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Food is Really, Really Important!

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As Reverend Thomas Malthus wrote in 1798, “Any population that grows by a fixed percentage each year eventually outgrows its food supply.”

Enough said? Not quite…

The good, but admittedly dour, Reverend is alluding to is the fact that any growth over a long period of time will require more and more food. And here is the important part: our capacity to grow food (plow, plant, fertilize, water, harvest, truck, process, transport, package, distribute, store, sell, bring home, and dispose of waste & packaging) is currently very energy consuming! According to Dr. David Pimentel, Cornell University professor emeritus and food energy expert, it currently takes about 500 gallons of gasoline equivalents a year to feed the average American.

If we don’t have as much energy for growing food, we won’t have as much food!

Let me restate that: if we keep doing what we are doing – agri-business, supermarket-distribution and if energy availability diminishes, we won’t have enough food.

So where are we now?  Our population is increasing, even if more slowly, and our energy availability is decreasing, so energy per person is going down at an even faster rate.

And as I said, food is really, really important!

After all, it is easy and relatively painless to: turn off extra lights to save electricity; turn down the thermostat a few degrees and close off a room in the winter to save heat; skip the Christmas trip to grandma’s or bike to work, to save gas; but every day, sometimes two or three times a day, we really want to eat!

What are we to do?

First, I don’t see anyone volunteering to leave, so let’s assume we will need as much and maybe a little more food (population is growing) as we are getting today (although most of us could afford to lose a few pounds). Still the solution must be one that uses less energy to get us the food we need.

We don’t have to transition overnight, but we can all start learning to grow and store food. We can all support and develop local sources of food (local farms, CSAs, community and backyard gardens) and distributors of local food (farmers' markets, co-ops and locally focused resturants). And we can choose to start putting a higher priority on more nutritious food by buying locally produced fresh foods and eating less food that is highly processed or comes from far away or is energy intensive (feedlot meat, for example). In addition to saving energy, we will all be healthier for the effort.


Dan Gibson is the Editor and Chief Coordinator of Our Energy Independence Community ( Previously he was a participating contractor in NYSERDA’s Home Performance program and a rater in the New York ENERGY STAR Home program. He is currently building a 100% Solar Home. He can be reached at


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