Last week Sandy and I returned from an 86 day bicycle tour across America.
San Francisco, CA - St. Augustine, FL, 3,800 miles. 0-96 miles/day.
We slept inside churches and fire departments, camped on baseball fields and community parks, under Redwoods and in the homes of many good people met along the way. We climbed two mountain passes, crossed 7 state borders, and pedaled 900 miles through Texas, which felt like a country of it's own.
The trip was inspired by many things, to satiate an appetite for adventure, to gain a deeper understanding of our Nation's character, to experience the joy of living with only the bare necessities.
And, at a time when the threat of hydrofracking looms close to home, the seat of a bicycle seemed the best place to gain perspective on our country's collective addiction to fossil fuels. Travel by bicycle meant one less car on the road, it meant creating a new personal vision of renewable transport. As cyclists we became part of a larger movement, formed by a community of individuals who fuel transportation by personal strength & spirit rather than by fossil fuels derived from destructive practices.
After cars, the modern food system uses more fossil fuel than any other sector of the economy — 19 percent.
As Americans, we put nearly as much fossil fuel onto our plates as we do in our cars. Our industrialized food system depends on fossil fuels during every stage of production, using natural gas to produce chemical fertilizers and petroleum to power machinery, process, package, and transport food to supermarkets. As Michael Pollan eloquently states in his article Farmer in Chief, "when we eat from the industrial-food system, we are eating oil and spewing greenhouse gases."
The consequences of a fuel dependent food system reach far beyond the tangible costs to the economy, environment, and health. It brings with it the loss of agricultural heritage, culture, and traditional culinary wisdom. Already, many places in America are trapped in a fuel-thirsty desert of canned & processed foods. In others, fresh & healthy foods are a luxury for the elite.
As travelers, we became witnesses to the sharp dichotomy between the grandeur of an $8 glass of green juice at Whole Foods in the ever trendy city of Austin, and the selection of packaged goods available at a Coca Cola sponsored market in the Apache Indian Reservation.
Despite the grim picture I feel compelled to paint, there are seeds of hope blossoming across the American landscape. Many of us continue to savor unique regional flavors, support local food economies, and labor the land through personal and community gardens. Countless times, locals insisted that we gather around the dinner table to experience a home cooked meal. With a certain pride, they shared with us the salty flesh of gulf shrimp, the creative concoctions of local brewers, the sweet decadence of Pecan Pie, the creamy textures of homemade cheese, or the succulence of homegrown oranges.
This celebration of local foods & brews not only satiates a yearning for cultural understanding, but also paves the delicious path to becoming a less energy-dependent nation. Indeed, if every U.S. citizen ate just one local & organic meal each week, our country would save 1.1 million barrels of oil every week.
Living on a bicycle served as a pleasant reminder to feel gratitude for all that I have, a shower, a bed, a place to call home. Beyond these creature comforts, I return with a new appreciation for the rich agricultural heritage that survives in Cooperstown, NY. Here, I know the farmers that grew the ingredients for my next meal, that hold the ancient wisdom of cultivating the land that we, as a community, depend on. They are the unsung heroes, the strong backbone that supports our culture & the path to a more sustainable future.