Feasting On Fuel

Fossil Fuels

You might not think about it, but our modern food production system is based on turning fossil fuels into food.

A largely inefficient system, with about 10 units of fossil energy converting to about 1 unit of food energy, it’s unsustainable as the global population continues to rise.

So, who is researching the innovations we need to become more energy efficient in our food system? How can we use less energy? How can we create more?

In conjunction with Inside Energy, we’re taking a deep dive into the energy that goes into food and the methods producers are discovering to create energy from our food.

Leigh Paterson / Harvest Public Media

To make or not to make a homemade pie?  That is a classic holiday dilemma. Do you take the easy way out and buy a fairly decent frozen pie, or do you risk making your own, resulting in a potentially burnt and lumpy version?

While there is something special about that homemade option, every cook knows that it takes a lot of your own time and energy.

Brian Seifferlein / Harvest Public Media

By some estimates, producing our food consumes about a fifth of the nation’s energy supply. It takes a lot of diesel to move tractors and semis around the farm, and electricity to pump water and dry grain. But some farmers are trying to cut back on the coal and gas they use and make our food system more energy efficient.

When winter comes to Greg Brummond’s farm in northeast Nebraska, he spends his days in the machine shed fixing all the things that broke through the year.

Rebecca Jacobson / Harvest Public Media

Every day, a facility on the outskirts of Grand Junction, Colorado, takes in 8 million gallons of what people have flushed down their toilets and washed down their sinks. The water coming out the other end of the Persigo Wastewater Treatment Plant is cleaner than the Colorado River it flows into. The organic solids strained from that water are now serving a new purpose — producing fuel for city vehicles.

Abby Wendle / Harvest Public Media

The U.S. may be on the verge of a boom in new fertilizer plants, which could be good news for farmers, but not the environment.

Today’s farmers can produce more from their land than ever before thanks, in part, to nitrogen fertilizer, a key ingredient that has never been more widely available.

Jordan Wirfs-Brock / Inside Energy

From apples to zucchini, from milk to cheese, from chicken to chorizo, our modern food production turns energy from fossil fuels into food.

Some food products have a light environmental touch. But some of the foods we eat have a massive impact.

How much do you know?

As part of our Feasting On Fuel project, Inside Energy’s Jordan Wirfs-Brock has created this simple quiz to test your knowledge, or best guesses, on how much energy it takes to create basic food products.

Watch: How We're Feasting On Fuel

Dec 3, 2015

You might not think about it, but our modern food production system is based on turning fossil fuels into food.

A largely inefficient system, with about 10 units of fossil energy converting to about 1 unit of food energy, it’s unsustainable as the global population continues to rise.

Though our turkey dinner gets us sleepy, food is energy for our bodies. It’s the same energy that heats our homes, runs our cars, charges our phones.

Fuel: It’s What’s For Dinner

Dec 3, 2015
Stephanie Joyce / Harvest Public Media

There are few places where the connection between energy and food is more obvious than at the Bright Agrotech warehouse in Laramie, Wyo.

Most of the building is filled floor to ceiling with giant shelves of cardboard boxes and tubing — equipment Bright Agrotech sells to farmers — but in one corner of the warehouse, there’s a small farm: rows and rows of greens and herbs, growing in white vertical towers under dozens of bright LEDs. The hum of electricity is palpable.