It is common to frame the discussion of energy consumption in terms of the cars we drive and the houses we heat. But there’s a different way to consider the issue: In terms of the food we eat.

This article offers some interesting tidbits on the topic: Between 1997 and 2002, more than 80% of the increased energy use in the United States was food-related, according to some estimates. Increased focus on convenience, often through the sale of prepared food, has required massive amounts of energy. People are also eating out a lot more and all those restaurants use a lot of energy. Methods for processing, storing and cooking food have also become more energy intensive, and even in individual home kitchens, high-tech gadgets that must be plugged into the wall are becoming a lot more common.

Now, in some ways this is a flawed argument. You certainly can’t separate energy consumption in the food sector from that of, say, the transportation sector: Much of our transportation sector is dedicated to transporting food. If we drive the family to a restaurant, is the fuel we use a transportation expense or a food expense? And what about the heating oil that the restaurant uses to create a comfortable atmosphere in which we can enjoy our food? Is it really accurate to call that a food-related expense?

Not necessarily. The country’s economy is so interconnected that the only good way to consider our energy use is arguably to look at it in total.

But there is a benefit of looking at fuel use by industry: It can be a useful way to identify the hidden ways we all use energy even when we think we are just enjoying one of life’s simple pleasures – like a glass of milk. It takes fuel to transport that milk, and more fuel – a not insignificant amount — to refrigerate it. Indeed, households account for 22% of all the energy expenditures in this country – and a lot of that household energy is being burned in the kitchen.

What do you think? Please share your ideas on how we might reduce our food-related energy consumption.