Food at what Energy Cost?

by Briton Lee

In a developed society such as in the U.S., there are many things that we take for granted; chief among them being food. The consumer is divorced from how the food reaches the shelves, as well as the labor/energy costs that go into the process. The food industry is heavily energy-consumptive, and while energy consumption per capita may have fallen by 1 percent from 2002 to 2007, food-related energy use increased about 8 percent as more energy-intensive technologies were developed to produce food for our increasing population (Schwartz 2011). In fact, about 80% of the increase in annual U.S. energy consumption is food-related. Some of the significant ways energy is consumed in food production include fossil fuels needed to power machines, synthesis of crop fertilizers, and supplying/transferring water (Biederman 2015). The biggest energy investment, by far, is the replacement of manual labor with mechanized labor; high-tech hen houses and related egg-harvesting techniques increased energy use per egg by 40% according to the FDA (Schwartz 2011). This trend is emulated in the household, with more energy-intensive appliances being used, such as blenders, food processors, second refrigerators, etc. Since the U.S. has a long-distance shipping economy, there are also massive energy investments in transportation. This type of economy is particularly vulnerable to supply chain disruptions. It is puzzling to see a rich and fertile region like the U.S. Midwest, with enormous primary production potential, not being able to feed itself. This long-distance shipping economy further removes us from our food source and accelerates the deterioration of our connection to the land. As agricultural and environmental problems such as soil erosion and decline of water quality continue, fewer people will feel that such issues are important as food continues to arrive at the table unimpeded. Ultimately, we should be cognizant of how large the costs of energy production and transportation are, and how they continue to grow.


Schwartz, Kelly. 2011. “Food for thought: How energy is squandered in food industry”. USA Today. (

“Anuga FoodTec 2015: Energy Efficiency in the Food and Beverage Industry”. Food&Drink Business Europe. (

“Increasing Energy Efficiency in Food Processing Facilities”. Minnesota Technical Assistance Program. (

Biederman, David. 2015. “Fossil Fuels Are The Food Of Food”. Center for Industrial Progress. (


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