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My Saudi Arabian Breakfast

How to wake up each morning and consume a quart of crude oil and two and half pounds of coal.

| Fri Mar. 24, 2006 4:00 AM EST

Introduction by Tom Engelhardt.

Part of every spring, I venture out to the Graduate School of Journalism at the University of California, Berkeley and get myself attached, as an editor, to a group of young journalists. In the course of a semester, they learn something about writing -- and rewriting -- from me, while I learn much that's surprising about our world (and technology I'll never be able to handle) from them.

The initial set of pieces my class has produced, covering a remarkable range of subjects, will appear this Sunday in the Insight section of the San Francisco Chronicle, a thrill for everyone involved. As last year, I get to preview two of the pieces that fit best with Tomdispatch's obsessional interests. The first of these is Chad Heeter's exploration of just how much the phrase "you are what you eat" (even for breakfast) catches our "peak oil" moment.

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While attending journalism school, Heeter has also been a researcher for Michael Pollan, author of The Botany of Desire, who appeared in an interview at Tomdispatch a year ago. (By the way, Pollan's new book, The Omnivore's Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals, debuts in a couple of weeks and, given how much I liked his last one, I plan to be at the head of the line when it hits my local bookstore.) Now, get your spoon ready -- or should it be your dipstick? -- and, before you dig into your first meal of the day, check out whether or not you're low on oil.

My Saudi Arabian Breakfast
By Chad Heeter

Please join me for breakfast. It's time to fuel up again.

On the table in my small Berkeley apartment this particular morning is a healthy looking little meal -- a bowl of imported McCann's Irish oatmeal topped with Cascadian Farms organic frozen raspberries, and a cup of Peet's Fair Trade Blend coffee. Like most of us, I prepare my breakfast at home and the ingredients for this one probably cost me about $1.25. (If I went to a café in downtown Berkeley, I'd likely have to add another $6.00, plus tip for the same.)

My breakfast fuels me up with about 400 calories, and it satisfies me. So, for just over a buck and half an hour spent reading the morning paper in my own kitchen, I'm energized for the next few hours. But before I put spoon to cereal, what if I consider this bowl of oatmeal porridge (to which I've just added a little butter, milk, and a shake of salt) from a different perspective. Say, a Saudi Arabian one.

Then, what you'd be likely to see -- what's really there, just hidden from our view (not to say our taste buds) -- is about four ounces of crude oil. Throw in those luscious red raspberries and that cup of java (another three ounces of crude), and don't forget those modest additions of butter, milk, and salt (another ounce), and you've got a tiny bit of the Middle East right here in my kitchen.

Now, let's drill a little deeper into this breakfast. Just where does this tiny gusher of oil actually come from? (We'll let this oil represent all fossil fuels in my breakfast, including natural gas and coal.)

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