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An Efficient Thanksgiving Day Turkey

Jeff Siegel | Thursday November 27th, 2008 | 0 Comments

turkeys2005-200.jpgThe free-range turkey we bought for this year’s Thanksgiving was ordered through a local organic and natural foods store. And it was about three times the cost of the conventional turkeys they were selling at the mega-supermarket.
But our turkey was raised naturally, without genetically-modified feed grown with synthetic, nutrient-depleting fertilizers. The feed wasn’t covered in pesticide residue either. There was also minimal processing, minimal storage, and transportation was less than 30 miles.
From farm to table, this turkey represents the workings of a sustainable and efficient food system. A system that, unfortunately, is not more widely utilized and accepted.


Most of the food we produce today is done so in an unsustainable way. And I’m not just talking about environmentally unsustainable. I’m talking about bottom-line sustainability. For instance, when energy prices shoot back up (and you better believe they will once we get a respite from this economic downturn), more and more agricultural operations will be forced to pass those higher energy prices onto you…the consumer. Just like we saw this past summer.
You see, an enormous amount of fossil fuel is required in industrial farming. And not just for transportation and fueling machinery either. In fact, the biggest chunk of fossil fuel usage in industrial farming actually comes from chemicals.
That’s right, as much as 40 percent of energy consumed in the food system can be traced back to artificial fertilizers and pesticides. Most industrial fertilizers today are synthesized from nitrogen and natural gas.
The U.S. Department of Energy has estimated that it takes an average of 5.5 gallons of fossil fuel per acre. And the USDA has stated that reducing repetitive fertilizer application on the 250 million acres of major U.S. cropland would save about $1 billion worth of petroleum-based fertilizers and pesticides per year.
Of course, transporting all our food is energy-intensive too.
Most industrial farming utilizes economies of scale to gain a competitive advantage. And that means that today, most of our food is grown in concentration-specific areas. However, as we just saw six months ago, when oil prices skyrocketed, that competitive advantage began to deteriorate. This is a trend that will only continue to get worse. And don’t let the current price of oil fool you. That price is heading right back up once the dust of today’s recession settles. And when it does, once again the cost to transport all that food from one centralized area will soar. This is a big country, folks. And it ain’t cheap to move tomatoes grown in California’s San Joaquin valley to Baltimore.
Point is, we’ve become very accustomed to having unlimited access to cheap, and abundant fossil fuel resources. But those days are coming to an end. And just like we must transition our transportation infrastructure to accommodate an eventual shortfall in gasoline and diesel, we must transition the way we grow, process and move our food. This means embracing agricultural systems that don’t use synthetic fertilizers and costly pesticides. This means moving away from the centralized industrial farms and supporting local farms and co-ops. This means allowing animals to feed themselves on grass and distribute manure, fertilizing pastures without the assistance of added chemical fertilizers.
Now I realize that some may look at this as just some treehugger rant. But this isn’t just about doing what’s right for the environment. This is about doing what’s right for the long-term economic stability of the nation. With fossil fuel depletion comes an enormous vulnerability for a country that relies too much on oil, coal, and natural gas. And while we can’t transition our transportation systems overnight, we can certainly begin to make the necessary adjustments to our food systems. If we don’t, it won’t matter that you can’t afford to drive to the grocery store anymore. You won’t be able to afford the food in it.
Okay, perhaps I’m being a bit dramatic. But you get my point.
Have a great Thanksgiving. Enjoy the food, and more importantly, enjoy the time you spend with your family. It is invaluable.
Want more Thanksgiving coverage? The Business of Truly Sustainable Turkey Farming


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