Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Lowering the Bar

Everybody eats - yes? It really doesn't matter if you're a vegan, cow-hide slicer, vegetable monger or a chicken little - food tastes good, and food goes in your belly. It's remarkable what our stomachs can tolerate - the organ itself is by far, in my opinion, the most underrated organ. Yes, the brain gets alot of praise, the skin if often gazed at in mirrors for hours by some, and of course the copulatory members of our bodies are sometimes put on pedestals for showcase, but the stomach can be considered as our personalized waste recycling centres - we take in the good stuff, process it, and spit it out our other ends as a compact receptacle of a black fly's dreams. What's even more amazing- any materials or items that shouldn't be there (like that hotdog I once ate at 3:00 am from the 7-11) are quickly rejected as a foreign material, and regurgitated as filth.

Filth to the stomach is never a pleasant thing.

Crumbling Cookied Monsters
Food today serves the same role it did yesterday, the same role it serves today, and the same role it will tomorrow - nothing has changed in the role of food - I still enjoy a good perogy layered in onions and sour cream as much as I did years ago - but what has changed is the perception of food - the attractiveness of it - its cultural significance - its delectability - and most importantly - its marketability. The invention of a new food is revolutionary - Coca-Cola can attest to that, but the ability to offer and distribute food has also found its own revolutionary path - as although food's role will never change, the layers and levels of intricate impacts from the systemic distribution of food is making it a very scarce commodity.

Food starts its long journey well before we unwrap the preserved goodness from the Twinky, to be a little grandeurous about it, it starts at the sun. Waves upon waves of unkempt beams of light continuously beat down on us, repeatedly bringing free calories for indiscriminatory use. Now the question of what came first: the seed or the leaf brings on nightmares of creationistic dilemmas with the chicken and the egg, but the seed (as does the egg) forms a membrane surrounding complex bits and pieces (or cotyledons and epicotyls, for the lack of a better term) mimicking the steps of its single-celled brethren colluding in the petri-dish. But unlike its single cell cousin, who simply splits into two by the pre-programmed nature to divide and conquer... the seed has another calling - it sings a different tune in harmonic programming... it has the recipe to take those complex bits and pieces, or the C, H, O and N, and line them up in perfect rank and file to form a structure of true magistry - forming the bonds of renewability and growth by simply soaking in the rays of the Sun, and sucking the gases of our grumbling bowels - all through the formation of carbon chains supporting a beacon of Magnesium at the tips of it's chlorophylled antennae.

So after all the steps and pieces and membranes and xylems are put in place by each plant cell, we chop them down. Normally, we grind them into bits in pieces, sometimes, we bundle them up and let the water-logged weight deplete to shippable capabilities. Either way, it's an abrupt intervention to an otherwise simple existence. The next steps in the path of the food's chain is a much more complex, as the layers upon layers of intricate idiosyncratic idealogies hide a worse stench the rotting brussel sprout in the bottom of the refrigerator door.

Oscar Meyers Grouches
It began with a well. Blood spilled like the milk from the cow, and derricks erected beacons of prosperity for the snake-oil salesman - it began with the discovery of another bio-sequenced hydrocarbon - left over from the eons of solitude in utter Om. The remains of once vital beings and organisms were pushed, pressurized, and left to sit... and wait... until the wells were tapped.

At this point, the Earth must have felt a coercive 'oomph' to its lymph nodes as its immune system felt a sudden shock of panic. Penetrating probes were waving shocks of nuisant exploration, and an otherwise delicate balance of life-cycling carbon in the craters and formations of its underbelly was getting a rude awakening. The carbon cycle took an immediate influx towards chaotic principles of Second Law nature, the thermodynamic imbalance was in full thrust mode - oil was pumping, and oil found a home.

Rock oil production, or 'Petr-Oleum', as the Ukrainian contend, first began as a refining process of kerosene from coal. The discovery that hydrocarbons broke down their complex chains through heating spawned a era of quick fix ideas and inventions all designed to make life a little bit easier - but as waist bands expanded around the porkly product of laziness, so did food - easier lifestyles were bred from easy solutions, and easier lifestyles led to comfy couch cushions, and comfy couch cushion necessitated lazy products of consumption - our food.

The key ingredient to the recipe for success is transportation. It worked for Kellogg, it worked of General Mills. The solution was simple - bring in feed products from the cheapest provider to a central location - at this central location, processing would occur, along with packaging for distribution. Sales orders would and could also be filled from this location, however as things expand and grew, private, localized distribution centres could also be set up successfully. The underlining packaging hidden in the layers of the diglycerided preserved goodness of the Twinky was transportation.

Two Headed Monsters
Unlike the network of transportation, which boomed with every oil well that spiked production, the network of food has de-evolved from its once diversified portfolio. It was common to find farms and countryside bungalows full of fresh-picked delectables - ready for a quick wash and cut. Oats, hay, rhubarb, strawberry, cabbage, gooseberry, peaches, grapes, wheat and corn used to be only a quick drive down a country road. As the waves of industrialization swept across ocean to ocean from between 1920-1970, the ability to transport goods over long distances brought microwaveable popcorn, packaged flour, Shake N' Bake - essentially, concoctions of processed goodness in food wrapped its cellophane package across the industrial parking lots of the world. No longer were we required to hunt and gather - we could simply drive down the street and receive a pre-package processed meal ready for the trip through the tracks of intestinally lined walls. What ended up occurring, was a market of supply and concentrate. The demand of large distributors of processed food concentrated the production of said food into localized areas. Farmers began focusing on reserving their land for specific crops - diversification lost its way as Mother Nature felt a stab to the ribcage - from being able to provide what was arguably the seed of sustainable growth - farmers turned to product-specific targeted growth - essentially the same thing a fetish whore does for their clients. And as with the fetish whore who overuses its resources, farmers soon found their land crusty and full of depleted sores - all from overfertilization and overuse.

So as uni-versification goes, transport was the key and concise contributor - trucks ready to ship from Points A to B, X to Y and Z to C. Food began shipping from the farm, being processed at a factory, package and re-distributed - virtually every morsel of food began travelling greater distances than the pioneers who seeded them. A tributary from the food migration was the development of the WASD, or weight averaged source distance, and in areas of the North American continent, WASD has grown to average over 2400 km of travel for a piece of produce to get to the grocery shelves.

And within the complex network of highways paved across continents, the complex network of distributing and processing exploded. Businesses were abound all eager and ready to jump on the next marketing campaign for items like 'Bilk' - beer with milk - and 'Season Shot' - the ammo with flavour - never get bullet taste in your game bird again!... Products could now be shipped across oceans, and allowed to infiltrate a reach of consumerism never seen before. This reach, however, has been stretched to the tensest point in its existence, one could argue.

Snuffleupaging Shot
Through the distribution of food, raw materials are harvested from a farm. At this point, material are typically bundled and packaged for shipping, and are either sent to rail loading stations, a distribution centre. Very rarely are products used locally for sale - this didn't used to be like this... So at the distribution centre, waybills track data and weight at points of sale into the network of uses. Some may go to nearby grocers - but most branch off towards to distant processing facilities. Once processing is finalized, items are repackaged and diverted again to far distant distribution centres once again, which are finally dispersed to local grocers and stocked shelves. In total, from the point of sale to the farmer, in all likelihood, your food as gone through two distributors, a processing or manufacturing company, while utilizing three or more trucking companies to finally hit the grocer's store. In total, it could be reasoned that every morsel of food you buy goes into a percentage of 3 truck driver's wages, 6 accountants fees, 4 lawyers anal gouging, 3 distribution agents and managers procrastinating prognosticating, and numerous board member's increase to share price and dividends. In all of these steps and complexities to eating a meal - layers and layers of occupations and labour are utilized - and within all the layers of labour and utilization is the hidden driver behind escalating costs of food - profit. It seems quite logical, that under a streamlined effort, the magical equation can be dividing into 2 truck driver's wages, 1 accounting fee, 1 lawyer, 1 distribution agent and manager and fewer board member's profit fees - a guess could be made that under a localized supply and demand structure, food costs could be cut in half, possibly twice...

So as layers and steps are added to the food distribution chain, one constant remains in all of heaping costs lumped into the recipe for success - energy use. Energy consumption happens in the farm equipment harvesting the first crop, from the semi-trailers hauling long distances to the processing facility, to the facility's industrial energy use in completing processing. As you drive to pick up groceries, an immediate cost is used in that transport. So in my convoluted rants, one thing is obvious - food and energy are tied at the hip. One thing I pointed out is the scarcity of the situation - as energy goes, so does our food. As energy increases in costs, so will our food. So in a time when debt ratios paint bleaker potential than the market confidence splashed across news pages - our wallets will become lighter at a faster pace. Cheap oil is becoming scarcer and scarcer - the Oil Sands extraction at the edge of the Canadian Shield are evidence of that. So as a resource becomes scarcer, and more expensive - this cost will balloon - and so rises the cost of our food. The barrels of oil have spilled, creating a slippery slope of inflation ready to soak the world - the repercussions of this will become more evident as oil reserves become depleted over the next 40 years...

Count Von Counting Carbon
So food is tied with energy - however energy is being tied with the thing called greenhouse gases. The term 'greenhouse' is typically reserved to a humidity and temperature-controlled environment in which carbon, water and oxygen cycles are in full renewable health. The greenhouse gases which are tied with energy are by no means relateable to a greenhouse. The carbon cycle is in complete disarray as emissions are pumped into the atmosphere, in which the Earth does not possess enough chlorophyll to keep up with supply. The prognosticators will say that this will heat the Earth ever so gently, bringing severe climate change and economic catastrophe. To remediate this, the World is prepared to cap and trade our problem. With cap and trade, we are conscientiously choosing to reduce our emissions whereby every company will be required to reduce or limit the generation of CO2. If the company is not available to reduce or limit the generation of CO2, the company can purchased CO2 credits generated by do-gooders or otherwise.

The items in this proposal that concern me are twofold - the first being that regulating CO2 emissions from companies will allow the company to pass the saving onto the consumer - meaning that every item or service could have an 'environmental CO2 levy' attached to it, either being spelled out such as I did, or being masked away under the 'profit' margin attached to your invoice... This is no further observed than when energy companies declared: "Energy costs to triple with carbon capture". They have already stated that CO2 cap and trade will be passed onto the consumer. The second concern is the market. As fictitious and head-scratching as the question: "What is the stock market?", cap and trade has the potential to tie itself into the speculative nature of confidences, indices, potential and bullish behaviour. As CO2 sinks deeper into the pool of economic divergence, collateral interests and intervening accumulation - we are conceivably seeing the next boom tick tocking its way onto Wall Street. And as CO2 gains value - so does our energy, so does our food and our repeated reliance to the complete acceptance of status quo...

"... chasing the clouds away"
It starts at the Sun. Jimmy Carter first introduced a plan in 1979 - his goal was to provide the United States with energy derived from the Sun - his target was 20% by 2000.

Solar technology today is limited due to limited demand, high cost of raw materials and in general, the total amount of raw materials required. On average, costs range from between $7 - 12 per watt installed. So for 1 GW, it would cost between $7,000,000,000-$12,000,000,000.

The U.S., in 2005, utilized approximately 435 GW of electrical energy. In 2008 the U.S. utilized $700 billion for 'bailout purposes'. In 2009, the U.S. utilized $787 billion for 'stimulation' purposes. In total, some estimates cap the total 'bailout' cost at $4 trillion.

For $700 billion, between 58-100 GW of solar power could be built, or between 13%-23% of the U.S.'s 2005 electrical consumption. For $1.487 trillion, between 123-212 GW (28%-48%). For $4 trillion, between 333-571 GW (77%-131%).

Re-Casting the Street
I've only voted once in my entire life. My first opportunity, I was most likely naive. I didn't have an appreciation for clean streets, affordable housing and the general ho-hum of everyday life. I suppose the politics and government didn't really have any numbers - it seemed all fictitiously instead of sciency. But at my first opportunity to vote - I did - but I didn't know the issues, the campaigns, the slogans, nor the candidates. I felt dirty afterwards... casting my vote for something I didn't know. Every opportunity to vote now still makes me feel dirty - and now I feel like I do know the slogans and campaigns. One promise I always hear is that they will make my tax dollars work. At this point in time, I do see my tax dollars at work, but at the municipal level and provincial levels only. I see hospitals being funded (and cut), roads being paved and streets being cleaned... At the federal level... the level primarily responsible for energy, economic growth and health and environment - we've been two steps behind our best intentions - as much as Canada depicts its economic prosperity and environmental stewardship, we are truly nothing but resource whores - complete with salty lips and salty hips. I can't see any renewable forefront from our borders for quite some time.

In the U.S., the commitment to renewability has been started, although there still exists the opportunity for 'hands in the cookie' jar with the cap and trade. But as iterations go, it's a start... One question to pose however is renewability - the use of free energy from outside sources. Renewability, in it's nature - is free - so as we approach a renewable age by the predated specifications in 2050 - with the 50% reductions or 80% steps to renewability - keep a wonder why things are no cheapers, nor cost effective. The layers of CO2 can infiltrate the food chain, coughing up bubbles and bubbles of hidden inflation - and as the cap and trade systems are being proposed today, consider alternatives, like the direct investment of GDP into renewable energy - essentially allowing the taxpayer to own a renewable source of energy. In direct investment, money will immediately stop environmentalists from spewing greehouse garbage, curtail inflation by helping those apples, pears, dyglycerin, monosodium glutimate and Twinkies be processed a little bit cheaper, all while providing a reduction in wait times at the unemployment office and lighter heat and energy bills.

Sesamic Limbo
I'm on the verge of returning to employed occupation after a long hiatus. I'll be returning as a producing member of tax-paying society - primarily driven as a result of the ever tightening debt-ratio incurred through 7 months of incomeless ratios. But as I've limboed under the bar of debt, I've realized solutions are simple to sustainable budgeting. I've had to change a few habits (like turning the shower off when scrubbing - it's so much more pleasant without a chaotic waterfall) and will still have to change a few (like 3 a.m. hotdogs) but it's a step towards lowering my economic bar towards a more renewable outlook...

1 comment:

  1. Brilliant and thought-provoking as ever, cc'd.

    All the best with your return to more regular employment. I'm not sure which is more challenging - having such a structure in place, or not. In either scenario, we ultimately find ourselves having to be alert for cues as to how best to shape our days and our ways within both our immediate environment and the wider community.

    Your approach is a fine one.