Whatever the fate of our environment, our social systems, our political systems, our economic systems, or our legal systems; history and my experience as witness to industrial civilization have taught me that the fate of humanity – from one individual, to one family, to one community, one nation, and so on – is dependent on one thing: how we extract, distribute, and use energy. It not only determines the fate of all living things, but also determines how all things live and evolve. Despite all the magnificence of artificial lighting, heating, cooling, running water, sanitation, refrigeration, computers, televisions, telephones, washers, dryers, stovetops, ovens, microwaves, cell phones, planes, trains, automobiles, and all other modern luxuries, our existence is rather mundanely dependent on the same things as everything else: food and water.
Because these two things are so vital to our existence, our relationship with them largely defines who and what we are. Look around at any species of plant or animal and you aren’t likely to find any aspect of its structure or behavior that can’t be argued as relevant to the acquisition/storage of water and energy (and perhaps a chance to reproduce). For us, it is no different. Like anything else, we are defined by how we get our energy from the environment, survive, grow, and ultimately reproduce.
Growth and subsequent reproduction is impossible without the availability of energy (and water). So, energy is what drives life and will therefore be the focus of this series; it is the focus of this entire blog, actually.
Wait one second; did I just say that energy is the focus of this entire blog? Am I in the right place? This is a food blog, right? Well, yes it is; but it’s also an energy blog. Food is, after all, energy isn’t it? Food is the energy that sustains life, but modern humans tend to think of things like electricity and gasoline when someone mentions energy. To me, that’s a narrow view of the most vital resource we’ll ever have – a view that relegates energy to the role of powering technology and nothing more.
Peak oil – or peak energy, really – represents a major threat to almost every human system and institution on this planet simply because we’ve come to rely on fossil fuels for virtually everything. Every aspect of our livelihood is at stake, but when the chips are down, I want to know that I’ll have at least two things: food and water. I suspect anyone else would want the same. I don’t know what to do about industry; I don’t know what to do about the economy; I don’t know what to do about climate change; I don’t know what to do about the rise of neo-fascist corporatocracies, fundamentalists, and mercenary armies; I don’t know what to do about our transportation networks; I don’t know what to do about an incompetent media that looks more and more like a propaganda wing with each passing day. But frankly, I could handle a disaster in any or all of these areas better than I could handle a collapse of the food system, so that is the threat which frightens me most. Besides, I believe energy (mostly food) to be a basis from which we could address all of the preceding issues, so even though I don’t really know what to do about a food crisis either, that’s what I’d like to see us working on.
There are several points about food that I hope to make over the coming weeks. My goal is to shed new light on common knowledge, but more importantly, it is to give an understanding of where Jennifer and I are coming from, who we are, why we do what we do, and why this is a food blog instead of an issue blog when we’re clearly interested in more than just cooking. We are concerned with all crises facing humanity in the coming century, and of all the things we could be doing (you know, being ‘politically active’, etc.), an energy blog in a cooking blog’s clothes seems most appropriate for us.
What is required for humanity to weather the coming storm of declining energy from fossil fuels is a shift in thinking. That is why, aside from food and energy, this blog can sometimes be psychological, sociological, personal, and even political in nature. For each of us, it will be journey. Sharing that journey with each other will make it easier to cope with. Sharing and community are truly the heart of this blog – what started out, for me, as a remote repository for Jennifer’s recipes in case our computer crashed. Anyway, turning on topic street…
Someone can correct me if I’m wrong, but I recall being told that the Chinese symbol for crisis is the same as the symbol for opportunity. It is opportunity that I hope to capture in the coming series. Among the potential solutions to an almost apocalyptic horizon, I see opportunity for positive changes that most, I believe, would find unfathomable given our current circumstance. And much of this, I think, will happen without our even trying. Necessity will dictate many of our most opportunistic adaptations; it will be up to us to recognize them for what they are.
Science has taught us that valuable knowledge can only be gained by breaking something down into its constituent parts – a process called reductionism. Connectedness, synergy, and interactionism are lost in the shuffle of x’s and y’s, and we’ve come to believe that numbers hold the only truth. If it can’t be measured, it is not worth our attention; if it is broken, we must correct “this part here” to make the equations work again. I, for one, consider myself a ‘deductionist’; that is, the parts are of less significance to me than the system as a whole. Breaking things down into small parts leads us to treating symptoms rather than causes.
This has gone on for so long now that most symptoms we see in society today are symptoms of other symptoms, and so on. It seems like everything is caused by something that is, itself, a symptom of something else. Through this maze of cause and effect, I’ve come to see energy as having incredible importance to all things, and for living things, we call it food.