Our planet is a mess. Our world is a mess. Our economies are a mess. Our politics are a mess. Our food culture is a mess. Too often I feel just one person -me- can’t do enough about saving the planet, changing the world, fixing the economy or persuading politicians… other than making my vote count at the next election by choosing as best I can from the options available.
Choosing as best I can from the options available is how I decide what to eat. And just maybe it will create positive change for the planet, world, economy and even politics.
What I choose to eat depends on my circumstances, time, budget, location, preferences… and principles. Food matters to me. I need to eat. What do I eat? Where do I spend my money? I was trying to care about good food without much information to guide me, relying on what the supermarkets sold me, and the right choices never seemed to come easily.
I’ve always played music in my kitchen -for me, it goes hand in hand with cooking. One day I was playing The John Butler Trio album Three, and a line from lyrics of the song Money stuck in my head… “So tell me man can you eat your money…” It clarified the confusion I had been feeling. So many places I was paying money to for food didn’t care about the food the way I did. It was just a Thneed they wanted to sell me to get my money.
I prefer to hand over cash in exchange for food to people I’m familiar and can have a conversation with; this from going to farmers markets when we were living in the city and learning about food direct from producers who travelled from the country. Now living in the country I’m exploring our new food neighbourhood and continuing have conversations… some are easier than others.
I asked, and learned from Dangerous Dan’s butcher they don’t stock feedlot meat. Their product labelling and conversational butcher told me their beef is grass-fed, pastured from the Manning Valley (200 kilometres). He said the lamb is from western NSW and the pigs are from local small holdings. But their chickens are Red Lea, have Free Range Accreditation but are not pasture reared. They don’t stock beef cheeks because they have to buy 20 kilogram lots. Macksville Quality Meats stock the local Burrawong Gaian chickens I buy which are pasture reared. Conversations with these guys are more prosaic. Their beef comes from Wingham (200 kilometres), and the story’s the same for lamb, pork and beef cheeks.*
We like to buy meat from our local Pub with No Beer, whose beef & pork is locally pasture reared (by the G.O.’s cousin who I can chat to and order beef cheeks from) and Kinloch Quality Meats at nearby Scotts Head butcher who grow their beef and pigs just up the road from us. We’re fans of Eungai Creek Buffalo who I first met many years ago at Eveleigh-Carriageworks Farmers Market when they had a farm west of Sydney. They moved to the Nambucca Valley, and now have a café on their farm adjacent to buffalo in the paddocks as well as a product range of meat, cheese, yoghurt and icecream.
I simplify my choices and exercise my principles by shopping local, choosing independents over big supermarket chains. The nearby Macksville Foodworks Co-op supermarket meets most of my needs for basic grocery items and importantly stocks a reasonable selection of local products as does the other local independent, Richies IGA at Nambucca Heads.
Supermarket milk wars have recently shone a much-needed spotlight on Australian’s consumer choices for dairy products. Both these independent supermarkets stock my preferred local Norco (i.e. “North Coast” 100% Farmer Owned Co-Op) and Devondale (The Aussie Farmer Co-Op) dairy products as well as other small producers’. Foodworks hadn’t been stocking the G.O.’s favourite Norco spreadable butter, so I asked them if they could. A few weeks later, it appeared on the shelf.
Recently at Woolworths Nambucca Heads searching for Australian company Republica’s organic fair trade coffee -our compromise on price, taste, ethics & availability- I noted local brands on the shelves were slim pickings… no local Norco dairy products. There were Nowra (650 kilometres) cheeses, prominently labelled local. I bought one… Hello, my name is Dale, I’m a cheese addict!
Eggs were the first food choices I made from an ethical standpoint. Oh, the joy and satisfaction when I get my hands on good eggs from friends, neighbours, friends & family of neighbours, the Pub with No Beer, farmers markets and if necessary the supermarket… I advocate consumer free ranging to find good eggs preferably from pasture ranging chickens. Pastured chooks, being natural creatures don’t lay all the time, so the more sources the better. I’ve been a fan for a while of Flavour Crusader which lists directories for local, free range and organic produce – eggs as well as milk, pork, garlic, chicken, fruit and vegetables, and was excited to discover the newly launched CluckAR – The Free Range Egg Detector App with which “you can simply point your smartphone camera at a carton in the supermarket, and get a clear picture of which brands are selling eggs from the most chilled-out, happy hens”.
Some food conversations are really awkward…. Mrs Well-Meaning Neighbour asked me if we liked corned beef (silverside). Sensing more to the question, I replied “yeeeesss” cautiously. She went on… would we like a frozen corned beef courtesy of their prodigious meat raffle wins? Knowing the raffle meat source was the local supermarket, I politely declined explaining we don’t buy or eat supermarket meat as it doesn’t agree with us. Several hours later the G.O. showed up at the back door, his face wearing a hunted expression and clutching a large frozen corned beef with which Mrs Neighbour had presented him at the gate. Upon seeing this I announced “we’re taking it back”. His expression became more woeful, so I agreed to look into its provenance. I Googled the name on the packaging, Thomas Farms… “innovative and value added-meat products” part of Thomas Foods, “Australia’s largest 100% family owned… third largest meat processor” and found several interesting articles which swayed the G.O. who said “we’ll take it back”. And we did, once again politely explaining we don’t buy or eat supermarket meat as it doesn’t agree with us and this product was likely via a feedlot i.e. AFO/CAFO (Concentrated/Animal Farming Operation). To which Mrs Neighbour responded “we don’t know anything about that, but my daughter will be happy to have it”. The experience left the G.O. and I feeling need-a-glass-of-wine-to-recover stressed. But a few days later, Mrs Neighbour triumphantly reported the corned beef had been well-received.
I care about my food and my money. Food shopping involves far more considering of choices and circumstance, time, budget, location, preferences than I believe it should but it’s my money and principles which give me power to influence food culture. When I can’t find what suits me I walk away without buying anything, often remarking
“I want what I want not what you’ve got. It’s my money”.
* Correct at time of publishing.