Food and drink 

What costs this food?

Mom called last night right before dinner and within minutes we were talking about high food costs.

So many of us young 'uns don't really notice food prices like previous generations of Canadians have had to.

But mom, who is a grocery-budget queen after raising a family of five on, well, not much, is amazed at how much prices are escalating these days, and not just by nickels and dimes like they used to. Some things, she remarked, will jump a couple of bucks since her last shopping trip.

For retirees like my parents and others living on limited incomes, rising food costs hurt.

So imagine trying to survive on a pension or limited income in a place like, say, Nunavut, where a jug of milk costs $14 and an apple is two bucks because of high transportation costs. Unless you know how to earn at least some of your living off the land, you'd be hooped. Or, should I say, unless you are able to live off the land, given the radical changes in ocean currents, precipitation and ecosystems that the Arctic and other regions are facing with climate change.

Factor in peak oil and the subsequent rise in oil prices and soon I won't be able to even mention food prices to mom.

But moms in Nunavut and beyond, if you think you've got challenges now to make those grocery dollars work, look out - look way out, past peak oil and into our future with a changing climate.

But first, the oil. Right now, it takes between one and 10 calories of oil energy to generate one calorie of food. By comparison, the opposite was true in the 1940s when the average U.S. farm produced over two calories of food for every calorie of oil burned.

Either way, the comparisons sum up our entrenched oil/food interdependency, one many of us fail to put in the context of food costs.

And it's not just the high transportation costs of our current, privileged, carbon-intensive supply model, which depends on trucking food thousands of kilometres from source to plate, especially plates in remote places like Nunavut or Patagonia. It's also the cost of the billions of tonnes of oil-based fertilizers and oil-based pesticides pumped into our food-growing fields annually.

In his lauded and applauded 2004 Harper's article, The Oil We Eat, Richard Manning points out that if all of the world ate the way the U.S. does, with all its oil-dependent systems, we would exhaust all known fossil fuel reserves on Earth in just over seven years.


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