Where does my food come from?

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A couple of years ago, I started giving serious thought to the question of where my food came from. Not where I bought it from – that was easy, the local supermarket – but where they bought it from. It kind of worried me that here in Australia (in NSW, anyway), we have a bit of a duopoly of supermarket chains, and that they were the biggest suppliers of fresh produce. Surely, that can’t be healthy for anyone – the producers or the customers anyway, I’m sure the big supermarket chains like it just fine.

After conducting some research, I was horrified to find out a) that a lot of our fresh produce comes from overseas, even though we have one of the best climates for growing a wide variety of fruits, vegetables and grains and b) that the supermarket chains had locked a lot of the farmers in to contracts where they got paid a minimum amount for their efforts. Not only that, but the produce in the supermarkets looked scarily identical and had a minimum amount of taste (hello, pesticides to the max, cold storage and horrible tomatoes). I decided then and there that I would find other options for our produce. I didn’t want to contribute to the duopoly of the supermarkets, and I didn’t want any more tasteless tomatoes.

I began shopping at a local organic produce market that came to our suburb once a week. The difference in quality and taste was amazing. I would organise to pick up a box of mixed fruit and veggies each week, and I loved the surprise of finding out what would be in there and then organising my meals around what we got.

I was, however, intrigued by the idea of eating local food – food that was grown within a short distance from where I lived. I was inspired in part by the 100 Mile Diet movement started by Alisa Smith and BJ McKinnon. They spent a year eating only food that was grown within 100miles of their home. At the beginning of this year, I began a new job and to get there, I drove through a semi-rural area. I had always known that this area was here, but I didn’t pay a lot of attention to what was there before. I began paying attention and realised that 15 minutes from my house was an oasis of fresh, local vegetables and fruit. I had no idea that my local area produced such a diverse range of food! I was converted. It was local food for me from now on.

Each week on my way home I stop at the little farmgate stalls, have a chat to the people who grow my food and come home with the freshest and tastiest produce you can imagine. To give you an idea of the range of vegetables and fruit available, yesterday, my sister and I picked up between us tomatoes, eggplant, zucchini, snow peas, green beans, corn, potatoes, beetroot, carrots, spinach, pumpkin, capsicums, onions, cucumbers, garlic, peaches, plums, cherries, strawberries, blueberries, bush honey and purely free range eggs (the chickens are scratching around the yard!). In winter time, citrus fruits (oranges, lemons and limes) abound, as do apples, persimmons, cabbage, broccoli, bok choy and plenty of other vegetables.

Our meals are now seasonally dependent and we love creating new dishes that show off the flavours of the produce. Once you have tasted home-made pasta sauce made from purely local ingredients, you will never have it from a jar again.

I like that we don’t rely on the supermarket chains to dictate to us what we buy, I like having a relationship with the people who grow my food and I like knowing that I’m not contributing to the excessive carbon production that huge numbers of food miles creates. But most of all, I like to know where my food comes from.

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Copenhagen: A triumph of “spin over substance”?

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The Copenhagen Climate Summit has come to an end and after two weeks of flitting around on private jets, riding limos and eating caviar, what has the world got to show? A non-legally binding political agreement to prevent warming of no more than 2 degrees Celsius. To quote President Obama,

”You know, it raises an interesting question as to whether technically there’s actually a signature – since, as I said, it’s not a legally binding agreement, I don’t know what the protocols are.”

This is disappointing. The problem is, rich countries are too busy worrying about their collapsing economy to commit to any real, substantial changes, developing countries are too busy whinging about how it’s not fair that rich countries have been able to develop their economy by emitting tonnes and tonnes of carbon so it’s their turn now, and no one seems to care much about the small island nations and African countries who will soon be under water because it doesn’t directly affect them.

I’m appalled at the lack of pro-activity on the part of Australia. The Sydney Morning Herald reports that:

“Australia has already said it would only consider moving towards its maximum greenhouse gas cut of 25 per cent on 2000 levels by 2020 if all major developed countries make similar moves.”

Basically, Australia will do nothing if the US does nothing, which seems highly likely given that the US have made no changes in their policy. This isn’t good enough. In the words of Oxfam Australia Executive Director Andrew Hewett,

“The deal is a triumph of spin over substance.”

I’m not sure where we need to go from here. Some definitive action might be a start.

You can read the Copenhagen Accord here.


Tim Burton + Lewis Carroll = Wonderful Wonderland

I cannot wait for this to hit the cinemas next year. Tim Burton is pretty much my favourite movie director and his style is just right for creating the zany Wonderland. And Johnny Depp as the Mad Hatter? Perfect!


It is a truth universally acknowledged . . .

pride and prejudice and the zombies . . . that Natalie Portman is the best actress I can think of to play the part of Elizabeth Bennet in the hilarious “expanded version” of the Jane Austen classic, Pride and Prejudice and the Zombies. I love Natalie Portman and I love that people have taken a fresh look at Austen’s novels (which I do happen to love in their own right) and have created some exciting new stories (see also Sense and Sensibility and the Sea Monsters). Literature should not be taken too seriously and zombies running rampant in 19th Century England appeals to my sense of humour 🙂


Crazy Christmastime and Coconut Cashew Curry

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I was craving lots of veggies tonight, so this was our concoction – local veggies, bean sprouts and cashew nut red coconut curry over brown rice. Simple. Quick. Healthy. Delish.

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Yesterday I braved the Christmas crowds and ducked up to the shops to grab a few items to take to a picnic lunch. During this trip, I overheard a woman telling a shop assistant how stressed out she was about Christmas shopping and buying so many gifts and how she couldn’t wait until Christmas was over. She certainly wasn’t the only person I heard complaining about Christmas shopping, but she did get me thinking about how it’s a shame that Christmas has become this hyper-crazy stressful time for people.

Whilst we do love giving presents, a couple of years ago we made a deal with our families to opt out of Christmas presents and instead pool our money and make a donation to a charity. Being mostly teachers (or trainee teachers) in our family, we decided that the community school for children in Laos, Pakistan or Zambia was the perfect Christmas gift for us. Instead of stressing about shopping for things that people probably don’t really need anyway, we now focus on creating and enjoying delicious family meals together and relaxing in the company of loved ones on Christmas Day. It makes for a much nicer lead-up to the festive season and yes, it does give us warm fuzzies to know that we’re doing something small to help someone who really needs it. 🙂

Some great websites to buy charitable gifts are:

Oxfam Unwrapped

Arguably the World’s Most Useful Gifts


It’s only Fair

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Big news – Nestle have announced that as of January 2010, the four finger Kit Kat bar will be certified by the Fairtrade Foundation. Given that the Kit Kat is their biggest seller in the UK, this is huge. Nestle also now have a cocoa plan, whereby they will be systematically looking to help cocoa farmers from the poorest countries improve their living standards. One of the first steps is to pay them a decent price for their cocoa beans.

Although I have issues with big corporations like Nestle (exploitation of cocoa farmers being one of them), I do believe that this is definitely a positive step in the right direction. Fair trade is an issue I feel strongly about, especially when it concerns luxury items such as chocolate and coffee. It blows my mind that workers (including children) can be exploited so that we in the affluent world can scoff down a luxury item like chocolate without any second thoughts (except, perhaps, for our waistlines). That’s inconceivable in my mind.

A couple of years ago, once we became aware of the issues surrounding the exploitation of farmers in developing countries, we made the commitment to buying and consuming only Fairtrade coffee and chocolate. Sure, it’s a little more expensive, but isn’t it worth it to know that the farmers who worked on the cocoa (and sugar cane and coffee bean) plantations a) received a fair price for their labour so that they can use that money to pay for the basic necessities in life that we take for granted such as medical treatment and education and b) that they were not children who should be in school? It’s a no brainer in my mind.

So, good on Nestle for making this positive step. I’m very pleased to see this. I hope that at the very least, it raises awareness of the issues and makes people a little more mindful in their everyday food choices.

PS – for more information about the coffee issues, Black Gold is a must watch. I also highly recommend Fighting the Banana Wars and other Fairtrade Battles by Harriet Lamb, Executive Director of the Fairtrade Foundation in the UK.

5/1/10 – Edit to add a Peter Singer article on Fair Trade


Poetic Pandemonium

I recently came across this mash-up of Edgar Allan Poe and Dr Seuss stories. Two of my favourite writers together at last! I can’t wait to show this to my Year 9 students – they already think I’m nuts because I’m always ravening about Poe – this will give them something else to roll their eyes over. Perhaps I’ll even wear my Poe t-shirt at the same time, just to show what a tragic I am.