Musings: A Picture of Our Post Peak Oil Food Supply

We have commented on several books in recent months that highlight how a world with limited oil resources will be forced to change. The idea that people will no longer be able to live in the suburbs and forced to move into metropolitan areas because of the lack of gasoline and high fuel prices seems extreme to us. The authors of these books believe that much about how Americans live must change as a result of Peak Oil. One change they often point to is that our diets will be different as the cost to deliver certain foods will become prohibitively expensive. Often cited are certain fish and seafood that come from foreign locations. These authors also believe Americans will be reassessing how food supplies are grown -- suggesting local gardens and farms will become our primary source of supply. 

We recently read Mark Kurlansky's 2009 book,The Food of a Younger Land (Riverhead Books) that offers a peak at how we might be eating in an oil-constrained world. The book was based on the lost WPA files. During the Great Depression, the government was confronted with how to deal with stubbornly high unemployment. The Works Progress Administration of the Franklin Roosevelt administration was created to develop projects that would employ workers throughout the economy on government payrolls. As there were few employment opportunities for writers and poets in America at this time, the WPA developed a program to write about the eating habits, traditions and struggles of local people to feed themselves. The project was called "America Eats" and it envisioned an organized effort to document eating in each state of the union. The project was abandoned in the early 1940s because of World War II, and it was never resumed.

As Mr. Kurlansky taps the WPA America Eats' files, readers will learn about food and dining experiences such as visiting automats in New York City (the author did as a 10 year old) and attending Coca-Cola parties in Georgia, possum-eating clubs in Arkansas and salmon feasts in Puget Sound. He also draws on articles documenting Choctaw Indian funeral feasts, South Carolina barbecues and chuck wagon cooks. The world of eating Mr. Kurlansky describes was simple, regional and focused on using locally available and often seasonal foodstuffs, many of them not current foods. This world existed well before the national highway system, frozen food and fast food establishments.  It is an interesting read that sheds light on how we may have to change our menus in the future.