nitrogen factoryYour food doesn’t come from here, but it starts here: an ammonia factory. We burn through more of it per capita than any other country; and our appetite for it can only be sated with massive imports.

No, not oil — I’m talking about nitrogen fertilizer. With only 5 percent of the world population, the U.S. consumes nearly 12 percent of the globe’s annual synthetic nitrogen fertilizer production. And we’re producing less and less of it at home — meaning that, as with petroleum, we’re increasingly dependent on other nations for this key crop nutrient.

In a sense, the answer to the question of where our food comes from is not some vast Iowa cornfield or teeming North Carolina hog factory. It’s places like the Port Lisas Industrial Estate on the Caribbean island nation of Trinidad and Tobago, where 10 natural gas-sucking ammonia plants produce about a quarter of the nitrogen fertilizer used by American farmers.