Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Canned Fuel Corn

We use a lot of energy from gas and other sources in order to make the food we eat. As this diagram illustrates, it take over 3,000 calories of energy to produce one can of corn. That corn offers the body only 375 calories of food energy. Other examples:
  • " Breakfast cereals, which contain about 3600 kcal of food energy per kilogram, require on average 15,675 kcal/kg to process and prepare."
  • " A 12-ounce can of diet soda requires a total of 2200 kcal to produce (over 70% of which goes toward the aluminum can) and may provide only 1 kcal in food energy.
Source: Martin C. Heller and Gregory A. Keoleian, "Life Cycle-Based Sustainability Indicators for Assessment of the U.S. Food System", Center for Sustainable Systems, U. of Michigan, Report No. CSS00-04, December 6, 2000

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

WA small farm stat

" About 89 percent of Washington farms fit the U.S. Department of Agriculture definition of small farms: less than $250,000 in gross annual sales, with the day-to-day labor and management provided by the farmer and/or the farm family that owns or leases the productive assets of the farm."

For comparison, the Small Business Administration considers any business with less than $500,000 in sales to be small.

Source: Washington State House of Representatives Office of Program Research Bill Analysis, Agriculture & Natural Resources Committee, HB 1311, " Continuing the small farm direct marketing assistance program."

Monday, February 12, 2007

Media and Obesity

The Kaiser Family Foundation released a report in 2004, The Role of Media in Childhood Obesity, that brings together research from a variety of disciplines for the first time in a document that looks exclusively at the role of media in contributing to and potentially helping to reduce rates of childhood obesity.

From the press release:
The typical child sees about 40,000 ads a year on TV, and that the majority of ads targeted to kids are for candy, cereal, soda and fast food... Exposure to food advertising affects children’s food choices and requests for products in the supermarket.

The report also highlights ways media can play a positive role in helping to reduce childhood obesity, through programs that encourage children to be active and help teach good nutrition, through public education campaigns aimed at children and parents, and by using popular media characters to promote healthier food options to children.

Source: Kaiser Family Foundation, The Role of Media in Childhood Obesity, Feb. 2004

The taxing burden of obesity

Ann Cooper wrote a paper for the Food and Society Policy Fellows with this quote (and source):

"It costs approximately $6,000 to feed a child lunch during the entire tenure of their K-12 education, and it costs our health care system and our taxes approximately $175,000 per adult, for illnesses related to poor childhood nutrition."

Sources: “National School Lunch Program,” USDA: Child Nutrition Webpage: FNS Online, February 2002; “Nutrition and the Health of Young People: Fact Sheet,” USDA:CDC, June 1997.

More obesity facts

Quotes (and original sources) from the Center for Science in the Public Interest's Improve School Foods program:
  • " According to the USDA, healthier diets could prevent at least $71 billion per year in medical costs, lost productivity, and lost lives."
    • Source: Frazao E. "High Costs of Poor Eating Patterns in the United States." In America's Eating Habits: Changes and Consequences. Edited by Elizabeth Frazao. Washington, D.C.: Economic Research Service, U.S. Department of Agriculture, 1999. Agriculture Information Bulletin No. 750, pp. 5-32.
  • " U.S. health-care costs due to obesity are $94 billion a year, half of which ($47 billion) is paid through Medicare and Medicaid."
    • Source: Finkelstein EA, Fiebelkorn IC, Wang G. “State-level Estimates of Annual Medical Expenditures Attributable to Obesity.” Obesity Research 2004; 12:18-24.
  • " From 1979 to 1999, annual hospital costs for treating obesity-related diseases in children rose three-fold (from $35 million to $127 million)."
    • Source: Wang G, Dietz W. "Economic Burden of Obesity in Youths Aged 6 to 17 Years: 1979-1999." Pediatrics 2002, vol. 109, pp. e81.

What's In The Foods You Eat

The USDA has created a website that allows you to see the nutrient profiles for 13,000 foods commonly eaten in the U.S. You can search on items ranging from raw apple to McDonald's apple pie.

Where Energy is Used in Agriculture

Here's how agricultural energy consumption is broken down in the U.S.:
  • 31% for the manufacture of inorganic fertilizer
  • 19% for the operation of field machinery
  • 16% for transportation
  • 13% for irrigation
  • 8% for raising livestock (not including livestock feed)
  • 5% for crop drying
  • 5% for pesticide production
  • 3% miscellaneous

Source: McLaughlin, N.B., et al., "Comparison of energy inputs for inorganic fertilizer and manure based corn production," Canadian Agricultural Engineering, Vol. 42, No. 1, 2000.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

The Food Dollar

In 1999 consumers spent $618 billion for food. 80% ($498 billion) of this amount covered the transporting, processing, and distributing of foods that originated on U.S. farms, while the remaining 20 percent ($121 billion) represents the gross return paid to farmers.

Source: USDA Agriculture Factbook 2001/02,

Do you know how our diet has changed?

The USDA Factbook for 2001/02 (the latest year for figures) has this to say about the changing American diet:

  • In 2000, Americans consumed an average 57 pounds more meat than they did annually in the 1950s, and a third fewer eggs.
  • Americans are drinking less milk and eating more cheese.
  • The average consumption of added fats increased by two-thirds between 1950-59 and 2000.
  • The per capita consumption of fruit and vegetables increased by one-fifth between 1970–79 and 2000.
  • Consumers eat too much refined grain and too little whole grain, while the annual average grain consumption was 45 percent higher in 2000 than in the 1970s.
  • America’s sweet tooth increased 39 percent between 1950–59 and 2000 as use of corn sweeteners octupled.

Source: USDA, "Agriculture Factbook 2001-2002," chapter 2,

Wednesday, February 7, 2007

The Cost of Obesity

A recent National Academy of Sciences report, "Preventing Childhood Obesity: Health in the Balance", described how the best way to fight the increasing obesity youth epidemic is to reform a number of separate yet interrelated social sectors. From the report’s Sept. 30, 2004 press release:

"We must act now and we must do this as a nation," said Jeffrey Koplan, vice president for academic health affairs, Emory University, Atlanta, and former director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Koplan chaired the committee of 19 experts in child health, nutrition, fitness, and public health who developed the report in response to a request from Congress for an obesity prevention plan based on sound science and the most promising approaches.

"Obesity may be a personal issue, but at the same time, families, communities, and corporations all are adversely affected by obesity and all bear responsibility for changing social norms to better promote healthier lifestyles," Koplan added. "We recognize that several of our recommendations challenge entrenched aspects of American life and business, but if we are not willing to make some fundamental shifts in our attitudes and actions, obesity's toll on our nation's health and well-being will only worsen.

“ Among specific steps recommended by the report is a call for schools to implement nutritional standards for all foods and beverages served on school grounds, including those from vending machines.”

The Insitute of Medicine's Prevention of Obesity in Children and Youth program website continues to show the costs that society carries for such issues by showing that “Obesity-associated annual hospital costs for children and youth more than tripled over two decades, rising from $35 million in 1979-1981 to $127 million in 1997-1999. After adjusting for inflation and converting to 2004 dollars, the national healthcare expenditures related to obesity and overweight in adults alone range from $98 billion to $129 billion annually.”

Obesity and diabetes discussion are dominating most health discussions these days, including a cover story by Time and expanded coverage around a TIME/ABC News Summit on Obesity. The executive summary mentions items the attendess disagreed on as well as these items of agreement: “The challenge is to shift from an economy and eating habits that are quantity-driven to ones that are quality-driven… Our economy and longstanding government policies are based on providing plentiful, cheap — and often low-quality food. That needs to change.”

At the summit, U.S. Surgeon General Richard Carmona said

" As we look to the future and where childhood obesity will be in 20 years... it is every bit as threatening to us as is the terrorist threat we face today. It is the threat from within."

Together these facts and concerns show the realities of how some of our current ag, nutrition, and education policies are affecting our children’s health, and our public health system financially. The calls for needing social norm-busting approaches is clear, and a new approach that impacts what we feed our children has been mentioned from those within our federal government. Since changing what people feed their children at home is extremely difficult and brings in to play invasion of privacy arguments, we can collectively utilize our public funds to address these issues.

Local food and school gardens in fed regs

On June 30th 2004 President Bush signed in to law the Child Nutrition and Women, Infants and Children (WIC) Reauthorization Act . The bill includes Farm to Cafeteria legislation under Section 122, entitled "Access to Local Foods and School Gardens", and includes language that focuses on encouraging local food production benefiting public schools, including school gardens. From the legislation:

The Secretary may provide assistance, through competitive matching grants and technical assistance, to schools and nonprofit entities for projects that (A) improve access to local foods in schools and institutions participating in programs under this Act and section 4 of the Child Nutrition Act of 1966 (42 U.S.C. 1773) through farm-to-cafeteria activities, including school gardens, that may include the acquisition of food and appropriate equipment and the provision of training and education; (B) are, at a minimum, designed to (i) procure local foods from small- and medium-sized farms for school meals; and (ii) support school garden programs; (C) support nutrition education activities or curriculum planning that incorporates the participation of school children in farm-based agricultural education activities, that may include school gardens; (D) develop a sustained commitment to farm-to-cafeteria projects in the community by linking schools, State departments of agriculture, agricultural producers, parents, and other community stakeholders .

There has yet been no funding for this section, but hope is there for the upcoming Farm and Food Bill discussions.

Did you know dinosaurs are in your food?

What do calories measure? Energy! Doesn't (directly) matter if it is energy to feed a car or feed your soul; we can use calories for both. In 1940 the average farm in the U.S. produced 2.3 calories of food energy for every calorie of fossil energy it used. By 1974 that ratio was 1:1(1). Today that ratio is on average 10 calories of fossil energy for every one calorie of food(2).

This means that for a USDA recommended 2500 calorie daily diet there are 25,000 calories of fossil fuel (dead Dinos) embedded in one day's food. So how many is this for a year?

Kids, how much does 25,000 times 365 equal? Anyone?

A Really Big Number: 9,125,000 calories.

Whoa. So how much gas does this Really Big Number represent? Go Googling, Mr(s). Detective, and you should find that there are 31,000 calories in one gallon of gas. Go on a tangent (as usually happens when cruising the web) and you will find that a gallon of gas also includes almost 20 pounds of carbon (19.4 to be exact, but for this post let's keep the math simple).

(Wait. 20 pounds of carbon? In a gallon of gas? A gallon only weighs like 6 pounds. How can that be?)

So go grab your calculators and try to calculate how much gas and carbon is in a year's worth of food.

So you may ask, what does this have to do with the price of bread? Well, alot. And it involves not just the bread we eat, it involves the air we breath and the climate we are a 'changing.

For one person:
A year of recommended calories (2,500 per day)
contains 9,125,000 calories of energy (for conventional industrialized food)
that equals 294 gallons of gas in every person's food
and 5,884 pounds of carbon entering the atmosphere.

That's per person. In the U.S. we now have 300 million people. Let's just take 1% of that number, 3 million people, which happens to be about the population of a large metropolitan area like Seattle.

This means each year 3 million people eat food containing the equivalent of 88.2 billion gallons of gas and 882 million tons of carbon that has entered our atmosphere.

Pass the local organic salad, please.

(1): Richard Manning, "The Oil We Eat: Following the food chain back to Iraq," Harper's Magazine, Friday, July 23, 2004
(2): see Food System Factoids Post "So how much energy do we use to make ... energy?"

Did you know you can create your own food guide?

Health Canada recently launched a website called My Food Guide that allows people to create their own healthy eating guide using the foods they eat most often. And that site includes a whole host of ethnic foods, including congee, hummus and lychee fruit. The site is geared towards Canadians, but I hope they don't mind sharing the love with some southerly neighbors.
My Food Guide website

The USDA allows a similar customization to the Food Pyramid at

Did you know? Academic Perfomance

Did you know that many studies have been done to study the connections between physical activity and academic performance? Not surprising, our children are better students when they have time for physical activity, especially if it occurs before lunch. Here are two factoids from recent research.

"A positive relationship of physical activity and academic performance has been explored through several studies conducted in the USA by the California Department of Education; Dwyer, Sallis, Blizzard, Lazarus, & Dean (2001); Dwyer et al. (1983); Linder (1999); Linder (2002); Shephard (1997); Tremblay et al. (2000); and others. These studies support one another in suggesting that when a substantial amount of school time is dedicated to physical activity, academic performance meets and may even exceed that of students not receiving additional physical activity (Shephard, 1997)."

And this one:

" Studies done in California and Canada concluded that moderate to vigorous physical activity affects academic performance and skill development. Children are better able to tackle the academic day. They have improved concentration, enhanced memory and learning, enhanced creativity, and better problem solving ability. Aerobic activity not only increases blood flow to the brain, but also speeds recall and reasoning skills. (Etnier,et al. 1999) (Van Boxtel, et al. 1996)"

Saturday, February 3, 2007

Conventional Absurdity

For a quick snapshot of how our food currently moves from farm to table, consider these facts compiled in a May/June 2006 Mother Jones article, sourced from the Agricultural Marketing Research Center, International Society for Ecology and Culture, and USDA.
  • In 2004, the U.S. exported nearly $20 million worth of lettuce—over 3/4 of it grown in California—to Mexico. The same year, it imported $20 million worth of Mexican lettuce.
  • While California-grown brussels sprouts head north to Canada, the state imports them from Belgium and Mexico.
  • Half of California’s processed tomato exports go to Canada, which ships $36 million worth of processed tomatoes to the U.S. annually.

  • In 2003, New York shipped $1.1 million worth of California almonds to Italy, while importing $1.1 million worth of almonds from Italy.

  • California sells $18 million worth of asparagus abroad. $39 million worth of asparagus comes into the state from other countries.

  • International strawberry imports to California peak during the state’s strawberry season.

  • 20% of California’s table grapes go to China, the world’s largest producer of table grapes.


I am Tim Crosby, Farm to Cafeteria Director for 21 Acres, a northwest regional non-profit focused on local food system development. I am working connect local farm products with local buyers, speecifically insitutions like schools, hospitals, corporations, restuarants, and specialty food markets.

This is my blog containing food system factoids and research that I have come across pertinent to why we eat what we eat and what we can do to improve our nutrition, health, communities, economies, national security, and global climate situations by supporting access to healthy foods (food justice) as well as supporting local food production for local consumption.

I invite others to let me know if the sources are wrong, or to send me your own facts. My main motivation for doing this is to try to aggregate a variety of research and evidence in to one web space.