Food? or Fuel?

To be completely honest, I used to be ambivalent about the using of corn to create ethanol.  Make it, don’t make it.  Use it, don’t use.  I didn’t care.  But that was because I didn’t know a darn thing about it.

Take some corn, turn it into fuel, reduce the use of fossil fuels, right?  Simple! Cheap!  Renewable!

Well, now that I’ve taken exactly two minutes to look into ethanol production, I have quickly become non-ambivalent.  We need to stop making and burning ethanol up in our cars.


Well, I learned that it takes 21 pounds of corn to make a single gallon of ethanol.  TWENTY ONE pounds of corn to make a SINGLE gallon of the stuff (26.1 pounds according to another source!).  To fill the relatively small tank of my own Honda Accord that would conservatively take 351 pounds of corn.  To fill an SUV?  I am a little sick to think about how much corn that would take. 

I also never considered how much FOSSIL fuel it takes to plant, grow, harvest, distill, and transport the final ethanol product.  It takes a considerable amount.  It looks alot to me like robbing Peter to pay Paul.

Having spent time in countries where people starve to death, and having seen babies and little kids with swollen bellies and hair discolored by malnutrition, it seems to me to be the height of waste to take food that could fill the stomach of starving person and put it my car so that I reduce my “carbon footprint” and feel better about myself for doing it.

Corn is the staple food in Zambia.  Wherever I went I saw corn drying on the tin roofs of houses.  I now wonder how 21 pounds of corn would look up on those roofs.  I wonder how many people 21 pounds of corn would feed, and for how long.  


In Haiti, they are eating dirt cookies, just to stave off hunger.  I don’t think there’s much nutritional value in a dirt cookie.  A dirt cookie might make you not feel as hungry, but it’s not going to keep you from starving.

Corn is a renewable resource, but individuals are not.  I’d think about dying babies everytime I put that fuel into my car.  Corn is not fuel.  It’s food. 

There are lots of other problems inherent in the widespread use of ethanol, like the health of our nation’s farmlands.  Instead of restating them all, just take a look at this webpage:  Ethanol from corn – burning both corn and oil.  If you’re a proponent of corn as fuel, this might make you rethink your position.

Even with all the very good reasons for not utilizing ethanol, at the heart of this issue for me is how would I EVER explain to a starving person that I was burning up FOOD in my car?  A starving person doesn’t care about my carbon footprint.  A starving person doesn’t care about whether the earth will be here for their grandchildren.  A starving person cares about whether THEY will be there tomorrow for their children, and whether their children will be there tomorrow for them.  

Our fuel needs to be their food. 

Surely we can do better than this.



About Lou (Linda)

Just a girl from Colorado trying to live life to God's glory with a certain amount of gusto! View all posts by Lou (Linda)

2 responses to “Food? or Fuel?

  • Author

    WOW! That is a powerful post. I can understand exactly how you feel.

    I often feel guilty for using fuel. I think many people do in the UK. But we have a major problem here. The public transport system is crap – sorry to use that word, but it is.

    Unless you live in a city – you’re lucky if you can even find public transport going to where you want to go – and if you do, the likelyhood is you won’t get a seat – and won’t be able to afford it.

    I live in a rural area and there’s only one bus a day, no railway station within 10 miles and if you don’t have a car (and use fuel) you’ve had it. If you’re of working age you have to travel to work because there is minimal work locally.

    In fact I walk everywhere I can locally (occasionally I cycle) – I walk to the shops, doctors surgery, library, hospital, theatre, art gallery etc. I only drive to work (and the cost of the fuel for that is breaking me financially at the moment) and to visit my grandad who lives 5 miles away (there’s no transport to get to his village other than by car).

    I wish there was an alternative. I wish I could afford to work locally. I wish I could walk to work – and only use fuel when absolutely necessary. I wish there was a good public transport system throughout the UK – not just in cities.

    Recently when we were going to London, I suggested to my husband that we got the train instead of driving (just driving 10 miles to the station and leaving the car there) but when we checked the rail fare it was astronomical and we couldn’t afford it. It was much cheaper to drive. That’s a fact.

    So I understand. I agree. It makes me unbelievably sad to consider what you are saying.

    We need to make our politicians stop spending money on wars and bombs etc and make them put in place the transport infrastructures we so we can all use LESS fuel – and then people can eat.

    There is so much wrong with the world it makes me really sad.

  • Lou (Linda)

    It is a difficult and complex issue. I’m almost at the place where I say “let’s just use up all the fossil fuel and then necessity MUST be the mother of invention, but we must go places where maybe we’ve not gone before and not to places that scream out how selfish we are and how our western needs for excess are more important than the less developed world’s need for simple survival. Thanks so much for your very thoughtful comment. Indeed, it IS sad.

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