When we promote ‘fair food’, ‘ethical farming’ or even the more watered-down ‘sustainable farming’, are we ergo suggesting some systems are not fair, ethical, or sustainable? Of course we are.

Food that is produced by a farmer who cannot earn a living even though she does it full time is not fair.

The number of farmers in Australia has been declining for many decades as small farmers sell up to large-scale farming operations, and fewer young people take over family farms. (Endnote 2) In fact, there were 19,700 fewer farmers in Australia in 2011 than in 2006, a fall of 11% over five years. ABS

Food that is produced by confining animals in cages and sheds for their entire lives is not fair.

 batteryhens-420x0 intensive piggery

 

 

 

 

Food that is produced by routinely pouring toxic pesticides and herbicides until soils and waterways are depleted and polluted for everyone is not fair.

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Food that is produced by workers who are not paid a living wage is not fair.

 farmworkers

 

Food that is produced but intentionally not available to hungry people is not fair.

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Food-stuffs that cause health epidemics like diabetes & heart disease are not fair.

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Fair is a simple word to capture what is generally meant by ethical, but there’s a spectrum of sorts. Intensive livestock farming advocates will disagree on at least one of my definitions of what constitutes fair food. It’s important to work out for yourself what you reckon is fair and then do what you can to help there be more of that in the world.

I’ve had some on twitter ask me if because we call ours an ethical farm, does that mean that others aren’t ethical? I’m answering you clearly now – by my ethical standards, some are not operating ethically.

I’m a free-range pig & cattle farmer, and well on the record here & elsewhere advocating to raise animals on pasture, not in sheds, because I think it’s unethical to confine animals in sheds or cages. If you’re not raising pigs or poultry in sheds, odds are my view of your farming system is less certain and more open to the complexities of what an ethical system might look like.

I don’t like to call anyone ‘unethical’ in total as I can’t really imagine anyone who is wholly unethical. But I am happy to refer to certain practices such as caging animals as unethical. (For the record I also abhor pet birds in cages – what could be more spiteful than taking away any living creature’s capacity to fly?) Trying to lead an ethical life doesn’t mean that you won’t sometimes make unethical choices, me included.

Here’s an example to illustrate what I mean. There are complexities in dairy farming that I admire dairy farmers for grappling with every day. My lovely dairy-farming neighbor has worked for years to find better solutions for his bobby calves by raising a number of them as beef cattle to a year old, or selling them to locals to grow out for their own consumption. He rarely sends any off to the saleyards younger than six weeks because it bothers him knowing that they don’t transport well and therefore suffer.

He also follows most of the conventional practices of tilling, fertilizing, sowing & spraying his paddocks. While I disagree with some of his system, I certainly don’t judge him without perspective and nor would I accuse him of being unethical. What I’d love to see him do is be able to command a fair price for his milk so he could reduce his stocking levels and consequently his paddock inputs. So long as the processor continues to pay him 30-something-cents per litre that probably isn’t going to happen.

At Jonai Farms we’re in the relatively luxurious position of having set up a system outside of the traditional supply chain which means we’ve been price makers right since we started selling direct to the public. And our position improved markedly when we took on the butchering ourselves – supply chain control brought over 25% of our profit margin back to us. It means bucketloads more work, but we get paid a fair wage to do it.

Those who are trying to make a living in long supply chains like my neighbour are not in such a position, especially in Australia where market power is so unfairly concentrated in two major supermarkets. And so farmers are always being forced to look for more ‘efficiencies’, which usually means ‘produce more for less’. It seems to me that this is probably the primary reason many farmers are attracted to ‘sustainable intensification’ – they truly want to grow things in a sustainable way but are being forced to intensify their systems in order to make a living.

The notion that ‘sustainable intensification’ is going to solve the issue of food security around the world has been rigorously challenged by plenty of people far more qualified than me – hunger is predominantly a problem of governance and distribution, not inadequate production. We don’t actually need to double production by 2050 to feed a growing global population, we need to ensure we don’t waste what we grow and that we distribute it fairly. Even the UN is on the record saying that small-scale agroecological farms are the best way to feed the world. Let’s therefore shelve food security as a flawed argument for ‘sustainable intensification’.

So what’s really at stake is feeding Australian (and other) farmers and our families. That’s a worthy enough aim without clouding it with grand claims of achieving global food security. So how can farmers feed their families?

Don’t produce more for less, produce less for more.

By that I mean we must value the land, animals, and workers and ensure their health is paramount in every agricultural system and then ask eaters to pay a fair price for our efforts.

All of which is easier said from a farmer in a miniscule supply chain selling direct to eaters. The bigger challenge is for the majority who are under pressure from centralised market power and long supply chains…

What do you think? How can we address the serious structural imbalances between farmers, processors, distributors and supermarkets in Australia? How can we support all farmers to make a living growing food in the fairest ways possible?

***

Thanks to Lynne Strong of Clover Hill Dairies for inviting Fair Food Farmers United (FFFU) to respond to the discussion started on her blog about production systems and fair food. This will be cross-posted on the Australian Food Sovereignty Alliance’s blog & FFFU page.

While I personally am not an advocate for sustainable intensification, I am a big fan of farmers and respect everyone who is working hard to produce food fairly, even if we sometimes differ in how we think that will be achieved.

If you’re interested in fair food (which is pretty likely if you read my blog!) you should check out the many fabulous events being held all around Australia for Fair Food Week October 10-19!

Would you rather sleep under a patchwork quilt made by your grandma and her friends or a synthetic bedspread from K-mart? It’s not a tough decision, right? So why do we accept what’s happened to our landscape more readily than our beds? (Maybe we don’t and you’re all sleeping under synthetic doonas, in which case my apologies.)

Driving through the French countryside over the past two weeks, I was constantly struck by the smallness of the farms. Having driven plenty of rural routes in Australia and America, I’ve seen what monolithic monocultures look like, and it’s a very different vista from the French farmlands we passed.

Where in America or some parts of Australia there might be hundreds or thousands of acres of the same crop blanketing the land (less a blanket than sheets of pesticide-laden plastic wrap robbing the very soil of its breath), in France each paddock is defined well before the next horizon. Patchworks of corn, sweetbeets and cheery sunflowers roll diversely amongst copses of forests old and new.

Sunflowers!

The patchworks are seamed together with kilometres of byways that run through countless small villages, the charming life-story embroidery of generations that warm the countryside.

Even the dairy herds are small – we regularly saw paddocks with 20-40 cattle in them attached to what we would consider a micro-dairy in Australia. Given the very different regulations around raw milk, it’s perhaps unsurprising how many of these small dairies are able to maintain control of their supply chains and sales.

The dairy paddocks are typically dotted with compost piles around the boundaries, as the most environmentally and economically sustainable means of fertilizing the paddocks is to collect the cattle’s manure and compost it on the farm. Happily I’ve seen some resurgence in these practices in Australia, with examples like Camperdown Compost helping dairy farms close the loop and reduce synthetic inputs.

The countryside is also dotted with pigeon towers (or dovecotes…), where pigeons were once grown for both their meat and their excellent fertilizer. While I don’t think many are still in operation, they tell a tale of a time before exploitation of the world’s finite phosphate supplies led to our current system of externalizing environmental costs.

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A great example of working in agro-ecological ways is the Chapolards’ farm near Nèrac – they call it short circuit, or full circle farming. We spent time with the wonderful Dominique & Christiane Chapolard, where along with Dom’s brothers and their families they run a ‘seed to sausage’ pig farm. They grow nearly all their own feed for the pigs on their 100 acres, where they have 30 sows. Effluence is stored in an on-farm lagoon before being applied to the fields growing maize, fava beans and grains in rotation. They do all their own butchering and charcuterie making on the farm and sell directly through their local farmers’ markets – and the enterprise supports five families.

Dom & Chris

We were fortunate enough to host the Chapolards at Jonai Farms & Meatsmiths along with Kate Hill of Kitchen-at-Camont just a few months ago. I’ll write in more detail about their farm in a further post…

The next generation of Chapolards is also involved in the business, and one of Dom’s nephews Roman Chapolard has added another enterprise on the farm – a full-circle dairy. He runs 40 head of dairy cattle and packages his milk on farm as well as doing some simple further processing such as yoghurt and crème fraiche to sell at the local markets.

Roman Chapolard's raw milk

The capacity to value add and sell directly obviously enables farmers to remain much smaller than if they’re forced into long supply chains where everyone gets a smaller cut of the dollar. I understand this not just from a fair food advocate’s perspective, but also from a successful small producer’s view.

And while France may have millennia on which to have grown these communities and sewn them together, a key point is that they still maintain them and enjoy the benefits of thriving rural communities as a result.

Dom and Christiane shared their concerns with us that the next generation is losing interest in manual labour, and leaving the land for white-collar professions, following a trend seen the world over. We all agreed that if people like them keep up their political work within and beyond their cooperative, and spreading the word at the markets, there is hope that the fair food revolution will gain strength in France just as it is growing in Australia, which started off skiing along in the wake of America’s food revolution (though I think we’re set to drive our own boat now).

When you lose family farms from the land, you lose families from communities. Australia’s farming statistics on the decline of the family farm mirror the decline of our rural communities. We should be very worried about this loss and its ramifications for not just the quality of life of rural Australians, but also the quality of food produced in large, intensive agriculture.

We need to value the many environmental and social benefits of families growing food for families, rather than corporations growing food for supermarkets where families happen to shop.

It’s time for a Local Food Act!

I’ve already expressed my opposition to any proposed ag gag laws and related desire for more transparency, so today I’m going to be brief and blunt as I extend it.

Intensive livestock farming needs to stop. Here are a few reasons why:

  • it concentrates effluence, leading to water, air and soil pollution as well as loss of social amenity for those who live nearby;
  • it drives increased meat consumption (which in turn drives increased monoculture grain production to feed livestock instead of people, which in turn drives further deforestation, etc, ad nauseam) – the only reason chicken and pork are consumed in the vast quantities they are is due to growing numbers of these animals in sheds;
  • it forces you ‘to get big or get out’, which has meant a concentration of farming to fewer, bigger farms and the loss of regional livelihoods across Australia (and the global north). There were about 50,000 pig farmers in Australia in the 1960s – now there are just 660, and yet production is higher now;
  • it leads to a higher incidence of antibiotic-resistant bacteria, which makes human illnesses harder to treat (not to mention non-human illnesses);
  • it’s wrong to confine an animal in a cage for the entirety of its life.

The first four points are virtually indisputable, so I’ll say a couple of things about the last one.

Some people obviously believe it is not wrong to raise animals for meat in cages. Their ethical code differs from mine, just as a vegan abolitionist’s code differs from mine.

I say it’s unethical to cage animals. Vegan abolitionists say it’s unethical to kill and eat animals.

I have pursued a life as a free-range pig farmer because I believe so strongly that people should have the choice of genuine pastured meat to help them stop eating animals raised in sheds and cages.

I call myself an ethical farmer because we raise our animals on the paddocks in a way we believe is ethical. I do not say this to suggest all other farmers are unethical, however, as I’ve said, I do believe it is unethical to raise animals in cages.

If you call your produce ‘farm fresh’ or ‘natural’, are you suggesting everyone else’s produce is rotten and fake? No? I didn’t think so.

Some animal rights activists spend their lives trying to take footage of what happens in intensive farms because they believe so strongly that it is wrong to confine, kill, and eat animals.

These activists are targeting intensive livestock farms, as well as live export. If you’re not confining animals on land or on a ship, they’re not likely to sneak in and film your operation. And if you share your own story, open your doors, and crucially, do what you say you’re doing, it’s very hard for someone else to catch you out.

They are the canary in the mine, people, and if you don’t let the animals out you might get shafted.

I would genuinely like to see a gentle transition that supports family farmers as they move away from intensive animal farming, not a shutdown of the industry that ruins lives while trying to protect animal welfare. It doesn’t have to be all or nothing, but it does need to change.

Politicians may make more laws, but whistleblowers will find a way to uncover what they believe is an injustice, so why not just stop the injustice?

Let them eat grass!

PS Russ Patterson wrote a response to my original transparency post on Ann Britton’s blog. I’ve responded to his arguments there.

The debate is raging once again around animal welfare activists trespassing on private property to obtain footage of conditions in intensive livestock farming. The activists’ stated aim is to expose what they believe are unconscionable practices in the rearing of animals. It seems the debate recently was re-ignited by a column by a celebrity personal trainer.

A number of farmers have reacted with concerns about biosecurity on their farms and risks to their entire herd from disease and distress, as well as dismay at invasions of their privacy, and some have expressed support for so-called ‘ag-gag laws’ as introduced in the US. These laws make it illegal to film or photograph practices on farms without permission from the owner. There’s also been a mildly amusing open letter from ‘Bill the Farmer’ to the celebrity above asking her to live under constant video surveillance.

The hyperbole around factory farming and ag-gag laws includes allegations of activists as ‘terrorists’, factory farms as places of ‘horror’, and vegan ‘secret agendas’.

Calling people who trespass to film animals in cages ‘terrorists’ is rather puerile and misinformed. Call them trespassers – because they are. Call them activists – because they are. Hell, call them criminals – because for those found guilty of said alleged trespass, they are.

But ask a recently arrived asylum seeker from Afghanistan if they think animal welfare activists are terrorists and I suspect you might gain a little healthy perspective.

Inflammatory rhetoric aside, I’d like to consider what’s at stake in this debate. I’ll start by setting out some terms I’d like to use.

I usually steer away from the phrase ‘factory farming’ as I know it gets most intensive growers’ hackles up. To be clear, I don’t avoid it because I think it’s wrong (raising hundreds or thousands of animals in sheds in an industrial model is, in my view, rather accurately referred to as factory farming). But I want everyone in the discussion to be able to listen, so I try to avoid red flag phrases. I therefore use ‘intensive farming’ (and for the record, free-range farming is known as ‘extensive’).

Sow stall at a NSW piggery. Picture: Aussie Farms

Sow stall at a NSW piggery. Picture: Aussie Farms

I won’t refer to ‘animal rights activists’, instead I’ll use ‘animal welfare activists’, because the movement is a broad church, and not all people who believe it’s immoral to cage animals share the view that non-human animals have rights as such. I also know intensive farmers who consider themselves animal welfare activists. I’m a free-range pig farmer, and I’ve considered myself an animal welfare activist since I was 19, but a vegan abolitionist would say I am in fact a murderer. And yet I would say we’re both animal welfare activists.

I will use the label ‘ag-gag laws’, as I think they’re well understood now, and we don’t have a common alternative of which I’m aware. I appreciate that those who support these laws may take umbrage at the phrase, and ask that you bear with me.

As I see it, there are a number of stakeholders in this debate. There are the animals in intensive systems. There is the soil and water on and around the farms. There are the people who work on these farms, including those who own the farms. There are the families of the owners – I’m thinking particularly about the family farms where they live somewhere on the property. And then there is the local community, and the broader community of people (from vegan to omnivore) who have differing levels of concern about the ways animals are raised on farms, whether they eat meat or not.

Of course there are property rights, and trespass is illegal in Australia. So we already have a law that prohibits entering another’s property without permission to obtain footage of their practices.

I accept and share the concern about fear and feelings of violation at someone trespassing on your property with an intent that is contrary to your interest. Anyone who has had their home broken into knows the feelings of vulnerability that arise after a burglary or theft. If a vegan abolitionist entered our farm without our knowledge to film our pigs, I would be worried about their other possible motives, whether my children were out on the paddocks by themselves at the time, and  whether they took anything except images away with them.

But they have no need to do that on our farm, because we practice radical transparency. We have documented and outlined on national radio all of our farm management practices in great detail. And we invite the public in regularly – in fact people are welcome any day of the week that we’re here (which is most).

You’re welcome to photograph or film anything you see while you’re here, and when I find myself thinking, ‘oh, I hope they don’t take a photo of that mud patch where the pigs have turned the soil completely because we’ve been a bit slow in rotating them to another area,’

I reflect on how we really just need to move the pigs, not stop the visitor taking a photo.

What we need are not more laws that will stop people trying to expose what they believe is an injustice. We already have laws to protect your right to property and privacy.

Ag-gag laws must surely re-affirm the public’s concern that farmers have something to hide. Instead we should do as Australia Pork Limited (APL) did last year when footage was secretly filmed of an intensive piggery in NSW – APL got footage of the same piggery in daytime and stood by it.

I personally was still unhappy with what I saw, and so continue not to buy nor eat intensively-raised pork, but I applaud APL’s transparency to enable me to make an informed decision.

Bangalow Sweet Pork is another example of an intensive pig farm that has been prepared to be transparent about their farming practices. In 2009, they opened the doors for a Super Butcher video, and showed everything from their farrowing stalls to the group housing for growers. Again, seeing all those pigs confined in that fashion doesn’t sit well in my ethical code, but the information is there to empower the public to make ethical decisions.

The court of public opinion is real, and whether we like it or not, largely determines what is and is not acceptable. It’s a blunt jury, often led by a vocal minority, and yet when the minority exposes practices to the majority in a compelling way, the majority start to demand change.

Look at the growth of free-range eggs in Australia. Whatever issues there may be with the certification systems (and they are many), we didn’t have free-range eggs just 20 years ago unless you were a farmer or one of the rare suburbanites with chooks in your backyard. That movement has grown enormously, and we even have ‘caged eggs’ labeled as such.

How I would love to see ‘caged pork’ written on labels!

It is surely in nobody’s interest to criminalise those intent on exposing injustice, rather than welcoming greater scrutiny of industrial agriculture’s impact on animals?

The more farmers practice radical transparency, the more the public will trust us, and the more we will continue to improve our practices. And if we’re transparent about our practices, we can combat the invisibility and lower animal welfare standards of imported pork smallgoods in Australia (70% of the total).

Radical transparency is a powerful motivator to do your best, and I for one welcome it.

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Note: the following is cross-posted from our farm blog The Hedonist Life

Last year 166 wonderful people believed in us enough to support our Pozible campaign to build our own butcher’s shop right here on the farm. We raised $27,570 in 40 days, and six months later we were open for business! We’ve delivered over 400kg of ethical pork rewards, and welcomed nearly 30 of our supporters to last year’s Salami Day, and many became our first CSA members. We love this engaged community of ethical omnivores, and are grateful for the support.

Now it’s time to take our uncommonly delicious ethical pork to the next level and start curing at a commercial scale! To do that, we’re aiming to raise $30,000 in 30 days on Pozible, adding cured goods to our range of tasty rewards. We’re also offering the opportunity to join our CSA (community-support agriculture) via the campaign to raise the funds up front, then deliver to you over the course of a year.

After our success last year, plenty of other farmers have used crowdfunding to build major infrastructure as they develop their businesses, and I reckon it’s a fantastic emergent trend in community-supported agriculture. Rather than farmers going into debt and lining shareholders’ pockets, we’re feeding our communities – literally!

For other examples, check out the huge success of Madelaine’s Eggs last week – she raised over $60,000! And our mate Lauren Mathers of Bundarra Berkshires is nearing her target of just over $15,000 to build her own curing room up near the Murray. There are plenty of others around, and I think we’ll see more and more as farmers and their communities work out how to support each other to re-localise the food system and form deep connections between growers and eaters.

So check out our campaign and spread the word! There really is a Fair Food Revolution underway, and it’s in your hands!

Curing room cover

Eight years and still no degree.

Eight years, hundreds of texts, thousands of words, millilitres of tears, a handful of original ideas, hundreds of friends (made and lost), and so many poems – and still no degree.

Eight years, six good jobs, leadership of first a campus and then the national postgraduate association, where I fought long, hard, and loudly for everyone’s right to an excellent higher education experience, and still no degree.

Eight years, a deep understanding of cosmopolitan theory and the importance of food and foodways in society and politics, and an even deeper praxis from mindful eater to mindful farmer (and mindful meatsmith…)… and still no degree.

My PhD got me where I am today, but I don’t have a PhD, and I probably won’t because I’ve already arrived at my destination, and my work doesn’t require those letters at the end of my name.

I have loved my PhD for eight years, and today I’m letting it go.

When I switched disciplines from literature to cultural studies a decade ago it was a response to the latter’s explicitly articulated project to build public intellectuals – to be socially useful. 10 years immersed in cultural studies have aided me enormously in my desire to be socially useful.

While I have a very small regret not to pursue my agrarian intellectual life with a bonus three letters after my name, currently I’m shackled by them as I try to get on with doing my bit to transform Australia’s food systems.

I need hours each day to farm, butcher, deliver, and engage with eaters and fair food pioneers everywhere.  I need to do more of exactly what I am doing, not cloister myself to write something three people will read.  It’s a worthy project, but it’s no longer the right one for me.

Thank you to my long-suffering supervisor John Frow, those I’ve interviewed, and the many many colleagues and friends who have discussed, debated and nibbled at the edges of what our engagements with food really mean to any of us.  I wouldn’t be here today without your support, knowledge, critique and interest in this project.

I finally worked out how to savour the world while saving it, and it’s not in chapter three of my thesis, it’s here on the land, knife in one hand, pen in the other.

¡Viva la Revolución!

Kids on tramp

‘Do you have free-range pork?’

‘Yes, it’s all free range!’

‘Oh, excellent! Which farm is it from?’

‘Otway Pork.’

‘Otway’s not free range.’

*sadface*

This has become a regular occurrence for me. Next I school the butcher, providore, or waiter on the difference between ‘bred free range’ (aka ‘outdoor bred’) and ‘free range’ and suggest they have a look at Otway’s website, where they themselves clearly state that they are ‘bred free range’. Ditto Western Plains.

Confused yet? Fair enough. Fortunately, I’m here to help. ;-) Let me explain the three systems for raising pigs we have in Australia so you need not be confused anymore.

Indoor/Intensive

Pigs are kept indoors their entire lives on concrete or slatted floors. In some systems the breeders are kept in individual pens with limited movement. In others pigs are kept in groups. Some of these systems use both group and individual pens. The industry is moving away from gestation stalls (where sows are kept immobile for their entire gestation period of 3 months, 3 weeks & 3 days) due to consumer demand for higher welfare standards.

Outdoor Bred (aka ‘Bred Free Range’)

Breeding sows are kept outdoors, and farrow (give birth) in huts with access to the paddocks until they’re weaned, typically at 4 weeks. The weaners are then kept in groups in open-sided straw-based sheds, also called ‘eco-shelters’, where they spend the rest of their lives until slaughter.

Free Range

All pigs are raised entirely outdoors, with free access to shelter and wallows at all times.

Within these three systems for raising pigs in Australia, there is diversity amongst farm management strategies in regards to tail docking, castration, vaccinations, weaning, sub-therapeutic antibiotics in feed, sow management, age for slaughter, and stocking density.

The peak body for pig farmers Australia Pork Limited (APL) has clear definitions for each system, and sets (voluntary) standards through the Australia Pork Industry Quality Assurance Program (APIQ). There are standards for ‘APL Gestation Stall Free’, ‘Outdoor Bred’, and ‘Free Range’.  As I understand it, after much discussion within the industry, APL endorsed ‘outdoor bred’ and rejected ‘bred free range’ as a label as it was deemed confusing for consumers who are trying to choose free range.

Unfortunately, most outdoor bred growers are still using the term ‘bred free range’ on their marketing materials, and butchers and provedores just as much as consumers are often confused by the distinction (I’m giving them the benefit of the doubt that they aren’t intentionally misleading customers).

In three separate butcher’s shops over the past two months I have asked where their pork labeled free-range was from and been told either Otway Pork or Western Plains, which are outdoor bred systems, not free range. I know of others who have had the same experience. I always tell the butcher that they’re wrong, and they apologise and profess ignorance.

I’m not interested in critiquing butchers, nor intensive or outdoor bred systems here, but I am interested in eaters being able to make informed choices. As I’ve written before, ethical decision-making is deeply reliant on the availability of accurate information. If you understand the difference in the systems and which one is in front of you, you can decide for yourself whether you are happy with that animal welfare standard. But if you are misled about the system, someone is taking that choice away from you, and you shouldn’t stand for it.

I recommend that for those who truly want only free-range pork, you do a couple of simple things:

1) always ask whether the pork is free range, whether it’s on a menu, in a butcher’s shop, or in a deli;

2) if they say it’s free range, ask the name of the farm. If it’s Otway or Western Plains, it’s not free range (there are other outdoor bred growers as well, but these two are by far the largest in Victoria);

3) print this out and take it to your butcher, cafe, or deli if they tell you an outdoor bred farm is free range – they may simply not know the difference.

4) buy direct from farmers, either at farmer’s markets or online. I have a list of free-range pig farms in Australia, as does Flavour Crusader.

Choice is great. We can all choose how we want to eat, and what sort of farming we support, so long as we can rely on accurate information. You may choose intensively-raised or free-range pork, caged or pastured eggs, conventional or organic fruit and veg, or a wholly vegan diet, but not if those of us who produce and sell the food don’t tell you the truth of what’s in it.

The following is what I had planned to say at last week’s Fair Food Future event at Fed Square, and while I may have deviated from the text, I think I managed to cover the key points below. A big thanks to the Locavore Edition and the Australian Food Sovereignty Alliance for hosting this event and coordinating the first ever Fair Food Week in Australia!

***

Last year my mum went through treatment for cancer. While I’d worried about her and Dad’s ‘convenience’ diet for years, when she got a blood cancer it dawned on me that a lifetime of fast food hadn’t been fair to her blood – her body’s building blocks. And the treatment – chemo – attacks blood cells – the very things it tries to rescue & I thought:

‘only humans would cure cancer with a carcinogen.’

So when I got to Oregon to look after her I fed her blood with whole foods. Her doctor and nutritionist told us it didn’t really matter what she ate and that the little plastic bottles of protein shake the pharmaceutical rep had sold them would be just great. We kept her blood counts mostly in the safe zone with eggs, nuts, loads of green leafies and endless berry yoghurt smoothies, but it was no easy task in the face of the fortnightly onslaughts from the life saving carcinogenic treatment for cancer.

And that’s what we’re doing to our food system -

we’re ‘saving’ soils with manufactured solutions to manufactured problems

& it’s time we stopped manufacturing and went back to farming.

We need to feed our soils & our souls with every agricultural act, with every bite we take.

We need an ethics of scale, not an economy of scale.

We need to eat less cows, not grow them in petri dishes.

Imagine if eaters everywhere scale up your ethics & demand fair food with your choices & your dollars, & farmers demand fair food with our choices & our prices – we charge you what it costs to grow animals out on the paddocks – there won’t be as many – we’ll need to eat more vegetables.

Farmers will pay workers fair wages – your tomatoes won’t be $1/kg & from Florida or Italy where labour conditions are regularly described as slavery – they’ve achieved economies of scale at the expense of their ethics.

Farmers will focus on building their soil holistically, because its health will be accounted for in this ethics of scale – the planet is on the ledger.

An ethics of scale doesn’t get mired in single issue concerns, it’s systems thinking – soils, vegetables, animals, citizens.

So when you say animal welfare is your biggest concern, and think of pigs and chickens in cages unable to move or express any of their natural behaviours for their short, miserable lives, I also think of how the economies of scale forced farmers to find ever cheaper ways to raise animals because eaters wouldn’t pay $25/kg for something that took six months to raise to eating size – six months of somebody’s labour, and the labour of those who grew the feed for those animals, and the labour of those who transport, slaughter, butcher, and transport again.

And of course the supermarkets take their cut, sometimes the biggest cut – and I wonder how on earth the middle man ended up in control of prices and systems? All supermarkets do is store and sell what others have produced – they are not producers, they are (rather expensive) storage facilities.

Small producers like us at Jonai Farms want nothing to do with them and their expensive shelf space that values economies of scale at the expense of ethics. And happily, we no longer have to rely on them – we have the new breed of connectors – like FoodOrbit here today, and Food Connect, and Eaterprises, and Feather and Bone… and the many other wonderful online technologies (blogs & twitter & Facebook, oh my!) that enable us to connect growers and eaters in a much shortened chain.

When we think about supply chains and Australia’s supermarket duopoly, it can get pretty depressing…

Regulation has failed us. Certification has failed us. We’ve lost faith. We don’t trust each other enough because everything is obfuscated in our rather unfair food system. Regulation & certification are supposed to be important safeguards when we can’t see & judge for ourselves whether the system is fair.

It’s time we make the entire chain transparent again, and farmers like Ben Falloon at Taranaki, and Stuart and I are doing just that, along with so many great producers in our regions like Greenvale, Warialda, Bundarra Berkshire, Plains Paddock… I could go on at length, but I do recommend having a look at FlavourCrusader’s lists of growers like us across Australia…

We are legion, and as Ben says, we are certified by the community.

We can’t just turn back the clock – the population is so big now it’s hard to make everything visible but ethics are hard & that’s okay. Democracy is hard too but we wouldn’t give that up, would we?

Access to food is a human right just like access to housing, yet we don’t demand to live in a mansion at the price of a shack.

So why do we demand to pay so little for our food?

Paying less than the cost of production is not a human right when you can afford to pay and it’s forcing farmers into economies of scale where ethics are compromised.

Just as you may choose factory-farmed pork or poultry when money is tight, so may farmers choose to farm them that way when the budget demands.

In an ethics of scale, everybody flourishes and nobody gets sick from their food, no apple farmers from years of pesticide exposure, no pigs fed sub-therapeutic antibiotics packed in tightly on concrete floors, & not my mum whose lifetime of meals has come out of boxes & tins, instead of soil & skins.

In an ethics of scale, fair food is everywhere. It’s fair for soil and for blood, for crops and for critters, for growers and for eaters.

sconesAustralian scones slightly bewildered me when I first arrived here 21 years ago – ‘so they’re biscuits, right?’ But as I’ve shared in my locavore bacon & eggs, biscuits & gravy recipe, they may be virtually the same recipes, but they are eaten in very different ways, with very different things. And so having given you my savoury brekky biscuit recipe already, I will now share a savoury American scone recipe just to really confuse you. :-)

American scones are typically enormous things, and I remember most of them being a slightly bulbous triangular shape. They were a morning staple in my years at UCSD, where I’d wander in my homemade plaid cotton trousers and wildly mismatched tie-dye t-shirts into the Grove to linger over a philosophical discussion with ‘the Wanderer’ (his real name was Brian, but he… wandered) and other nascent intellectuals, slurping at a precycle/recycle mug of mocha java and nibbling for hours at an oversized sweet scone – my favourite was blueberry at the time.

The overwhelmingly savoury palate I developed through my thirties led to a singular decline in my interest in such scones, or any kind of muffins or (goddess forbid) cupcakes. But as we prepared to host Eat Your Ethics at Jonai Farms, my mind turned immediately to ham and cheese scones – what could possibly be more suitable to commence the day of exploring all things pig?

So here’s the recipe, adapted from one of my favourite American cookbooks for baking, The Cheese Board Collective Works.

3C unbleached flour

1 1/2 tsp baking soda

Pinch cayenne

Pinch of salt flakes

2T fine polenta

125g cold butter, cut into smallish pieces

250g sharp Cheddar, cut into 1cm cubes

250g ethical ham, cut into 1cm cubes

1/2C cream

1C yoghurt

 

Preheat the oven to 180C. Line baking sheets with baking paper.

Mix flour, baking soda, cayenne, salt & polenta. Cut in the butter until it’s the size of small peas. Gently mix in the cheese and ham. Make a well and add the cream and yoghurt until just combined. A little loose flour should still remain in the bottom of the bowl.

Place the dough on a generously floured surface and pat it into a rectangle that’s about 3cm thick. Cut it as you like into squares or triangles of your preferred size.

Bake on the middle rack of the oven for about 25 minutes, or until light brown. Transfer to a wire rack to cool.

Alex Herbert was the chef and owner at the wonderful Bird Cow Fish in Sydney, and now sells ‘breakfast and stuff’ at the Eveleigh Market. I first discovered her offering little morsels of food ethics in 140 characters or less over on twitter, and had the pleasure to enjoy a meal from her delicious local, sustainable, ethical menu before she closed Bird Cow Fish. This is a talk Alex posted on Facebook yesterday that struck me as a beautiful reflection on the meaning and value of local food, and a great contribution to the discussion here on Food Ethics. You can follow Alex on twitter where she’s @birdcowfish

I was asked to give a little talk at the Sustain Northern Rivers Forum the other day. It went something like this….

“To bee or not to bee? That is the question”

There was a young woman called Sarah, say in her early thirties who had taken up the practice of ceramics many years before. She had been taught by a master and had acquired rapidly diminishing skills. Her work was unique.

She had held down several jobs at once to try to make ends meet but she had now decided that she wanted to concentrate on her ceramics full time and pass on her skills and knowledge. She was faced with the new challenge of trying to make a living solely from her craft which she had studied and practiced for many years.

She created a series of beautiful plates but when it came to deciding what price to sell them for she was at a complete loss so she asked the advice of a friend. This friend knew nothing about the value of ceramics but she responded with a series of questions.

“Tell me, how much money do you want or need to make a year? $65,000

“Now tell me how many weeks a year do you wish to work? “I’d like to have four weeks off a year.

“How many days per week do you wish to work?” Well I would like to try to only work 4 days per week.

So you need to make $340 dollars per day after costs.
How many plates can you make per day?

I could probably make 10 plates per day by the time I do all my other stuff and each plate costs me about $10 in materials.

Right so you need to sell $440 of plates per day. So that’s 10 plates, so each plate needs to cost at least $44

The young woman was shocked. She thought no one will pay that for my plates?

The Food Industry like the Arts is one that is built upon a whole heap of passion.

All the way along the Food Chain we can hear the wonderful stories of how people came to be involved in it. And when I speak of the food chain I am referring to all the elements that link the food from the farm to the table.

Many are born into the family business whilst others like myself seemingly fall haplessly into it then only later realize that the love as in my case for cooking was in fact always there bubbling away below the surface.

Of course there are two parts to the Food Chain. There is the Boutique and the Mainstream. Each however faces the challenges of “sustainability” which I will take as meaning being able to survive economically, socially, environmentally and politically.

One of the problems facing many “ Boutique” producers is just how much do many subsidise their product through their passion. How many days a week do most small business owners work?

One of the questions that hang over more mainstream, commercialized operations is just how much are other factors such as the health of the land and its people subsidizing the product? The horror stories of Indian farmers taking their lives because of being locked into seed contracts with Monsanto despite failed crops and escalating debt is an extreme but real example of what can go terribly wrong when profits are put before everything else.

So despite these two extremely different scenarios one question is still appropriate to both.

What is the True cost of food?
What are the long term risks that we face?

Well we know that farmland is getting scarcer. The lure of property dollar value can be an overwhelming temptation especially when viewed alongside declining margins and the fact that many of our children would rather work 9 -5 on a good weekly wage than become their hardworking parents.

So we are losing land and skills that are going to be almost impossible to get back.
What can we do about it?

Well we can try and take responsibility for it.

We are all part of the Food chain some as producers and distributors but we are all consumers. I am sure there is some old saying that goes something like “good housekeeping starts at home”.

The title on today’s invitation read “Keeping our food local”. I would like to propose that it is even more important to “Keep our Local Food”.

I had dinner last night with two friends, Pete and John. They were amongst my original Eveleigh Market customers from over four years ago when the market first started and now they live in Byron.

They moved into their new house in March of this year.
Within a few weeks of moving in they noticed that they had a lot of bees at the back of the house. As the bees swarmed their suspicions were aroused. Finally they found that the wall of the upstairs bedroom was very warm. Very, very warm. So they searched down a bee keeper.

Yari was found and confirmed that there was a hive between the outside brick and inner plaster wall.

The bees had to go.

A fumigator could have done the job but fumigation would have also left behind a trail of dead bees and honey locked away forever.

Yari however offered to remove them and so he was engaged to perform the daylong task of rescuing the bees and their honey.

Bees are precious. We know that they play a crucial part in the pollination process. Yari knows this but he also just loves bees. The bees now live in Nimbin. Over 10kgs of honey comb was gathered and shared from a hive that had been growing for years. Peter has wonderful pics of everyone from the day sitting around diving out the honey comb. The wall has been plastered up.

Yari returned for two more visits following the initial rescue to collect the straggler bees. Small swarms of bees collected over the subsequent days. Peter has pictures of them attaching themselves to the wall where the hive used to be. Hiveless, Queen less bees. It was so sad. Yari managed to collect many of these but the remaining died.

So this is a pretty good example of local food right?

It’s a really good example of preciousness that had no money value attached to it. ….Priceless in other words.

How do you put a $ value on saving some bees and sharing some honey?
How do you put a value on cooking a meal? (I will come back to this later)

When I had my restaurant Bird Cow Fish I held many Regional Food and Wine Dinners. They were wonderful dinners where we were able to showcase producers and products that weren’t ordinarily available to us. These dinners along with having been a Delicious Produce Awards judge for the last three years has exposed me to many wonderful local foods.

So here is my take on local food. On a micro level it is imperative that we support out local producers but I do not believe that it should be at the exclusion of other “local foods”. I’m not an exponent of the 100mile ONLY rule.

Sourcing, selling and eating local foods means we are more likely to have a direct relationship with those who have grown it. We are more likely to know their story. We are more likely to place greater value on that product simply because we are connected to it.
Supporting local food provides these producers a base from which to build from. It can create an acknowledged Food Bowl, community of collaboration and support.

Supporting local food also means that the elements in the food chain are reduced. The less hands involved in the process generally means the smaller the gap between what the primary producers earns and the final cost of the sale product.

That being said I also believe in supporting all local foods and not just those that are local to me (easier said for me as I live in a city). But the reason for my thinking is not just because of my circumstance but because diversity is important as is promoting regions who specialize in certain foods. The sustainability of many producers’ business means that they cannot limit themselves to only supplying a local market. Finding a like minded distributor can be the key. Feather and Bone in Sydney are an excellent example of a distributor who works with his producers to educate and distribute the product.

But transportation and logistics are a huge challenge. I remember on of my dinners The Hilltops Region in NSW with Brian Freeman’s wines I wanted to use this magnificent Texel lamb. I did eventually get it but not until bob had dropped it at his mates place Len who then took it to Max at the pub and then Joan his wife who was driving to Sydney delivered it to me. The most gorgeous lamb that was being sold at the local supermarket with no hint of its origins or quality.

Wendell Berry, a highly regarded writer and farmer who lives in Kentucky in the US said “Eating is an agricultural Act”.

I think that one of the main keys to local food is not just supporting what is local to you but also wanting to know the story. Where has my food come from regardless if it is from over the fence or across the river? What makes it taste so good? Why does it perhaps cost more than other like products? What makes it valuable?

These are questions as a chef that I am used to asking my suppliers.

I now cook breakfast and stuff at the weekly Eveleigh market in Carriage works at Redfern in Sydney. I am surrounded by producers. The products that I use in the food that I produce are all sourced from the market. My customers ask me all the time whose eggs do you use? Whose bread? Whose milk? Just as much as they ask me HOW I made something.

They are interested in the stories like the wonderful collaboration between John Fairleigh from Country Valley Milk and Pierre from Pepe Saya butter who uses his cream. These two me are a wonderful example of how local producers are working together to value add to their products, educate the end consumers and have a lot of fun along the way.

I firmly believe that education is the key.
Educate people about the product and how to use it.

Michael Pollan in his book “Cooking” argues that “To cook is to vote” To cook at a time when one doesn’t have to is to make a conscious decision to be a producer and not just a consumer”

So back to “To be or not to be”

“To cook or not to cook” perhaps that is the question?

For me as a chef I agree with Pollan. I believe cooking is empowering. It means that I am in control. I can feed myself and my family. But this food security is dependent upon being able to source food locally, regardless of where I am.

As Wendell Berry said in his Jefferson speech, it turns on affection, 2012 “There is no distinction between the fate of the land and the fate of the people. When one is abused the other suffers.”

The value of being able to shop for locally produced food, the value of being able to cook, the value in sharing a meal are all part of belonging to a community. Its hard to put a dollar value on these attributes but one that we need to if we are going to preserve them.

So back to our lady friend Sarah who wanted to make plates.
She realized that if she wanted to make her plates for a living that it had to be sustainable. She had to be able to support herself. She couldn’t just do it because she was passionate about it.

She had to understand what the true cost of her time was in the making of the plates. She had to appreciate and value the time and energy that she had put into learning her craft over many years.

She had to accept that the market for her plates was probably going to be quite small as she was only a very small artisan producer and could not compete with the larger, industrialised producers of similar but not the same plates.

New markets could be found but only through communicating her story to a wider audience. She needed to educate them as to why her plates were so special and worthy of their price tag.

And when she did all this suddenly her plates didn’t seem so expensive any more because she had taken into account their TRUE value.

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