Fossil-Fueled Obesity


At first glance, it might seem a little far-fetched. But, there is a connection between highly productive oil-based fertilizers, an increase in corn production, high-fructose corn syrup, the addictiveness of sweeteners, greed, and obesity. Details below….

For the past year or so I’ve been chipping away at aspects of our fossil fuel-driven lifestyle and related carbon emissions:

  • Bottled Water
    Fossil fuels are a big part of our bottled water industry (plastic bottles are made from oil; plus, oil is used to create energy for extraction, production and transportation).
  • Fertilizer
    “Most nitrogen fertilizer in the U.S. goes directly into the production of corn. The majority of that corn goes to feed cows [steer]. Approximately 40% of the steer is edible.  It takes about 140 pounds of nitrogen to grow an acre of corn, but closer to 60 pounds to grow an acre of kale – a crop that people eat.” Conservation Magazine’s Fertility Treatments.We need to shorten the distance between fertilization and human consumption to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, which we can do by eating more fruit and vegetables.
  • Diet
    Meat production is not an efficient source of food and creates more than its share of greenhouse gases. We feed cattle grain for years until they are slaughtered. Whereas plants go directly to feeding people.

Now, thanks in part to the documentary Killer at Large: Why Obesity is America’s Greatest Threat, I’m seeing how fossil fuels have been a catalyst for obesity. Michael Pollan, the author of Omnivore’s Dilemma articulated the connection. He points to our nation’s desire to continually increase the Gross National Product (we need to consume more, including food), our evolutionary ability as humans to store fat, and the addictive powers of high-fructose corn syrup.

Michael Pollan asks us to: “Trace food back to its energy source – where do the calories come from?

What’s the path to your burger? Is it:
sun > grass > steer > burger;
Or, is it: oil-produced fertilizer > sun > corn > steer > burger?

He concludes: We’re eating fossil fuels. Corn is sipping fossil fuels in the form of ammonium nitrate – fertilizer, which goes into the corn, into the steer, and finally into us. It makes us sick. We need pharmaceuticals to make us better. Oil, corn/big agriculture and pharmaceutical industries are the winners. Oil is fertilizing food, processing food, and moving it around the country. It takes10 calories of fossil fuel energy to produce one calorie of food.  20% of the fossil fuels we burn go to the food industry.

What’s worse is once we’ve put on more weight – it takes more fuel to move us around. Extra weight equals higher gas use, explains Dr. Sheldon Jacobson, University of Illinois. “Americans use 39 million gallons of fuel a year for each additional pound of weight.”

Even Alaska Airlines made a request recently for passengers to lighten their cargo so that they would be able to use less fuel thereby reducing their impact on the environment.  They managed to stay politically correct by asking people to pack lighter, not lose weight.  “If every passenger packed just 2lbs less the airline would reduce their carbon emissions by the equivalent of 32 railcars worth of coal [a year].”

Its one thing to produce more food, thanks to oil-based fertilizers, but how do you get people to buy and eat more food? The answer: high-fructose corn syrup. Professor of Pediatrics, Division of Endocrinology, U of California, San Francisco, Dr. Robert H. Lustig’s, in-depth video (below) Sugar: The Bitter Truth details why fructose, more than other types of sugar encourage our bodies to store fat and why many of us have such a hard time saying no to sugar.

Michael Pollan says its no accident that corn production increases and obesity increases have run in parallel. Corn, as high fructose corn syrup is in many processed foods including some you might not suspect: coffee, wine, cheese wiz, canned fruit, soup, candy, frozen yogurt, tv dinners, ketchup, snacks, vitamins, McDonalds meals, etc.

If you’re having a hard time losing weight, you might have fossil fuels to thank. However, unless you grow your own food with organic fertilizer, live in a small log cabin off the grid, and use only non-motorized transportation, fossil fuels are part of your life.

As Matthew Huber’s book Lifeblood: Oil, Freedom and the Forces of Capital explains, fossil fuels are intrinsically woven into our daily lives and it’s going to take a lot of conscience effort on our part to untangle ourselves.


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