While all sectors of the US food system are in need of energy use improvement, there is one sector, the household level, that has a unique power. There are several reasons for this strategic angle. According to Canning et al. (2010, 20) households are consistently the number one energy user in the food system. Households consumed twice as much energy as the agriculture and the wholesale/retail sectors and about eight times as much energy as the transportation and the packaging sectors in 2002 (Canning et al. 2010). Successful education geared toward household level energy consumption would probe residents to reduce their household’s consumption in a variety of ways: reviving the old fashioned ways via human labor or purchasing smaller and/or energy star appliances if new ones are needed, switching to more renewable products, and practicing energy saving techniques (like using proper fridge temperatures and reducing food waste) are just a few examples.
Demand could also spur change in people’s interest in finding out more about the products they touch in their daily lives. Residents acting on this curiosity helps build a community’s value chain. Value chains “are strategic collaborations and business relationships between farms, processors, distributors, and retailers that operate on the basis of explicitly conveyed values – shared values that create a collaborative business opportunity and, ideally, customer allegiance” (Ackerman-Leist 2013, 190). However, people only maintain the power of the purse if they are not living in poverty and have food access and energy choices. So, targeting the household sector also should ensure that people have adequate affordable housing with which to leverage choices (Jon Thaxton pers.comm.). Per capita use of water drops by over half in apartments and condos compared to single family homes (Pierce Jones pers.comm.). These types of resource savings are yet another reason affordable community enhancing housing can affect value chain improvement.
Now, I am no proponent of the “CFL light bulb solution to climate change,” or so they say in reference to household level changes. Policy and industry have a major hand to play in systemic positive changes in our society. The bridge is this: citizens influence policy and industry… if we decide to. So, in order for a household targeted approach to be effective, it must go beyond the ways in which residents treat the area directly under their roofs. We must also take our place in the drivers seat by acting as catalysts toward greater change in our communities through activism, political engagement, improving access, and ultimately affect cultural change of acceptable standards for the types of products and practices available or not available to us. Let’s hope we see ones with stories.
After today’s Sustainable Communities Workshop in Sarasota County, I am, more than ever, thinking about the holistic change that needs to happen in order to reach a renewable energy, equitable, accessible, healthy food system. It exists in cultural change. It exists on all levels and in all sectors. It affects all types of people. Mainstream demand at the individual and household level for better food is vital… and I think it’s happening.
Ackerman-Leist, Philip. 2013. Rebuilding the Foodshed: How to Create Local, Sustainable, and Secure Food Systems. White River Junction: Chelsea Green.
Canning, Patrick, Ainsley Charles, Sonya Huang, Karen R. Polenske, and Arnold Waters. 2010. “Energy Use in the U.S. Food System.” United States Department of Agriculture Economic Research Service Economic Research Report Number 94, March.
Jones, Pierce. 2015. “Built Environment.” Presented at the annual Sustainable Communities Workshop, Sarasota County, Florida, December 3.
Thaxton, Jon. 2015. “Planning for a Sustainable Future: A Local Perspective.” Presented at the annual Sustainable Communities Workshop, Sarasota County, Florida, December 3.