Want to save the planet? Plant something to eat. Going off-grid may not be all it is cracked up to be, leaving people still mostly dependent on store food items. The food industry creates the largest carbon footprint globally, and oligarchs are grappling for the top agricultural seats because they know it can become the largest income source worldwide, exceeding oil and fossil fuels. Everyone has to eat, but how does this affect greenhouse gas?
According to the EPA, only twelve percent of the greenhouse gas comes from commercial and residential use, a large portion of this twelve percent is commercial storefront use. Many of these storefronts are retail, food stores, and restaurants that use an incredible amount of electricity. Residential use is relatively small.
But let's break this down to get the picture of how much greenhouse gas the food industry creates with something as simple as a candy bar.
Raw ingredients for a candy bar such as cocoa (now a GMO), nuts, corn and sugar, rice, and soy for oils are grown worldwide. I worked in a chocolate factory, and this list of ingredients is super oversimplified, but I want to keep this understandable. Read your ingredient labels. Candy bars have quite a few raw ingredients. The chemical preservatives have to be manufactured somewhere too.
Soils are disked or tilled before getting treated with a chemical for the raw ingredient, such as corn for corn syrup, to grow weed-free for an easy harvest, totaling two tractor passes in most cases. Then another pass with the tractor to plant the seeds. Then another tractor pass to harvest, with more tractors and equipment.
Semi-trucks then move these raw ingredients to electric-run food processors, such as sugar and oil refineries, grain drying bins, grain elevators, nut pasteurization facilities, rice-poofing plants, etc., to process and pack the raw ingredients. The raw ingredient processors must pack the finished material back into a semi-truck, semi tanker trucks, smaller 50lb bags, and sometimes in half-ton bulk plastic tote-bags or plastic-lined cardboard totes for shipping. These 50lb bags, giant plastic liners, or plastic tote-bags each come from their own plastic plant that also runs on electricity.
All of the people that work in the sugar or oil refineries, pasteurization facilities, plastic or cardboard plants, and grain elevators drive back and forth to work each day burning fossil fuels. We can't get our raw ingredients to the food manufacturing facility for a candy bar without all these people commuting and these electric facilities.
Don't forget the pallet needed to ship the raw ingredients on. A lumber company has all of its workers traveling back and forth daily, tractors, tree-cutting equipment, and semis to deliver lumber to buyers. After the tree is cut and milled, the lumber travels by semi again, burning more fossil fuel, to a pallet company where all those workers drive back and forth each day to make pallets inside a giant electrically lit warehouse. We are just getting started.
Consider each raw ingredient in the candy bar and multiply the carbon footprint for each component needed to make it. There isn't just one ingredient - there are several. Next, each of those ingredients individually hitches a ride on a semi-truck, train, or sometimes ocean barge before the product gets to the food manufacturing facility.
Once the raw ingredients make it to the food manufacturing facility, they are unloaded and made into a candy bar by the people who work there. These people drive back and forth each day to make their paychecks, burning fossil fuel. They all park in giant fully lit parking lots, built big enough to accommodate a full semi-trucks weight and size.
They pack the candy bar in a specific wrapper made for that bar that comes from another giant plant full of workers that travel back and forth burning fossil fuel. All of the inks, non-stick coatings, and plastics for the wrapper are made in another plant by other workers who commute daily burning fossil fuels that park in parking lots.
Just in case you think a factory worker might drive an electric car - don't forget they still plug into the wall to charge the battery. They burn the same electricity from the power plants that create greenhouse gas. The average factory worker also can't afford an electric car on minimum wage. The point is people commute to make the candy bar. Let's not get off subject.
Now the candy bar must be packaged once again in smaller store-sized boxes for store shelf use. You probably have never noticed them unless you have found one empty, but they are there. These specialty cardboard boxes that hold a dozen or so of the bars for the store shelf come from another plant, specializing in printing on these highly functional thin cardboard boxes that are easy to pack, close, and open for display. All of the specialty cardboard plant workers also travel back and forth from work daily. Do we need to go over where this specialty cardboard facility gets their cardboard raw materials and who provides it? They get materials from other manufacturers with commuting workers too.
Lastly, the bulk package of a dozen candy bars gets packed again in a cardboard box with several more bulk size packages and put on a pallet before being loaded onto a semi for store distribution.
A fossil-burning semi-truck drives the finished candy bars to giant commercial stores, warehouses, or small distribution points, where a portion will travel again to smaller storefront sales such as gas stations. Once in the store or warehouse, they must be kept at a specific temperature to avoid spoiling. Your local shops run lights and air conditioning or heat 24/7 to keep your food unspoiled, which is costly and wasteful in large open spaces. They fill the store with workers to stock shelves, clean aisles, and run checkouts that all travel two ways each day, burning more fuel.
Then YOU drive to get your candy bar before returning home with your simple snack. Or you might have it delivered to your house. Either way, it still takes another fossil fuel trip after the sale, even if it is on the way home in your belly.
It is like this for every single food item on the store shelves, cereal to soda pop - frozen pizza to meat. Fresh fruits and vegetables aren't all that different, and they still require packaging or sticker with the company name and bar code. A rubber band requires an entire production facility full of workers. A twist tie requires another production facility. Produce, and frozen foods also need more electricity to keep them climate-controlled and stored. That little piece of paper in between sliced cheese, or even the plastic wrapper on the outside of a slice of cheese, requires an entire manufacturing facility of people traveling back and forth from work, burning fuel, to provide you with that convenience. Every little thing about food and food packaging burns fuels.
It actually gets deeper. There are giant office buildings filled with energy-drinking computers owned by insurance companies and lawyers that have a part in this. They all are full of commuting employees that commercial farms, food manufacturers, packaging plants, and semi-truck drivers need to operate. Don't forget to include the people commuting to the auto-maker facilities, making the cars and semi-trucks required for all this transportation. That also includes the workers who commute for making the computer opponents, textiles, and plastic molding inside the vehicles. ...the rabbit hole is endless, I think you get the point. ...but they all have a part in this candy bar.
Growing foods at home eliminate excess processing, packaging, storage, and fossil fuel use. I don't have a pantry filled with cardboard boxes or plastic bags covered with pretty and expensive inks. My food doesn't come with disposable microwave trays with cellophane covers, all made by separate manufacturing facilities that all get tossed. I also don't have jars in my pantry that I can't reuse that require a separate trip back to a glass recycling facility. City trash disposal, even to a recycling facility, also burns fuels. Eventually, that tiny candy bar wrapper gets to a waste facility, using more fossil fuels one last time. That cranberry juice in my pantry is for cocktails. I can make an equivalent here at home. It is one thing I splurge on.
A store got its name because humans wanted to believe they had food "storage" on another site. "Store" isn't just a word for a place to go. It is a word for what you are supposed to be doing in your own house with your own food. Store food. I don't go to the store very often. Usually, once a month, I do not make the trip every few days or weeks as before homesteading. Over nearly a decade of being off the food grid, and with this knowledge of food manufacturing, I can't imagine the amount of fossil fuels and trash we have not used or made.
Our tractor makes a few passes through the garden each spring, and my tiller gets a few hours on it a year as I keep weeds out. Most of it I do by hand because I do not like the tiller noise, and I enjoy the serenity of the quiet work in the garden. I have a water pump to pump pond water to the garden that uses 10 gallons of gas a year. Our food requires no semi-trucks or packaging to get it to the kitchen before storage. No workers have to drive back and forth both ways to make or tend to my food because I make it here and tend to it myself. It is stored here, not at the store. My packaging is simple and plain, jars, vacuum bags, and the occasional laundry basket. I conserve energy by keeping my freezers packed and not having the doors opened on the coolers hundreds of times a day, like in stores.
It is obvious how little electricity my cabin uses compared to the massive food and packaging industry. Going-off grid was once a dream of mine, but the electrician I live with explained how I could never process, store and keep a year's supply of food single-handedly. The cost would be astronomical, I could buy enough food to live for 15 years for what they cost, and solar panels, batteries, wires, and electrical components for solar and wind power all require what? You guessed it. Factories full of people commuting back and forth from work daily to manufacture all the components before being... "ope!" shipped using more fossil fuels. It didn't add up for me. I'm glad it didn't happen. Now I see how just staying off the "food-grid" is better.
Suppose you want to save the planet. Keep your little bit of electricity and use it to minimally process some food. Plant something. Plant herbs in your window boxes. Plant a single tomato plant in a five-gallon bucket. Put some dirt in leftover sour cream containers and plant lettuce. Get a big pot and plant some carrots or potatoes. Dig up your yard and plant a garden. Sell everything you own and move to the country to live off the land (I did).
Every food you consume that you grow at home helps the planet. Every meal grown at home saves the world. Homesteaders, farmers-markets, hobby-farmers, backyard gardeners, garage hydroponic gurus, patio warriors, balcony growers, window planters, and counter-top micro-green sages are on the leading edge of saving the planet simply because they eat and share the food they love to grow at home. It's time to get growing!
I have been homesteading for two decades and living off the food grid for nearly a decade. For more information visit:
Growing Back to the Land is a gritty reality modern-day homestead novel written about one woman's journey returning to living off the land. It is available at this link Amazon in paperback and Kindle.
EPA Sources of Greenhouse Gas Emissions