America the Food Desert: How Peak Oil Will Make Food Less Nutritious
There’s a great post up on Reddit that articulates something that I’ve been thinking for a while. Namely, that as people get hungrier, food won’t get more expensive — it’ll just get less nutritious and more toxic. Ultimately, the entire country will become a food desert, and even the suburbs will be the culinary equivalent of an inner-city ghetto where there are no nutritious food options so people eat junk food all the time, and where diabetes and other food-related health, behavioral, and psychological problems are rampant.
The growing hunger of the public will not result in increasing food prices or food scarcity, it will see decreasing food quality. More hormone rich meat, genetically modified, chemically enhanced fruit and veg, and sub-par processed foods. This influx of “cheap” food, with the more expensive organic options being far out of the price range of the poor, will result in an epidemic of diabetes and other health complications for the common people. Without the infrastructure for decent health care, or with decent health care being far too expensive, the poor will eat themselves into an early grave. This has obviously been occurring for the last decade, but as the poor get poorer, and more in number, the food will get worse and worse, and those getting sick because of their diet will grow in number.
I think there’s a peak oil connection here, and that as oil prices go up this trend will accelerate. Ultimately, energy scarcity will translate directly into a growing epidemic of heart disease, diabetes, and God only knows what else.
My reasoning here is based on a famous 2008 post on The Oil Drum, “The Fallacy of Reversibility,” in which Stuart Staniford convincingly demolishes the common prepper fantasy that we’ll all go back to the local farm as oil gets more scarce. He looks at the data and shows that industrial agriculture tends to get more profitable as fuel prices go up. The reason for this phenomenon is biofuel — demand for corn-based ethanol increases in times of oil scarcity, so industrial farmers do really well during these periods.
So what will ultimately happen is that as oil gets more expensive, industrial agriculture will become more profitable, and smaller, “organic” farmers will get bought out and shut down. Organic, local food, which is actually more energy intensive per calorie to transport (it comes from local farms to farmers markets and such in smaller vehicles), will get even more expensive and further out of reach for all but the wealthiest.
As oil prices rise, we’ll end up in a world where even the upper class is priced out of Whole Foods and ends up eating the tarted up equivalent of inner-city gas station food, with all of the attendant problems that such a diet entails.