Thomas Friedman writes an opinion piece in today’s New York Times about the ongoing disaster that is the Middle East. He feels that the only way we can solve the problem is to wean ourselves from our oil guzzling ways. He points out that where oil is concerned, they are the pushers and we are the addicts.
We need to end our dependence on this part of the world for energy, because it is debilitating for us and for them. It is terrible for us, because addicts never tell the truth to their pushers. We are the oil addicts and they are the oil pushers. The only way we can be brutally honest with them is if we undertake the necessary conservation measures, investments in renewable fuels and a gasoline tax hike that could make us energy independent.
I do not want my girls to live a world where the difference between a good day and bad day is whether Moktada al-Sadr lets Iraq’s prime minister, Nuri al-Maliki, meet with the U.S. president or whether certain Arab regimes alter what their textbooks say about non-Muslims. I wish them all well, but I don’t want them impacting my life and I don’t want to be roiling theirs, and the only reason we are so intertwined now is O-I-L.
Not only would ending our oil addiction protect us from the worst in the Arab-Muslim world, it would help us support the best. These regimes will never reform as long as they enjoy windfall oil profits, which allow them to maintain closed societies with archaic education systems and protected industries that can’t compete globally. The small Persian Gulf state of Bahrain just held its second free election, in which women could vote and run. Bahrain is also the first Arab gulf state to start running out of oil. No accident.
Everyone asks what is our “Plan B” for Iraq. Answer: It’s get out as soon as we can, with the least damage possible, just as Israel got out of Gaza. And then build a wall — not a physical wall, but a wall of energy independence that will enable us to continue to engage honestly with the most progressive Arabs and Muslims on a reform agenda, but without being hostage to the most malevolent.
I agree totally with Friedman’s assessment. But what does this have to do with buying from your local farmer?
Today’s Wall Street Journal had an article about a woman, formerly from Enron, who heads Tyson Foods commodity trading and risk management. The piece (requires subscription) is about her efforts to minimize expenses by being nimble in buying raw materials and energy in the commodities futures market. A graphic that came with the story shows how much energy is used to produce a chicken that you would find in your local supermarket. It’s cleverly written as a recipe.
Heat chicken house to about 60 to 70 degrees using propane, while a breeder flock lays eggs. Using a diesel truck, deliver the eggs to a hatchery. Keep eggs warm for 21 days in an incubator run on electricity and natural gas, until hatched. Transport the chicks in a specially-designed diesel bus to a broiler farm. Keep chicks for about seven weeks in propane-heated houses, starting at 90 degrees. Reduce by five degrees a week until 70 degrees, and maintain that temperature. Ventilate with electric fans. Meanwhile, use electricity and natural gas to power the mill that grinds corn and soybeans into chicken feed. Sprinkle liberally. After seven weeks, load the chickens on an 18-wheel diesel truck and drive to a processing plant. Quickly process the chicken (within about 30 minutes) in an electricity-powered plant. Chill and ship within about six hours of arrival.
Yields about 8,000 broiler chickens.
The bold lettering is in the original graphic and is designed to show the various commodities used in the production of the chicken in our grocers shelves. Notice how much energy is used just in dealing with the chickens directly. That’s not to mention the energy consumed in growing and transporting the corn and soybeans.
Compare this to your local farmer who has a bunch of chickens running around pecking and clucking eating whatever it is that chickens eat. The mother hen sits on the eggs until they hatch and takes care of her own little ones without the need for all propane-heated houses. When the chickens are of age, the farmer kills them, dresses them, and sells them. At least that’s how they did it in the small town in southern Missouri where I grew up. The chicken houses on my grandfather’s farm had neither power nor heat, and he raised plenty of chickens. I assume that’s pretty much how it’s still done in the natural, free-range farming business.
So, buy local. It helps yor neighborly farmer; it helps wean us from Middle Eastern oil; and it tastes a whole lot better.