Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about food. I’ve been reading Animal, Vegetable, Miracle (an inspiring book about a family who chose to eat only local, seasonal produce for a year) and I’ve been listening to local ABC radio a lot (I realise that makes me sound about 197 years old but my mum always has it on and I secretly quite enjoy it!) so I keep hearing the terribly sad stories of Australian farmers struggling to survive. Though I’m always quite mindful of what we eat and where it comes from I’m realising now, more than ever, how important our food choices are and how badly the current system of food production and distribution is failing us. All of us.
In our increasingly urbanised society, many of us are so far removed from the sources of our food, we simply have no idea how our choices affect our famers, the animals we share the planet with, our environment and even what’s on our own plates. We need food so we go to the supermarket and we buy it, without much thought for how it got to be there. That’s a real shame because the reality is, much of the food on supermarket shelves is attached to a slew of ethical issues worthy of our consideration. From the environmental impact of the use of pesticides, herbicides, genetic modification and fossil fuels used in agriculture and to ship the food, to the livelihoods of the farmers and treatment of animals who have produced it, and it’s impact on our own health; food is a big issue and something that affects every single one of us. It’s also an issue so huge and infinitely complicated, that it can be really hard to contemplate.
What can we possibly do to change things? Where do we even begin?
I believe in taking baby steps. For starters, we can all make an effort to waste less food. The average Australian household throws out 345kg kilograms of food every year (that’s a total of 4,000,000 tonnes of food nationwide!) which is obviously a huge waste of resources. We can try to eat more organic produce which is produced with less impact on the earth (and as an added bonus is often more flavourful and nutritious!) Most of us could probably benefit from eating less processed food and cooking more from scratch. Many of us could change our relationship with meat and eat less of it and/or only consume free range, organic meat that has been treated ethically. We can try to eat more local and look for fresh produce closer to home. In doing this we will be reducing the carbon footprint of our food and supporting our local producers. Some of us can even grow some of our own food, vastly reducing the use of chemicals and fossil fuels in the journey of produce to plate. We can’t all do everything, but we can all do something.
Since writing this post about food, Reuben and I have made some big changes to the way we eat. Recently I have had more time to cook and have been making things from scratch much more regularly. I’ve also been really concentrating on making healthy, nourishing meals, packed with lovely whole foods, so we now eat very little processed stuff. We’ve switched from doing multiple small shops (picking up a few groceries every day) to doing one big weekly shop, and we’ve stopped getting takeaway on lazy nights. Now if we can’t be bothered with cooking, we’ll simply have leftovers or something fuss free like eggs and mushrooms on toast.
We’ve also been better with finishing up leftovers and only buying products we know we’ll actually use. I still don’t really meal plan but in the last couple of months I’ve figured out what fresh ingredients are staples for us and we now buy those things, which always get used up, as the bulk of our groceries. If I see anything different or seasonal that we might fancy, I try to make a priority of finding a recipe for it and using it up ASAP, so it isn’t left forgotten in the bottom of the crisper. All of this has reduced our weekly food bill and waste substantially, which is great, but there is room for much improvement when it comes to the ethical side of our little family’s consumption.
The main point I have taken away from Animal Vegetable Miracle (and Whole Larder Love too) is that Reuben and I really need to concentrate more on seasonal eating and buying local produce. We usually go to the local farmers market (which, sadly, is only on once a month) and buy our fresh fruit and veggies for that week there, but I want to start planning ahead and buying a whole month’s worth of things like pumpkin and potatoes that will keep for the duration of the month. We also need to have a go at preserving seasonal and more perishable produce. Once we are in our own house Reuben and I will set up a veggie patch and get a couple of chickens to provide us with fresh eggs, which will reduce the amount of fresh produce we need to buy. And the environmental impact of food we’ve grown ourselves will be almost zilch!
Reuben and I don’t eat meat and have always bought free range eggs, but I’d love to find a local, organic dairy supplier. I’d really, really like to get my hands on some raw milk and have a go at making cheese, but given the fact selling raw milk for consumption is illegal in Australia, that might be a bit trickier. Of course there will always be things that we can’t grow or make ourselves or buy at the farmers market, but with us cooking from scratch more, our grocery list for non fresh produce has already reduced. I’d like to start buying more of our basic staples such as rice, flour and lentils from small local businesses like Bendigo Wholefoods, rather than the big supermarkets.
I am hoping that once we’ve moved and are somewhat settled in our new home we will be able to create a new, healthier rhythm around our food.
We all need to eat and, whether we like it or not, the way we eat and the food choices we make have a direct impact on the world around us. We have a responsibility to our environment, our farmers, our animals, our future generations and ourselves to make good choices. Though it often seems like we have no power to make meaningful change, in fact we do. We vote with our money and the way we spend it gives us a voice to industry. Though as an individual that voice may be only a whisper, as a collective we can make some serious noise!
Maybe you can only make one or two small changes, or maybe right now you are not in the position to do even that. That’s ok. All any of us can do is our best. What we can all do, at the very least, is be aware of the ethical issues concerning our food. Learn about them. Think about them. Discuss them. Change starts with awareness and education. If you’re just beginning your journey to a more ethical approach to food and would like to learn about more about the ethics of food and where your food comes from, I highly recommend reading Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver, Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer and Whole Larder Love (both book and blog) by Rohan Anderson. All of these resources have had a major impact on the way I think about the stuff I eat. And if anyone has any other suggestions for good reads on this topic I’d love to hear them!
PS I know cost plays a really significant role in the way we all eat, so I am thinking a follow up post on ethical eating on a budget might be in order. What do you reckon?