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Energy Use in Food Preservation
By Mary Zellachild, Communications Director

Can of green beans
Can of Green Beans


Preservation Method Processing Energy Embodied Energy in Various Containers Energy in
Maintaining Storage
Commercial: 261 Cal/lb Home: 344 Cal/lb
Glass (16 oz): 1,023 Cal Steel (16 oz): 1,006 Cal
1267̅–1367 Cal/lb
825 Cal/lb
Polyethylene Bag
(16 oz): 254 Cal
482 Cal/lb
6 months
1561 Cal/lb
1610 Cal/lb
1610 Cal/lb
17 Cal/lb
34 Cal/lb/use
51 Cal/lb

As everyone knows, there are many methods of food preservation. But in these times of increasing public focus on the hidden costs of fossil fuels, and a search for alternative energy sources, a good question could be: "What method of food preservation takes the least amount of energy?" The following chart and information are from Energy Use in Biointensive Food Production, by Steve Moore.

"Consider that sweet corn contains 316 Cal/lb, green beans contain 158 Cal/lb, and garden peas contain 381 Cal/lb (Onstad, 1996). With these numbers in mind, look at the energy use totals for each preservation method in the table. It is clear that for all methods except fermentation, we use three to ten times more energy in preserving the food than we gain from eating the food itself. Remember that this simple comparison only focuses on preservation and doesn't account for the additional energy used in production, transportation, retailing, and final in-home preparation and storage of the food."

Steve Moore, EA's colleague and Board member, has been researching energy use in food for many years, and wrote the Self-Teaching Mini-Series #37: Energy Use in Biointensive Food Production to share his research results. (Available at Bountiful Gardens) His conclusion? Fermentation of food uses the least amount of energy. An excellent book to familiarize readers with the subject is The Art of Fermentation by Sandor Ellix Katz. (See the EA book review here.)

John Jeavons adds: "1 tablespoon of sauerkraut can have as many probiotics as a bottle of probiotic tablets." John also mentioned careful canning in a solar oven as another low-energy food preservation method.

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