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By Nick Ray from Local Harvest.
Every mouthful might feel like just one small bite, but it is one enormous leap for humanity... As I mentioned in my last post, eating locally is a journey, starting with some small choices that grow as we discover more of the possibilities around us.
Most of us don’t fully realise that having food from all around the world in our supermarkets, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year – is so very energy intensive. We literally ‘eat oil’. The price we pay for our ‘convenience’ is incredibly high, in environmental terms. The average distance travelled for a tomato consumed in Melbourne is 1,618 km, despite the fact that during summer most tomatoes come from within Victoria. So making choices to eat more locally is making an investment in a future beyond our oil dependency.
We also don’t realise the alternatives to our global food chain that are often close by. For example, there is a local food swap in Seddon, Victoria, close to where I live. It’s a monthly exchange of homegrown produce, including lovely local fruit and veg, usually some interesting edible weeds, and much worthy conversation. Last time I went along, I even scored some ‘worm wee’ - a black liquid from a worm farm which is tremendous as a liquid garden fertiliser. It was bottled up in some litre soft drink bottles. This was unfortunate because later, at home, Charlie my 3 year old, decided that it deserved a taste and now thinks that all black soft drink tastes like this. No Pepsi or Coke for him!
I commend experimentation. Our experiments have helped us on the path of eating more locally. First in 2008 we were part of a group of eight households who did a 100 mile trial. It was a week of attempting to eat food only from 160 km radius from where we live in Melbourne. This adventure continued with the Local Harvest Challenge, done in April this year, where we widened our radius to eating from within Victoria.
We came to both these challenges with the understanding that it was a trial so not to take it too seriously, yet at the same time, being for just one week, we could 'go hard' and see what we could achieve. We also recognised that we were doing it together with others and without this it would likely to have been just hard work. The third important thing, which is what I’m getting to, is that ‘preparation’ was necessary.
The first step in preparing is actually knowing what you presently eat and specifically where it comes from. We did a pantry audit and in this process discovered that many things were ‘off the menu’ (coffee, chocolate, sugar, tea, bananas). Many other things however are grown close by. In most cases however it is difficult to tell whether a particular product contains those particular components.
Milk is a great example. In most cases milk is processed together with milk from many farms in different areas. So it’s usually impossible to tell where your milk comes from. So you can imagine that we were pretty excited to discover that the True Organic coop in Victoria provide the milk for Parmalat’s ‘Pure organic’ brand and the majority of farms in this coop (10 out of the 13) are located within 160 km of Melbourne. Another amazing find was Powelett Hill Biodynamic Farm in Clunes (148 km west of Melbourne) who grow wheat, spelt and rye, and distribute their flour through organic grocers. Then we also discovered a bakery-café called Loafer Bread, in North Fitzroy, who use this flour in some of their products. Other items were not so easy to find. We did find a source of local oats, but then were told that they ‘only came by the truck-load’. Turned out they were oats for horse-feed not human consumption.
It is worth noting that the majority of brands on our supermarket shelves are owned by a handful of multinational companies. Out of the top 100 brands of all food sold in Australian supermarkets, just 20 are Australian owned, and these are owned by just 14 companies. An equally small number of companies control the processes behind our food like supplying the raw ingredients (oil, sugar, grain) and the components essential to the industrial food system (animal feed, fertiliser, pesticide and seed). Additionally, and most obviously, at the retail end we have two supermarket giants who account for almost 80 per cent of supermarket sales, making Australia one of the most concentrated grocery markets in the world. The Ethical Consumer Guide website is a resource for finding out who is behind your food and for making better choices within the present system.
There are many ways you can reclaim your food choices and influence Australia’s food system. With every meal, we have the opportunity to support a different food production system - one based on producing vibrant, healthy food with the wellbeing of people, animals and the land at heart. I encourage you to experiment in organic backyard food production, share healthy foods and the stories behind your food.
Find out more about the discoveries of my household’s Local Harvest Challenge week at our blog. Sign up for the 2013 Local Harvest Challenge, running in April next year…. so there's lots of time to prepare.
Remember, food is life, and every dollar you spend is a vote for the type of food system you want.
Here are my five actions points for ‘eating more locally’;
• Choose Australian - Country of Origin labeling
• Eat produce that is in season
• Buy direct from farmers markets, food-box systems
• Talk to your retailer – ask where it’s from
• Grow your own, swap your produce.
Nick Ray helps coordinate the Ethical Consumer Guide, as well as the Local Harvest website, where you can find out more about good food choices near you.