Today’s transcontinental head of lettuce, grown in California but eaten in Washington, D.C., is emblematic of our dysfunctional food economy. For every calorie of food energy this lettuce provides, roughly 35 calories of fossil fuel energy will have been burned to grow, harvest, process and ship it. Compare this to 60 years ago when one calorie of fossil fuel produced roughly two and a half calories of food. From the standpoints of energy efficiency and cost-effectiveness, we would be better off drinking the oil.
America’s food production system is killing us. It relies on the use of fossil fuels, chemicals, growth hormones and antibiotics, and on production and farming practices that erode the soil and deplete the groundwater.An entirely different approach to food production can be glimpsed at Polyface Farm in central Virginia, where Joel Salatin’s Christian faith informs the way he farms and, to the best of his ability, honors the animals.
When I was a child I could hardly wait for Wilhelm Roepke, my grandfather, to arrive at our farm. Though he had formally “retired” after a lifetime of farming in Poland, Germany and southern Alberta, he couldn’t stay away from the fields and the barns. His fields and animals had a hold on him, a pull that he responded to with affection and care.