Michael Pollan was the keynote speaker at the Georgia Organics Conference March 21, 2009. The event was held at Agnes Scott College. He addressed the audience after they enjoyed a farmers feast (made from local food) about his thoughts on the "state of the movement." The address is available for viewing in its entirety or in separate parts.
Michael: Let’s talk about energy and climate change. The food system, by which I mean not just the way we grow food, but the way we process it and transport it, uses more fossil fuel, about 20 percent of the total, and contributes more greenhouse gas, not just C02, but methane and nitrous oxide, to the atmosphere than any other industry, somewhere between, depending on the scientists you listen to, 17 and 34 percent.
The 20thcentury industrialization of agriculture has transformed the way we grow food from a process that in 1940 could take one calorie of fossil fuel energy and produce two calories to food, to one that takes ten calories of fossil fuel energy to produce one calorie of supermarket food. And it gets worse when you look at meat production. Feedlot beef takes 55 calories of fossil fuel energy to produce one calorie of meat. So, that leaves us where we are. That when we eat from the industrial food chain today, we are eating oil and spewing greenhouse gas. Not a very pretty image.
But it’s also an absurdity when you consider, when you remember that every calorie of food you have ever eaten is the result of photosynthesis. Right? It all begins, whether you're eating meat or vegetables, with that miracle. A plant taking sunlight, water, simple minerals, and creating edible energy. And there is great hope, I think, in that simple fact. Food is the original solar technology, and the challenge we face, of course, is to get back to that simple fact.