Food in the Post-Petroleum World

We in the developed world have become disconnected from our food. Food comes from Publix, or McDonald’s, or Starbucks. Beyond that, we are ignorant and content to be so. This will end, of course. As theTriple Threat of peak oil, catastrophic climate change, and overpopulation settles in around us, we will become much more intimate with our food.

The solution to our coming food challenge will not come from the White House or the Bundestag, or even from your state legislature. It will come in your community, in your neighborhood, and more than you now think possible, from a sun-drenched plot near your home. There will be more farmers growing a richer variety of crops an smaller plots, we will be eating food grown closer to your home, and we will be eating what we can get.

Here are some things most of us (all but the very rich) will do without:

  • Succulent fruits and vegetables grown thousands of miles away and provided to us in our supermarkets, regardless of the season.
  • Seafood shipped fresh over long distances by air and served up for our enjoyment.
  • Artificially¬†low prices for commodity foods.

And here are some things we see on the food horizon:

  • We will eat food grown closer to where we live, and we will eat what we or others have just harvested. When it’s blueberry season, we will eat lots of blueberries. When it’s not, we will eat the blueberries we put up during the season, or we will do without blueberries.
  • As food becomes more scarce, we will of necessity eat lower on the food chain, increasing our intake of fruits, vegetables, grains, and nuts, and decreasing our intake of meats, sweets, and high-fat foods. We won’t like it, because we love meats and sweets, but our sounder diet and our increasing levels of exercise will make us healthier.
  • During the winter, our diets will become monotonous, with lots of potatoes, beans, and grains and relatively few vegetables and fruits. Prosperity will be measured by the ability to can fruits and vegetables so we can enjoy some of them during the winter.
  • We will look back on society’s current obsession over low-fat foods with bemused incredulity. In the post-petroleum world, we will struggle to get enough calories, so we will seek out whole milk, nuts, cheese, and other efficient sources of calories. We will be grateful for fats of all kinds.
  • Our food will taste better. We have become quite content with apples that were picked a thousand miles away, gassed, and coated with wax to keep them looking good enough to sell to us eight months later as if they were “fresh.” An apple we eat in the post-petroleum world will actually be fresh, and we will be the better for it.
  • Many of us will grow our own food in a small plot near our home. It’s surprising how much food a skilled gardener can raise on a 10′ X 10′ scrap of dirt, with the right soil preparation and careful tending. Those with these skills will become the most popular people at parties.
  • We will get to know farmers again. The food industry in the developed world today doesn’t want you to ask where food comes from; it’s critical to the success of the food industry that you not ask or care whether this green pepper came from the next county or the next continent and that you perceive all peppers as having the same quality. That will change. We will seek out those farmers who live close by and who can deliver quality foods on a consistent basis. Food quality will become important again.

As an aside, consider the lowly honeybee. Most of us know bees only as pests we want to avoid angering, but honeybees play a pivotal role in pollinating the crops on which we depend. In 2006 and 2007, bees started dying in the U.S. and the U.K. on a massive scale, for reasons no one has figured out as we write this. We’re about to figure out how important bees are to our food supply.