Getting up early this morning after finding it difficult to sleep, I grabbed a snack since I was feeling hungry. It is interesting, when you think about it, here in the cozy west, that you can just grab a snack when you are hungry. That’s not to say that everyone can do that in the west but a fair proportion of us can, and it is a miracle of collaboration, ingenuity, and exploitation all rolled into one that makes it possible at all!
As I sat munching my crisps I began to read the packet, and I began to awake from my hypnogogic stupor. I noticed first that since I was eating reduced fat crisps they were not slices of potato but reconstituted potato flakes, and I began to think about how much energy that entailed? How much processing was necessary in that chain of manufacturing that assembled the base product I was munching? The potatoes were grown and harvested and sent to a factory where they were processed into potato flakes, presumably they were then bagged up and transported to the Crisp manufacturer (it’s possible that the Crisp manufacturer does the flaking in house but I doubt it). The next stage is to reform the flakes into flat ‘crisp-like’ objects for cooking and adding of the ‘flavour’; going down the list of ingredients I found other than the potato flakes, starch, sunflower oil, Sea Salt, Soya Lecithin, Dextrose, ‘normal – presumably) salt, Milk, Lactose, Malt Vinegar Extract (implying a extraction process on top of production), Sugar & Potassium Chloride. Now each and every one of these ingredients was manufactured or harvested and distributed to various food manufacturers including our crisp company and then we end up with our product, which is then bagged, packed and distributed to store warehouses and then onward to stores where consumers travel, sometimes many miles to get their groceries.
We pay our money (also the result of a lengthy manufacturing and distribution chain, and also representing a debt by it’s very nature) we take home the bag rip it open and consume it and it’s gone, only to emerge some hours later, where it requires more input of energy and water to deal with as a pollutant we call sewage!
Of course I overlooked the very element that enabled me to have the information necessary to write the article, the package and it’s multicoloured printing, and also its disposal, add that on top of everything else to produce this packet of crisps, and the energy deficit is much much larger than we normally take notice of.
It is said that it takes 10kcal of hydrocarbon energy to produce 1kcal of food not counting distribution, processing, packaging, waste disposal! My packet of crisps contained according to the packet 147kcal so base cost before the manufacturing, packaging and disposal chain 1470kcal now let’s arbitrarily add a value e for energy cost factor as a multiple of the original energy requirement in the chain so final energy cost equals e x 1470 in hydrocarbon energy. It would seem that a total energy factor e of 3 would not be excessive, but we are in uncharted territory as very few consider these factors, so just to pay devils advocate let’s say it’s 2. So 2 x 1470 = 2940 kcal now equate that to money (don’t forget to factor in the manufacture, disposal, representational debt, that that adds) we may say that a kcal may be worth say 1p so this packet of crisps perhaps should cost 2940p + the Money factor (nobody thinks of that anyway so I’ll ignore it) my bag of crisps costs £29.40!!
A facile exercise? Well maybe, but these are the sorts of things we should think about. Just try to get a monetary value on that kcal which will equal the 50p my Crisps cost me. Now you begin to understand how sections of the third world starve, there production overheads are far lower, they produce their food at source, harvest and then consume it, even their sewage disposal (to their detriment ) requirements are far lower than ours, they have no choice, we steal energy from them!
This will bring me to the preposterous and hypocritical notion of charitable donation in the West. All this does is consume more of the finite available energy in the system so it exacerbates the problem. Consume less energy there is more available for others period! Also remember the last thing you want to be doing is splashing around this negative wealth called money, it has a crippling debt attached to it as well as an energy overhead, it’s like giving tobacco to a child!
The upshot of all this can be summed up in two maxims:-
1…There is only one currency in the world and that’s energy
2…Money is an illusion of wealth, it is worse than that it carries and represents a burden of usury, energy deficit, pollution and starvation.
I’ll close now…as I throw my crisp bag away!!!