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Documentation > Miscellaneous Energy > Miscellaneous > Jean-Pierre COFFE and his last book

Is Coffe an ecologist ?

december 2003

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The first thought of the reader will probably be to wonder whether I did not receive some heavy object on the head, or whether I did not went down the stairs on the same head, for qualifying Coffe (a french food critic) an ecologist. But... what does the guy say in his last book, "around the family table for15 euros a day" ? (Plon).

that 150 grammes of meat per person and per day is enough,

that we should go shopping at the open markent rather than at the supermarket,

that we must buy products locally produced and in season.

Well, our friend has it all right. Why ?

the problems caused by agriculture are for a large part the consequence of our desire to eat a lot of meat. More than half of the agricultural land is devoted to feeding animals (that we will eat afterwards) and one should remember that greenhouse gases emissions of the agricultural sector rank first in France.

Breakdown by activity of the greenhouse gases emissions in France for 2001, all gases (except ozone) being taken into account. The sinks are not taken into account (I don't know how to deduct them from the various activities !).

It is noticeable that the agricultural activities rank first. And if we gather all that is emitted to provide food (agriculture, but also transportation and processing of food, including the manufacturing of all the packaging that we will throw away later on) then eating probably accounts for a little third of all emissions.

From CITEPA, 2002

NB : international air and sea transportation is not included

In 2000 an average French eats 100 kg of meat per year. But 150 grammes per day -suggested by Coffe - corresponds to only half that amount (150 grammes x 365 days equals 50 kg), and actually it would be even less on average, because the mean value of 100 kg/person/year includes the consumption of hoary old-timers and newborns, that definitely eat less than 100 kg per year.

By suggesting that we cut our meat consumption by half, Jean-Pierre COFFE certainly contributes to a lowering of the nuisances deriving from agriculture, including the greenhouse gases emissions. Implementing this suggestion for the whole french population (dividing the meat consumption by 2) would result in a 5 to 10% decrease of the national total : it isn't nothing !

shopping at the hypermarket (or supermarket) is the least "ecological" way to shop : It is impossible to get there without a car, the goods sold are seldom produced locally, therefore travelled a lot before being sold. Various attempts to quantify the difference between an hypermarket and a small intown shop conclude that the first is 2 to 20 times more energy intensive for the same sum spent.

By advising to go to the open market rather than to the hypermarket, Jean-Pierre COFFE indirectly suggests to go shopping by foot rather than by car, and indirectly suggests to buy food produced locally (at the open market there are still local truck farmers, brooders, cheese producers...) rather than processed foods that will have travelled hundreds (if not thousands) of km, inducing - by the way - part of the truck flow that we so much want to remove from our roads.

out of season products have either been grown under a heated greenhouse (generally heated with fuel oil or gas), or been transported from a very remote place, and in all cases it generates extra greenhouse gases emissions.

And at last when going to the open market one is sure not to get out with a basket half filled with junk food that one never had the intention to buy on his way in (but got tempted by a sophisticated marketing), well all these junk foods lead to greenhouse gases emissions to be produced. At worst, you will leave an open market with a couple of olives, pistachios, and spices for chili con carne that you will never use (I can testify : my cupboards are full up with these !), but there is no danger to spend vast sums on cookies and crackers, various gadgets because one kid saw the ad on TV, or something you will never use just because it is on sale. By avoiding to buy useless stuff, one can at the same time spend more money in high quality food and spend less globally speaking, and all this is pretty good for the environnement (except if the savings are used to travel by plane, buy a larger car, or extend the house, of course...).

The suggestions of Coffe are furthermore the illustration that being an "ecologist" might be joyful and tasteful : speaking from experience, it is far more pleasnt to go shopping at the open market (where, as soon as you are have your habits, salespeople are often joking with you) than taking your basket for a walk in an anonymous hypermarket, and most of all much more tasty once in the plate !


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