Dear America

I set out this July 4th to write a celebratory letter to America about watermelon and sweet corn and fireworks. For inspiration I took time to read the Declaration of Independence and surfed the sites of other favorite bloggers. I read a post at Spirit Lights the Way that focused on these words from the Declaration: He has plundered our seas, ravaged our coasts, burned our towns, and destroyed the lives of our people.

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The “He” in the original document was King George. Nancy chose to draw the parallel of a Declaration against the British with a declaration against British Petroleum. The words and the analogy work but as one who once left to explore my Anglican origin, I want to leave off the British part. I remember too fondly stumbling home from the Green Man, dousing my chips in malt vinegar and altering the course of my language to include words such as loo and lift. Just as I contemplate American refusal to give up the word “soccer” while the rest of the world is yelling “futbol”, Nancy’s analogy causes me to think about our refusal to give up our dependence on oil.

I’m not different. In a couple of days, I”ll board a jumbo jet to burn my way back to the Southwest where the air conditioning will blast until October. And according to researchers at the University of Michigan’s Center for Sustainable Agriculture,  I will burn an average of at least seven calories of fossil fuel for every calorie of food consumed in my kitchen. This means that in the typical American 2,000 calories per day, each of us will, in effect, “consume” 14,000 calories of fossil-fuel energy.

So, how can we do better? First, find out how far your food travels. The further it travels, the more petroleum consumed. And you’re not off the hook by buying organic. Whether conventionally-grown or organic, produce is shipped, packed,
and chilled the same way. Get close to the source.

Then think about the processing that goes into it. Fresh fruits and vegetables are not processed. The more processed the food, the more oil. Next consider how food is packaged and try to reduce it. Buy fresh vegetables instead of canned, and buy bulk goods when you’re able. Avoid those roadside stops that give “free” cheap plastic sh*t with the meals and have the audacity to claim it’s “happy”. Read the label on that plastic water bottle and discover that it’s from a municipal source just like the stuff that runs out of the tap but without the oil. Last, dare I say, eat less? Remember, I’m at the beach this week and no volume of PX90 sales will convince me that the majority of us can’t do with less.

No America, I’m afraid that I can’t declare independence from petroleum today but I can declare intentions to do better. You deserve that. Last night we left the windows open to hear your waves crashing against the beach. You’re the most amazing country I’ve ever celebrated. We couldn’t love another better.

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  1. Hannah

     /  July 4, 2010

    I may be Australian, but I think your thoughts and message here transcend national boundaries. Thank you for giving me something to think about – I am currently trying to buy more of my produce from local markets. Every little bit counts, I hope!

  2. Wonderful…and BTW did you notice I gave you a plug in my Friday blog post?

    Your points are well made. While we may be citizens of whatever country in which we live, we are I believe, citizens of the Planet Earth first, and have a responsibility to our planet as a whole. The fact that so many people take God’s charge to us to be “stewards of the earth” to mean “plunderers” is such a sad comment on the limits of human understanding or caring. But – we all need to wake up, educate ourselves, and make clear our own intentions to do better by our “Mother,” and then – the hard part…FOLLOW THROUGH! (there’s always a catch, isn’t there?) 😀

  3. I am feeling much more guilty about driving all those miles to buy an ice cream cone last night. We do try to eat local–especially during the summer. Have a garden. Try to think about our gas mileage. It’s hard when you live in a small town and have to travel 45 miles to buy organic vegetables though. Sigh… It’s good that we all keep thinking about this though. Thank you for this blog!

    • You’re welcome Kathy. And, I do realize that it’s different and harder depending upon where we’re located.

  4. Awesome post, Agrigirl.

    I must admit that the “closed doors” on the devastation in the Gulf of Mexico that I ran into yesterday really angered and alarmed me.

    But BP and the Government are not the only ones to blame in this environmental crisis we are facing . . . we need only look in the mirror to see who else needs to accept responsibility for the pollution of this precious planet.

    I applaud your post. Write on!

  5. Thank you for your thoughts, Tammy. I agree with Hannah from Australia. We are all concerned no matter where we live on this beautiful and precious planet. Our way of life will be our gift to the future generations, so let’s be more sensible and try living more simply, buying locally whenever possible, consuming less and being more respectful of our unique environment. Your message is a wonderful one !

    • Thanks Isa. I’m glad it’s a message that works well for all as most of my readers are from other places on this holiday.

  6. Yes, definitely we should be having more local markets where we can, same for me Aussie but I can relate to what you are saying here.

    It’s crazy we buy things that are locally cheap, but they go away, are packaged and come back from hundreds of km away (:

    • The distribution of goods can add a lot of cost and waste – especially in the circumstance that you’re talking about.

  7. Powerful message Tammy and much to think about. I really think about the wastefulness of it all and do try my best to cut back. Hubby want’s central air while I fight for the fact that we can live through a few hot days in the summer. Yes, we do heat the swimming pool but I guess everyone needs a vice? 🙂

    I’ve also been trying harder lately to support local businesses and farms. We are just so conditioned to save a buck that we lose sight of the big picture. But, it makes me feel good to know there are people like you, and the other commenters on this blog, who really do care and are trying just like me. 🙂

  8. Well written. I completely agree with your critical analysis of U.S. culture – not merely blaming the supplier (BP) but also the buyers (US!). By only blaming BP, we repeat the same mistake made in the “War On Drugs” which only targeted South America, not the country consuming the most drugs (US!). I digress…

    I do have some thoughts borrowed from David Owen in his book, “Green Metropolis.” Basically, he points out that by only focusing on “food miles”, we ignore the large benefits of regions with more sunlight, longer growing seasons and better economies of scale. For instance, trying to grow local corn in Flagstaff, AZ just doesn’t make sense (or cents). Furthermore, why aren’t we crying out for local laptops, hybrid vehicles and stereos? And I quote:

    “Global trade can actually reduce carbon output, by concentrating production in the places where production is most efficient….shipping foodstuffs and other goods long distances – from areas of abundance to areas of need – will become more important, not less, as the world’s energy and emissions difficulties deepen” (Owen, 302).

    So I just am not so sure that “locavorism” is incredibly meaningful to stopping or overcoming the soon-to-come environmental/energy crisis. The USDA found that production agriculture accounts for a little more than 1% of total energy consumption in the U.S in 2002*. And as for the trucks and big-machinery transporting our food, most run on diesel (only 22% of total energy usage for total U.S. transportation)**. In contrast, gasoline use made up 62% – that’s those of us driving to-and-from chain supermarkets and local farmers markets.

    I think we need to think bigger by asking our local leaders to start now by hiring/creating/electing planners to retrofit our towns so that not having an automobile isn’t only for college students/homeless that can’t afford cars! It should be quicker, cheaper and more enjoyable for people to get places without a car – in every city.

    I hope I haven’t been too confrontational as I agree with your message and greater goal! In-fighting is not the goal here – just trying to bring some different thoughts into discussion. Thanks!



    • Thanks Jon. You haven’t been confrontational. I’ve really not jumped into the term locavore because I believe it is only one part of a solution and as you have correctly pointed out, base industry has a substantial part of the picture. I have the latest USDA study on my desk so I’m anxious to dig in and learn more and I would love to live without a car. It’s just not possible in my current environment. Thanks for the visit and for sharing your thoughts.

  9. jlue

     /  July 5, 2010

    You have a good blog here. Interesting, entertaining – I like it.

  10. Hi Tammy, Great write up and reminder that change is not something fast or easy, but if we make steps along the way we’ll get there. Just finished a great book on the subject called Swtich by Dan and Skip Heath if you are interested.

    Happy Independence Day to you, and by next year may we be a bit more independent.

  11. Great post. I found Jon’s post to be thought provoking and appreciated his point of view. Tammy what I like about this post and your blog in general is that it gets people thinking. That’s the point isn’t. It isn’t a simple matter of local vs global and conventional vs sustainable, it is about consciously choosing. Our responsibility is to demand good choices.

    • Yes Jeni. That is the point. I don’t pretend to know answers but want people to think about “stuff”. Thanks for reading. No choices are simple but we can create better outcomes by thinking, collecting data, discussing, etc.

  12. Tammy – beautiful post. And I agree – we CAN do better. Like you I am focusing – daily – on incremental changes I can live with. 90 degrees and 90% humidity in Chicago – I”m not ready to give up A/C just yet – but I DID turn it up to 75, which, for me, was a step in the right direction. ditto the food – buying much more locally. Just started a new food regimine and also read Geneen Roth’s standout “Women, Food and God” (my latest blog entry is a book review of it) – so thinking a lot – being CONSCIOUS. Love, love, love your blog – so glad you are showing the way!

  13. Great, thought-provoking entry on eating organically and locally! In addition to cutting the carbon footprint of transporting food from far away, eating locally sourced and organic food is a health benefit. Without getting into all the details, I just started seeing an acupuncturist who has told me to eat organically and locally sourced and seasonal produce. His argument is that what we put into our bodies can make a difference in the way we feel and can lead to a reversal of ailments.

    • Thanks for reading Chris. I’d be interested to hear from you again about how it’s going with the new regime.

  14. Another thought-provoking post. Thanks for continually trying to build awareness about these issues. Excess packaging of food products is one of my pet peeves, as is when they insist on giving me plasic bags at the store, even when I’m holding out my cloth one! Anyway, happy belated Independence Day!

  1. BP: The Tyranny of British Rule Continues « Spirit Lights The Way
  2. Dear America (via Agrigirl’s Blog) « THE FOOD ON OUR TABLE

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