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See Inside January 2012

How to Make the Food System More Energy Efficient

Changes in agriculture, policy and personal behaviors can reduce the energy a nation uses to feed itself and the greenhouse gases it emits



Photograph by Dan Saelinger

For more than 50 years fossil fuels and fertilizers have been the key ingredients in much greater global food production and distribution. The food-energy relationship has been a good one, but it is now entering a new era. Food production is rising sharply, requiring more carbon-based fuels and nitrogen-based fertilizers, both of which exacerbate global warming, river and ocean pollution, and a host of other ills. At the same time, many nations are grappling with how to reduce energy demand, especially demand for fossil fuels.

Although transportation, power plants and buildings receive a lot of policy attention as targets for reducing energy consumption, our food supply is often overlooked. In the U.S., about 10 percent of the energy budget goes to producing, distributing, processing, preparing and preserving the plant and animal matter we consume. That is a considerable wedge of the energy pie.

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