live in cities far, far away. Those people way over there, that we have never met, will never meet, and who really don’t care about the prices we have to pay. I bet you pretty much think the same thing about the rule of supply and demand. That it has nothing what-so-ever to do with you.

I woke up the other morning with the realization that it wasn’t those other people out there that created the supply and demand; it was me; you and me. It is actually all of us together. We definitely create the demands. Every time we flip a switch, every time we start an engine. We are the ones creating the demands on fuel and electricity; that ultimately raise not only their prices, but also the prices of our food. After you chew on that idea for a while, it is time to start thinking about what you can do.

Start by unplugging all those electric appliances that have a little light on them that shows they are plugged in. Those little lights represent tiny constant demands on electricity and fossil fuel. They may not be using much, but they are using some. They are driving up your bill, and everyone else’s too. The demands they create on fossil fuel drives up the cost of food. It is going to take you a few seconds to plug the appliance in when you need to use it, but it is worth it in the long run.

Next, think twice before you turn on that light. This takes a little practice, if like me, you are in the habit of flipping the switch every time you enter a room. I have been thinking of putting tape on all my switches, so I actually have to think about turning on the light. However, I have been getting better about not just automatically flipping the switch; and I have also gotten better at turning it off when I find it really doesn’t make a difference in how well I can complete a given task.

We have all heard about alternatives to driving our cars; really, for most of our lives. It’s time to get serious about this. Walk, bike, car pool, take the bus, or telecommute. (This is going to take a little more of an investment on your part, but it is for a noble cause.) I read about a US Secret Service agent who used to roller blade to work. Be creative and make it fun. You might also be able to find a job closer to home; or a home closer to work. For many folks that isn’t practical. But, if you keep in mind that food prices, not just for you—but for everyone, are tied to the demands we make on fuel, it might help you feel creative and motivated. Especially since there are folks on the planet being priced out of a place at the dinner table.

Once you have mastered some of these demand reducing measures, you might want to pass the word to friends and neighbors. You may find some folks willing to brainstorm about other things we can do to reduce the demands on power, energy, and fuel. Now let’s take a look at the supply side of food.

Folks, when food prices rise, growing a garden is wise. It contributes to the supply side of food, leaving more food in the system for those who, for whatever reason, cannot grow any for themselves. It will definitely save you money, and if enough of us do it, it might even slow the rising costs for everyone.

If you have never grown a garden, I promise it is both easier and more rewarding than you think. For the last few years I have had about fifty square feet under cultivation, and not only do I eat out of the garden every day all year long, last summer I was sharing produce with eight different households. I have been doing lots of research on climate change and food security, which tends to make me worry about food. (You can find some of the articles I have been reading about the on-going food crises here: and related articles on earth and climate change here: Click on view blog.) But then I go out in the garden, and I am confronted by more food than I can possibly eat.

So, here is the plan—simple, eloquent, and easy to execute. Reduce demand on fuel and electricity; increase supply of food by gardening. Don’t worry, almost every one of us can do this.

If you don’t have room for a garden, you can find or start a community garden near you with help from this web site:

Or, if you aren’t ready to garden on your own, you may be able to find a small farm where you can do a work exchange, check out: They list volunteer opportunities all around the world.

If you have no time at all, or are not physically able, you can still get involved with production through Community Supported Agriculture. Members of CSAs buy shares in local a local operation and in exchange they receive an equal divided share of the production. For more information and links to find a CSA in your area see:

For those who can garden, some suggestions on crops to grow that can be saved for winter (when prices are expected to continue to rise) see my article, When Food Prices Rise, Planting a Garden is Wise:

If you need more tips on how to get started here are some of my blog posts you may find helpful.

Simple Garden Routine Useful for Bad Backs, No Time, Short Budgets:

Companion Planting:


Here is some specific information on growing some of the foods mentioned in the article.


Fava Beans:
That’s it for now . . . Just remember, to keep your foot off the gas pedal and grow some food.

1 comment:

Harvest said...

Shall we claim success?

Gas prices have come down significantly, only because we are putting less demand on the supply. In fact OPEC has announced that it is cutting back on production, demand is down that far.

Food prices, on the other hand, are still inching upwards. We all need to eat, and that is a fact. The only way to reduce demand on food, is to get involved with production. Many of the posts on this blog will help you do just that. You can also find more information in my recently released book: Food Security & Sustainability for the Times Ahead.

Check it out at or on

You can also request a copy from your local book store or library.