save energy – drive to the shops

There are many obvious reasons not to buy from supermarkets. Apart from the aesthetics, the lighting, the other people, and above all, the liminal awareness of your life draining away as you attempt to decide between thirty kinds of butter, there are thefood mile statistics. 25% of all HGV miles go on food transport.

Which becomes even more ludicrous when you realise that it’s not just driving long distances up and down the M1. It’s being swapped.

For example, in exchange for the 270m litres of milk we export every year, we import 126m litres. Of identical milk. And the further it travels, the more packaging it needs – one-sixth of our food budgets goes on that. And then there’s the one third that gets thrown away. (Maybe we need a recession? Hey, let’s tell the PM)

And of course the worst offence is buying air freighted, out of season stuff. Air freight  accounts for only 1% of food miles, but 11% of emissions from food distribution.

Except, not necessarily. Apart from the controversy over the economies of third world countries that depends on exports, total carbon emissions may be lower. Third world farmers use manual labour, and compost instead of fertilisers. So the carbon footprint of their produce, even if flown in, could still be less than that of machine dependent and heavily fertilised British produce.

Then there’s refrigeration. Obviously a fridge, whether in your home or the supermarket, is using energy. But if you don’t refrigerate food, you’ll need to shop for it more often, thereby using time you otherwise could spend campaigning, or being heroic in some other sphere.

And if you do end up going several times a week, whether to a supermarket or an organic shop, you’re almost certainly using more energy than in one big shop. Even if you cycle or walk, instead of taking the car.

But cycling or walking are good, right? Not necessarily. The energy you use walking or cycling may well be more than you save by not driving. Calories are still calories, even if they’re fuel for you, not your car.

If you’re going less than 3 km – 2 miles – it may well be more energy-efficient to drive than to walk. How can this be?

Trips you could walk – say, of less than 3 km, two miles – account for only 3.5% of all car journeys. Or 185 miles a year, for the average person. Walking those 185 miles must be a good thing, surely? If we’re all so obese and lacking in exercise.

BUT it turns out that the weight gain of the average person each year would be walked off in 31 miles, or 150m per day.

So, in order not to keep on losing weight, you need to eat more.

But food takes energy to produce. (1 calorie of food uses about 9 calories of fossil fuel). If you drank a glass of milk to replace the exercise calories, you’d be making things worse, not better. And if the milk were organic, worse still – because organic cows produce more methane 

You might think that a bike is the answer – more efficient than walking, not dirty like a car. But the same rule applies. You’re still using calories – more than you’re saving. (Though of course, you’re healthier, which is probably saving somebody’s energy, somewhere down the line)

It’s possible that an electric bike might be the answer. Electric Bikes apparently consume two to four times less ‘primary energy’ than a cyclist eating a conventional diet (What is a cyclist’s conventional diet? It has hummus in it somewhere, I’m sure)

But it’s pretty obvious that there’s only one real solution. It keeps indefinitely, it’s incredibly nourishing, you only need to add water, and you can get it everywhere. It’s called SlimFast  and believe me, it’s powering the future.