This era in history may be remembered as the "Peak Age", a brief time when nearly all materials used to power and create our society reach the maximum extraction and production potential. Past this point, all of these resources become increasingly difficult to extract until they are no longer economically viable resources to be using. There are hundreds of examples of resources, currently embedded in our industrial society, which have reached their peak in the 50 years surrounding 2010, but the one which will most impact our society is petroleum.

The goal of living for 100 days without oil is to understand the extent of our dependance on oil in American society today. Specifically, how it will affect my life, as a 25 year-oil living in Minneapolis, MN. By using myself as a metric I can take a close and conscious look at where oil dependance occurs in all aspects of our daily lives : How we transport ourselves from one place to another, what we eat, how much waste we create, how water is cleaned and transported, where oil is used as; an energy resource, in conventional medicine and for hygiene and how oil affects how we entertain ourselves and communicate with others. By demonstrating how someone would be forced to live without using any oil resources, outlining both what the sacrifices will be as well as the benefits, we can can identify the many systems which will have to be re-designed in a world without cheap oil, and explore a new way of living in which we live in an energy balance.

(At the bottom of this page is a link to my version of a flow diagram of 'Where Petroleum Exists in Our Daily Lives' (using information from the Energy Information Administration-Annual Energy Review 2008 fig 5.0 Petroleum flow) click and zoom to enlarge)

Sunday, October 10, 2010


6 October 2010

I met Sarah Kunkel who is a graduate student in University of Minnesota's Nutrition program for dinner tonight at an all-raw restaurant a few blocks from my house (Ecopolitan), and picked her brain about the nutrition of my "no oil diet".  I was curious to hear her thoughts on how my diet has either improved or degraded my health, as well as what 'holes' I had nutritionally.  Here is what she had to say:

_While you should eat at least 4 1/2 cups of fruits and vegetables each day (according to the government-created food health pyramid), it doesn't necessarily matter if the ratio of fruits to vegetables is exactly 50/50.  This is good news for me because I am only eating apples and pear for fruit at this point which doesn't provide me with a wide array of vitamins.  If I eat more vegetables to make up for my lack of fruit variety, then this works out.

_I haven't been eating meat during this project because of packaging restrictions.  Sarah is a vegetarian and says she eats a lot of cottage cheese to get enough protein. A 1/2 cup of cottage cheese has 12 grams of protein, compared to a steak with has 18 grams.  She also mentioned that in general, Americans eat WAY more meat than is necessary for their daily protein intake, and it isn't necessary to eat meat every day if protein requirements are being met in other ways.  Some grains such as Quinoa are also a good sources of protein.

_We talked about fortified foods (foods which have had vitamins added to them).  These are called "functional foods" in nutrition lingo, and are the subject of some controversy (Probiotic yogurt, goo-gels, pepsi fortified with vitamins, vitamin water).  While it is better to get vitamins in foods rather than in supplement form because they are easier for your body to digest, it is better to get them in the form they originally come from.  For example, milk is often fortified with Vitamins A and D.  Neither of these vitamins are naturally occurring in milk, but they are both vitamins which the government has identified as deficiencies for the American public.  One of the best sources for vitamin D is the sun.  Because we are not out in the sun as much anymore, and when we are you cover ourselves in sunscreen, we don't get enough of this vitamin.  In order for the body to absorb vitamin D, the sun has to be at a certain angle.  In Minnesota, the sun is not at this angle from Nov-March.  The controversy with functional foods also arises because there are dangers with having TOO MANY vitamins are well.  Sarah explained that most single vitamins (ex. vitamin C) capsules contain way more of the vitamin than is needed every day.  There are toxicity problems with eating too many vitamins just as there are with eating too few.  Water soluble vitamins are not a problem because you simply pee out the excess.

_Being that we were at Ecopolitan, surrounding by die-hard raw foodists, we talked about some diets such as RAW and vegan.  Her stance was that most of these diets are lacking nutritionally in some fashion.  Both RAW and Vegan diets are lacking in calcium and cause bone structure problems with people who are on them long term. 

_She explained that while it is clear that the leading health programs in our country related to food have conflicting intentions and are not necessarily looking out for our health, there may be a bit of 'over attacking' going on as well.  There is a lot of attacking of processed foods, much of which is justifiable:  Processed foods contain much more salt and less potassium than we need.  Because our cells are a delicate balance between sodium and potassium if this is unbalanced we can end up with hypertension which is a blood pressure issue.  High fructose corn syrup is another example.  She explained that "sucrose is sucrose" and HFCS has only 5% more fructose than table sugar.  Fructose and Glucose are what makes up table sugar.  Fructose being the one that people have attacked because studies have found that it bypasses a feedback system in your body allowing you to eat more of it than you need.  Glucose is regulated more easily in body feedback loops.  Fructose, however is naturally found in fruits as well. 

All of this talk left me fairly conflicted.  Nutrition is a delicate balance and there is a lot of scientific data and studies getting thrown around every year which tell us what is "good" and what is "bad".  In a post cheap oil world some of these problems of processed and functional foods will likely be eliminated as transportation of food is limited and foods no longer need to be preserved in the same way they would being trucked and stored for months.  Eating foods from raw ingredients has made me more aware of what exactly I am putting in my body, and it is easier to analyze my diet to make sure I am getting the nutrients I need.  This awareness, I believe, is possibly the best and easiest way to understand your diet, what your body needs and how to cook with foods available in your area to eat in a nutritionally balanced way. 

After looking at my charts of data of what I have eaten for this entire project she pointed out that at the beginning of the project (when I was only eating vegetables and potatoes basically that I had a lot of nutritional gaps.  However, as I learned to make breads and found out how to cook different meals with the ingredients available to me that my diet now is much healthier than the way I was eating before because I have been forced to eat much more fresh produce and no processed foods. 

RAWvioli at Ecopolitan

She recommended the following resources to me as well: (allows to to put in the foods you eat each day and analyzes the nutrition balance accroding to the food pyramid)
_Michael Pollan's books especially (In Defense of Food)
_Eating Well magazine
_Farmer's Market Cookbook Featherstone Farms (a local CSA)
_Apples to Zucchinis book
_Fresh Earth Farms website (local CSA)


  1. It's really easy to just follow along with the talking points for a certain diet or certain way of eating. I think it's cool that you talked to someone to try to figure out the truth.

    As a vegetarian, I sometimes struggle with proper nutrition, so I think I'm going to check out Eating Well and some of the other resources you mention.

  2. That is incredibly weird - I suppose it depends on which nutritionist you speak with and how much experience they have? I have been vegan for 15 years and I haven't had nutritionists tell me it's unhealthy.

    And in fact, dairy can leech calcium from your bones:

    Anyway, I have 15 years of general practitioner exams and the occasional nutritionist I'd see to appease new doctors that I wasn't going to drop dead from being vegan.

    And quinoa is not a grain, just FYI. I think that is part of the reason it has such a high protein content that sets it apart:

  3. Jesse-Its interesting to hear from a vegan perspective, I'm new to learning all of this and so far have been presented with very conflicting arguements. What do you eat to get enough calcium? Or has this never been a problem? What are the concerns doctors/nutritionists have, if any?

  4. The doctors were kind of insane, actually - some of them were fine and others were paranoid I'd have deficiencies without ever running a blood test. One was paranoid I'd have anemia and wanted me to eat fish (nope!) and then suggested cheese, which has very little iron! When I realized she was grasping at straws I suggested we speak with a nutritionist even though she was being pushy (in a concerned mom way!) with her fake solution.

    Over the years I've heard of vegans who try to see doctors who are from backgrounds that are traditionally culturally vegetarian to avoid the fear-mongering (i.e. Indian). The nutritionists have been far less alarmist and focused on iron, calcium and protein sources. I did read recently (and I think it was a blog and I can't recall the source so take it as you will) that most doctors don't really get much in the way of nutrition education so I guess their reactions and ill-informed thoughts didn't surprise me on that front.

    I did learn (through the internet, before I even saw a nutritionist for it) that vegetable and meat iron do absorb differently. Meat iron will usually absorb without trouble but vegetable iron needs C present as a catalyst. I did have a brief period about 7 years ago where my iron dipped around a menstrual period and stayed dipped -- and I immediately felt it. My family has anemia in their history (and they're hunters and omnivores) but I usually had a decent iron level. Once I upped sources of vitamin C I was fine and never experienced that again. Also, drinking tea or coffee within a half hour before or after eating veg iron sources compromises the absorption by as much as half so that was helpful to know but doesn't create an issue if my iron levels are healthy anyway.

    I think when I was younger and didn't eat as well, calcium might have been an issue (but when I ate everything it was probably still an issue, to be fair, as I was a horrible eater when younger). Now I usually eat kale or collards daily (I got a Vitamix so I could be sure to, actually) and a soy yogurt. I was told not to eat all my calcium from one meal and to split it in 1/3rd per meal for better absorption so I do soy yogurt (30% RDA) in the morning, whatever I have for lunch and then a green smoothie (2+c kale, 20%) and some protein/carbs for dinner. This week for lunch I didn't do homemade stuff so I'm eating prepackaged macro veg sushi or yuba pockets (10-20% RDA). I do tend to eat stuff with beans in it, or nuts (walnuts, hazelnuts, almonds) which also have calcium.

    I always thought these were cute but I still haven't gotten one!

    Hope that helps!

  5. Molls - maybe you addressed this in an earlier post, but I'm just wondering about the time factor differential between simply buying foods at a grocery store and buying foods at select locations and restaurants.

    I have to imagine that in a post "Peak-Age" era, wherein everyone is having to spend a little more time gathering resources (both via different forms of transportation and just in becoming more informed about diet and nutrition), the "work, work, work!" ethic of our society may change. In the here and now (and coming from the perspective of a perpetually exhausted and overworked graduate student) I'm just wondering what people can implement in a way that is feasible and doesn't eat up a lot of time.

    Are you, at some point, going to make any kind of "priorities" chart? For example, do you think it is better for people to focus on nutrition and on purchasing locally-grown products (even if that means driving an extra half hour, and using oil for gas) or traveling by self-powered means (on foot, by bike...) but just going to whatever is closest?

    I realize patterns of behavior may make it seem less realistic to do things that are really quite easy. I'm just wondering, if I were to change one thing in my life regarding my own personal oil use, what could I do that would make the biggest difference for me or for the world?

    (Sorry that's a bit long-winded... ;)

  6. Jesse- Thanks for the details! I'm considering doing the last part of the project on a vegan or raw diet to compare the energy use between different diets and will be going to get a second opinion (on the post-oil diet) from a nutritionist at the University of Minnesota's Health Services soon. I'll post what I find.

  7. Meg-I think a 'priorities' chart would be really useful and is definetly a goal for the analysis I will be doing at the end of the project. So far, transportation is by far the biggest energy user, however, this is both personal transportation (gettiing to the grocery store) as well as transportation of food and other products (shopping locally). Buying locally and minimizing driving to when you ABSOLUTELY HAVE NO OTHER WAY has been the biggest thing so far. (I havn't done an analysis on space heating/cooling yet however...)