Pollan also contributes to the NY Times Magazine. In an October 2008 open letter to the next President, Pollan cites some striking statistics. For instance:
- 19% of the fossil fuels burned in the US are used by the agricultural sector, making it the 2nd largest category of fossil fuel use (cars are #1)
- One study says that agriculture contributes as much as 37% of the greenhouse gases we put into the atmosphere
- While in 1940, 1 calorie of fossil fuels could produce 2.3 calories of food energy, it now takes 10 calories of fossil fuel to produce 1 calorie of food
This means that while we can talk about electricity generation and hybrids until we are blue in the face, we will be missing a huge piece of the energy picture. While measurements such as yield per acre have gone up tremendously during this transition in agriculture, such a measurement gives a very flawed picture of agricultural efficiency. If efficiency is measured by amount of output for a given amount of input, the more relevant input should be energy. What's worse is that policymakers are making the situation progressively worse, and "organic" agriculture does relatively little to fix the problem. As Pollan points out,
It must be recognized that the current food system — characterized by monocultures of corn and soy in the field and cheap calories of fat, sugar and feedlot meat on the table — is not simply the product of the free market. Rather, it is the product of a specific set of government policies that sponsored a shift from solar (and human) energy on the farm to fossil-fuel energy.
In order to develop any kind of comprehensive energy policy, the agricultural dimension must be considered. Electrical grid operators complain about solar energy because of intermittancy problems, but we could be using solar power even more efficiently to power our food system. Policymakers can hopefully seize this moment to lead us to a more responsible system of agriculture. As for consumers, when people talk about "calls for sacrifice" for the sake of the country, they should keep in mind that changing our food choices as consumers could have an even bigger impact on America's energy security and the environment than many of the other conservation measures that tend to get more attention.