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.

I’ll start with something most of us can agree on – Coles are hypocrites. A partnership to sell bags for the Animals Australia ‘Make it Possible’ campaign to ‘end factory farming’ is a fairly brazen case of corporate whitewashing (or greenwashing, or whatever colour makes them look like ethical corporate citizens). If Coles supported the Make it Possible campaign by, say, refusing to sell pork and poultry from intensive production systems, that would constitute a meaningful ethical contribution. Selling bags aimed at ending ‘factory farming’ while intensively grown pork and poultry are on the shelves is, by definition, hypocritical.

But let’s put that aside for a moment. Surely any promotion of more ethical animal husbandry is a step in the right direction, even if it comes from one of the biggest sellers of what many deem unethical production systems? Meh, who knows. But what we do know is that most Coles supermarkets still don’t even offer free-range pork on their shelves, and their free-range poultry options, when they exist at all, are of dubious standards. So do these bags actually advocate that we don’t shop at Coles for pork and poultry? Ironically, it would seem so.

If you want to see an example of ethical meat retailers making a real difference, check out the wonderful folks at Feather and Bone, who endured some backlash for their support for the Voiceless Eyelevel project aimed at reducing Australians’ meat consumption. They have explained their intentions eloquently, while re-iterating their strong support and advocacy for free-range producers.

While we’re all in furious agreement over the gobsmacking hypocrisy of Coles, I’ll move on to a more vexed question – why are farmers so outraged at Coles’ support for a campaign to end intensive animal farming?

It seems that the root of their concerns is that Animals Australia is ‘anti-animal-farming’. I have had some reservations about the group, but most are probably groundless, and may actually just be an unfortunate association with the vegan abolitionist organisation, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA). Even most vegans I know don’t agree with PETA’s tactics, such as these awful ads.

I’ve seen Animals Australia referred to as a ‘vegan front group’, with a ‘vegan agenda’ that wants us all to stop eating meat, wearing leather, or using any part of an animal or its labour for our own purposes. This agenda, which is more accurately referred to as a vegan abolitionist agenda such as that promoted by PETA, is quite obviously at serious odds with the agenda of a livestock farmer. It is also at odds with the agenda of Coles and any other purveyor or consumer of animal products. It is also a very very small minority of the population who support this agenda. (Note that not all vegans are abolitionists, and some actively fight alongside ethical omnivores to promote more ethical animal husbandry.) So why the outrage? What real threat is there to farmers?

Some (including Animals Australia) have said that farmers don’t want to move away from intensive production systems, and are afraid to let consumers see the realities of their systems for fear of backlash, and that’s why they don’t like the Make it Possible campaign. And for some intensive producers, I’m sure that must be true.

But for the many many more extensive growers – sheep and cattle farmers for example (the vast majority of which are pasture-based systems in Australia) I think you can take their word at face value – they’re sick of being attacked by vegan abolitionists, and rightly or wrongly believe Animals Australia shares that agenda ultimately. Having been on the receiving end of the abuse that comes from those quarters, I can fully empathise with their sensitivity.

Tactically, though, I think the National Farmers Federation (NFF) made a mistake in so vehemently opposing the Coles/Animals Australia cross-promotion. Everyone can see that Coles are hypocrites, and no friend to farmers and rural communities. So who cares if they sell bags for a campaign that wants to ‘end factory farming’ – some of these bags will even carry ‘factory farmed’ meat, I imagine?!

Opposing the partnership may have served merely to make the NFF and its supporters look ‘pro factory farming’. But as I’ve already posited, I suspect most who opposed it are in fact just fed up with attacks from vegan abolitionists and attempts to destroy their livelihood (about which, of course, intensive producers are also concerned – these are real people paying real bills too. One may have less sympathy for their position, but surely we cannot ignore the social costs of food systems in transition as part of our ethical considerations. More on this in a future post.).

The only farmers under direct threat from the campaign are the intensive producers, and they’ve been under pressure for years as consumers gained greater awareness of the conditions and started voting with their dollars, first for free-range eggs, then chicken, and now pork. There’s a long way to go before we see all animals raised in conditions that are truly acceptable to the majority of the population, and most people’s budget will still dictate their purchasing habits ahead of their ethics. Financial reality is a difficult stakeholder to overrule, and shopping ethically takes a certain level of knowledge, will and culinary competence, not to mention transparency in the supply chain.

But as I wrote recently, the real losers in this stoush are animals in intensive production systems. The myopic vitriol of the vegan abolitionists, the defensiveness of the NFF, and the stunning hypocrisy of Coles won’t improve animal welfare on Australian farms – growers and eaters will with our choices and through respectful dialogue.

I take my hat off to the many growers and eaters across the country who are working to be the changes they wish to see in the world. I reckon Coles and proselytising vegan abolitionists, on the other hand, need to learn some lessons from Gandhi.

This was originally posted on our farm blog, The Hedonist Life, but is part of the broader discussion I try to host here on food ethics.
***
In response to last week’s spot on Radio National Bush Telegraph, we had a lot of negative reaction online from people who don’t agree with eating meat. So a friend of mine and I wrote a response, which was posted on the RN site just before I went on air again to discuss the reaction and our decision to castrate in spite of a very close poll that voted against it. Unfortunately, RN edited out Nathan‘s part, which really is a shame because he’s wickedly smart and reflexive, and also happens to be a vegan.
Here’s the full text, unedited (you can see the RN version here):

Tammi:

Showing a vegan a photo of an adorable piglet and then asking them to help decide whether to castrate is undoubtedly a red flag to a bull. But it wasn’t vegans we were asking, it was omnivores. What some will call ill-considered (I did briefly), I will here defend as a serious exercise in transparency by farmers who want to educate the public about the realities of food production, and especially the raising of animals for meat. And my vegan friend Nathan and I will argue that vitriolic attacks on those of us committed to transparency create a perverse incentive to retreat to secrecy and obfuscation of regular food production management practices.

We’ve been farming free-range rare breed Large Black pigs for a year and a half now. We came from Melbourne with a clear vision to contribute to what we consider ethical farming – raising pigs on the paddocks who are free to root and wallow at will, and basically express what Joel Salatin calls ‘the pigness of the pig’ until they have ‘one bad day’, which they don’t even know is coming. We believe it’s morally right to eat meat, but not from animals who have suffered or been raised in close confinement their entire lives up until slaughter. Our views and farming practices are not especially controversial, and generally our efforts to raise animals for food humanely and with care and kindness are met with appreciation – both for our practices and for our openness.

So it seemed a great idea when Cameron Wilson of Radio National Bush Telegraph asked whether we were willing for them to do a series tracking one of our animals from piglet to Christmas ham. Too many people don’t know where their food comes from or how it’s raised, though the tide is hopefully turning as information is now more readily accessible and people are realising there’s a lot that happens from paddock to plate.

The idea is a monthly radio interview where we update listeners on what’s been happening with the pig, who we’ve called Wilbur 101 (we call all the boys Wilbur and all the girls Charlotte unless they’re our breeding stock, in which case they have individual names, such as Borg, Big Mama, Keen, Pink and Prudence…). Many people believe you shouldn’t name your food, but we take the view that we’d rather know the animal on our plate well than not at all.

Supplementary to each month’s interview, we agreed to allow a poll to be held to seek the public’s view on management decisions. It gives an opportunity to inform people of the multitude of issues and decisions farmers face daily, and we hoped that using a poll in addition to the podcast and information on the website would lead to more buy in from the public, and in turn more care about the type of system animals are raised in. The first question we posited (as it’s the first management decision we face with newborn boars) was whether or not to castrate.

Unfortunately, while the omnivorous public might have wanted to discuss the practicalities and ethics of castrating boars, a significant number of those opposed to eating meat joined the discussion and turned it into a rant against us, the ABC, farmers generally, and meat eaters specifically. We were called ‘sick freaks’, ‘Neanderthals’, and ‘animal abusers’, to name some of the milder insults.

Nathan:

There are a number of things worth considering here: namely, the ad hominem attacks, the issue of transparency, and the illusion that either veganism or vegetarianism are without their own set of complications, also linked to transparency.

The issue of ad hominem attacks, whether against Tammi and Stuart, the ABC, or meat eaters more generally, brings into question the motives of those willing to utter such comments as to what they are trying to achieve. Considered, respectful discussion is never going to be the effect, nor is any type of conversion from eating meat tenable if the basis of an antithetical argument is vitriolic abuse. Moreover, it lacks all credibility and illustrates a lack of knowledge and understanding not only of farming processes and practices, which is seemingly what this project is attempting to bring to light, but also appears to lack an understanding and knowledge of why people become vegans or vegetarians in the first place, or why people may ‘de-convert’ — a phenomenon equally present to the phenomenon of people becoming vegan or vegetarian.

All these considerations are not only deeply philosophical, but are also sociological, religious and political. If the conversion to veganism or vegtarianism is well considered, it would be charitable enough to expect that an argument against eating meat is equally considered; calling someone a ‘sick freak’ or ‘Neanderthal’ does not range in the category of a rationally considered argument.

Of course, the idea behind this project is transparency. While I as a vegan may disagree with the killing and exploitation of animals for various reasons, the kind of practices brought to light through this program are refreshing to see. In the wake of footage and articles that surround the practice of live export and animal abuse in abattoirs, the program undertaken here ought to be a welcome relief to vegans and vegetarians as we have farmers not only willing to transparently show how animals are treated, but also have public involvement. The outcome of transparency and public involvement is the basis of a descriptive set of guidelines and practices that can be adopted by all farmers. In effect, this program has the potential to become a national standard whereby consumers have the confidence to purchase animal products that have been treated in an ethical manner; whereby the ethical treatment of animals has been considered.

The issue of transparency and the ethical treatment of animals is also a problem for vegan and vegetarian foodways. The ethical treatment of animals is not just to be considered for the animals we can see, but also for the ones we don’t.  What consideration is there of the countless rodents and small marsupials that are killed through the processes of producing a loaf of bread? Are the numerous animals killed in the process of pest control of wheat crops, the storage of wheat and flour worthy of our moral consideration? What about the fish whose parts are used in the mass production of beer? Or what of the environmental cost of the global shipping of processed vegan and vegetarian food items? Is the environment also worthy of moral consideration to vegans and vegetarians?

Often the mistreatment and exploitation of animals and the environment is a symptom of a much larger problem. With the spread of global capitalism, the need to feed the starving, unemployed, underemployed and low waged is met with with cheap meat, dairy and eggs at the expense of animal well being. How does veganism approach the problem of starvation, unemployment, underemployment and low wage employment with highly priced soy products? While veganism can betray the maltreatment of animals through analytic critique, the sense in which veganism is able to confront issues of starvation, low wage, under and unemployment betrays itself as being unable to satisfactorily confront environmental and everyday living conditions; veganism requires a level of wealth and prosperity that isn’t afforded to the underprivileged. While it is important to analyse and critique the way animals are treated within the global economic market in which we live, it is equally important to engage with farmers and producers willing to be transparent about foodways and the way in which animals are treated in a respectful and considerate manner, as well as being aware of the issues of transparency within our own vegan and vegetarian foodways.

Tammi:

All issues and concerns around the ethics of food production and consumption are worthy of discussion and open scrutiny, but when one group restricts itself to shouting the loudest abuse, or refuses to engage even marginally with the topic at hand (and makes it very unpleasant for any who do engage), there can be no winners – especially not farm animals.

Surely we can all agree that a farming community unwilling to share its practices with the public due to sustained, personal attacks by so-called ‘animal rights activists’ is a very bad outcome. We here at Jonai Farms won’t be frightened away from the challenge of transparency – we understand why people choose veganism or vegetarianism (I was a vegetarian for seven years, and write frequently on my blog about these very questions), and we quite simply disagree with that decision while respecting one’s right to make it. Vegans have every right to disagree with our position, of course, but should think long and hard about what can happen to our food system when they so zealously shout farmers off the stage.

BIOS: Tammi Jonas is a free-range pig farmer with her husband Stuart and three children near Daylesford, Victoria. She is also a cultural theorist nearing completion of a PhD on the role of engagements with multicultural foodways on the development of a cosmopolitan, sustainable society. Tammi blogs atTammi Jonas: Food Ethics and on the farm blog, The Hedonist Life.

Nathan Everson is currently undertaking a Masters of Research degree through Macquarie University, Sydney, focusing on the structural intersections between humans and animals and how these intersections form the basis of our conceptions of politics, ethics, and law. He is a vegan working with his wife and two children on self-sustainable practices within a suburban environment.

 

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‘What’s this bit then?’ asked Bron. ‘Err, brisket? No, blade!’ I hazard to guess after scrutinising the MLA cut poster for the 107th time. This was on Saturday. By Monday, I was naming unidentified cuts ‘pirate fillet’. So. Much. Beef.

As you’ll recall, this year we’re only eating our own meat here on the farm, and so a couple weeks ago we butchered our first steer with only a poster, an English butchery book and an Australian video as our guides. Oh, and youtube, when the internet was fast enough. NBN anyone?

My butcher told me I was crazy, and I told him to be more optimistic. Turns out we were both right, I’m crazy, but optimism pays off. So do knife skills, perseverance, and a strong back.

The steer was hung for a week at the abattoir before Stuart brought it home in quarters. Our cattle are Lowlines, a breed stemmed from Angus, but short in stature with a high feed conversion ratio, so we got a 209kg carcass back. This sounds a lot (and trust me, it’s a lot to cut up), but compared with many other breeds, it’s pretty small. I hadn’t considered how grateful I would be for that smallness when it came time to butcher it! It still took us three nine-hour days…

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So following on from my growing experience of butchering pigs, I had an armoury of sharp knives at the ready, and a few buckets and bins for all the trim that would become mince or soap (seriously, we planned to make soap with the tallow we would render from the fat… sadly, we failed to do this. It’s on the list for next time though…), and for the glorious bones (I may have shouted ‘phở!’ when I boned out the first leg…). I didn’t think through the irritation of using a book from the UK and an Australian video, so that when I followed one initially, the subsequent cuts wouldn’t match the first ones… ‘live and learn’ was a bit of a mantra…

It wasn’t just me – I had Stuart, my dear friend Bronwyn, and 13-year-old amazing son Oscar to help on Saturday. Sunday was just me and Oscar while Stuart did pork deliveries and dropped Bron back at home.

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Monday was just me in the morning, with Stuart re-joining after farm chores for the final stretch that afternoon. I just want you to know these details so if anyone else reads this thinking a very inexperienced smallholder can just ‘cut up a cow in a day’ you’ll know you really really need more people, not to mention more skills! It’s a Very Big Job to cut up a cow*. (*Never say ‘cut up a cow’ to a farmer, who will make you feel a right idgit for appearing not to know the difference between a cow and a steer.)

So we started with a forequarter. No matter which way I looked at it, it a) wasn’t a pig, and b) didn’t look like any of my butchery instruction pictures.

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Sure, I made the first cut okay, but then it was all just ‘soooooo, I’ll just follow *that* muscle…’ Seriously, though, when Stuart cut the first osso buco, I was totally sold.

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If some brisket was mislabelled as chuck, or blade as brisket, I can live with that – we know it’s all muscle meat and will cook it accordingly. As the first cuts slid into the cryovac bags, the satisfaction of the 2013 Our Meat Is Real project hit full force. Not just pigs anymore, we’re now self sufficient in beef and pork, and soon we’ll be adding lamb to our repertoire – amazing!

As we moved along the first half of the beast, things got more exciting, if only because who can’t identify a rib eye when they see one?! And just as it is with the pigs, it’s very useful to learn just how little of this prime cut you get from one steer, and why it’s therefore so prized. I’ll be cooking these with reverent joy in the months to come – and I reckon each one can feed about four people!

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The flank was also easy to identify, but if you think this section of the carcass went more quickly, you might be wrong as sawing through beef bones (phở!’) is really hard work.

The first hindquarter was also rather daunting – it’s a lot bigger than a ham!

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And then there’s the matter of ‘top side’ or ‘top round’ and ‘bottom round’, as distinct from the rump, and which bit is silverside again? So, yeah, we have some lovely roasts that may not know their top from their bottom, but will surely all taste delicious. We brined three pieces – two for corned beef (we ate the first one last night, actually, and it was sensational cooked up in a pot with kohlrabi & celeriac, onion, garlic, peppercorns and cloves), and one that I’ll be smoking this week for pastrami, along with a streaky bacon… the joys of home butchery and curing! And then there was the second osso buco! Yessssssss…

We finished up around 6pm, washed our hands and faces, and dashed off to our mate Cait’s 40th with a bunch of freshly butchered ribs and the first tenderloin, which we barbecued very simply with salt, pepper and olive oil. It was fun to regale everyone with our amateur efforts, and the beef was as well received as the few pork chops we also brought along in a marinade of plum sauce, soy, and star anise.

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Day 2 dawned. Half a beast remained. Stuart and Bronwyn left Oscar and me with encouraging words…

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One thing I won’t do again, I think, is start at the middle on the second half. My brain is perhaps too linear, but I should have repeated the pattern I did the first time and started at the forequarter. As I was still trying to work all the cuts out, jumping around led to extra unnecessary confusion in an already confusing job!

Straight to the ribs we went, though, cutting out a scotch fillet roast this time instead of individual rib eye steaks. I left it intentionally big in anticipation of a lovely winter feast with a large group of friends… who don’t seem in short supply when they hear there’s Jonai meat on the menu!

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While it was much slower going with only two of us to cut, Oscar was a marvel of knife skills, and served diligently as Chief Trimmer all day. He can trim the silverskin off a cut with less waste than any of the rest of us, I’m proud to report.

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On this side, rather than pulling out the tenderloin (or eye fillet as we usually call it here in Oz), I cut out porterhouse and t-bone steaks – and without a bandsaw, I left them reaaaaallly thick – dinosaur steaks! Each one should easily feed our family, though I suspect there may be some competition for the tender eye…

The porterhouse end...

The porterhouse end…

The t-bone end...

The t-bone end…

Dinosaur steaks!

Dinosaur steaks!

This is also where I realised a mistake I was making all along – I trimmed off too much fat. :-( There are different sorts of fat on cattle, and without an experienced butcher to guide me, I sort of just fell into a habit of trimming most of it off, much to my later dismay when I sat back and thought about it. We love fat – fat is flavour! Nick Huggins was quick to point out the error of my ways on Facebook, and I’ll certainly do that differently next time.

When Stuart got back from doing deliveries all day in Melbourne, he found Oscar and I a mere halfway through the second side of beef, and pretty knackered at that… a very quick dinner of garlic and cashew stir fried Jonai beef served with sweet & sour vegies was our reward before an early night to bed…

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Day 3. For those still with me here, yes, I said ‘Day 3’. I woke to tight shoulders, a sore neck, and growing forearms, feeling pretty pleased with myself. Stuart of course thought this was an opportune time to juice 150kg of windfall apples with our lovely WWOOFer for the week, Arata, and the kids. Oh, how he loves to test me…

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For those wondering where we kept the carcass these three days, it was hanging in the shed. Temperatures were cool, but by the third day we were very conscious that this meat needed to get colder again! The pressure was on…

The two littlest Jonai made it home from a few days with their grandparents and cousins down the coast the night before, so were now ready to help with the home stretch. Atticus quickly discovered just how hard it is to saw through a leg bone…

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As we were cutting the final forequarter around 5pm on Monday night, I carved out a brisket roast, browned it off in my cast iron, chucked in an onion, some lovely Angelica organic garlic and rosemary plucked from the garden, and poured a bottle of Stuart’s homebrew dark IPA over it, then popped it in a low oven for three hours.

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Stuart sawed the fourth and final osso buco (have you noticed I quite like osso buco?), we washed everything down, and sank wearily but happily into our seats to feast on the most delicious roast I think I’ve ever eaten. Cutting up a whole beast has that effect on flavour, I reckon. ;-)

I do look forward to the next steer, though it will be nearly a year before we need another one for our own consumption, we think. I also look forward to doing it with a coolroom at my disposal, and a fully fitted out boning room, including a bandsaw!

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If you’d like to support our efforts to become skilful, local butchers of our own meat, in a facility we’ll also make available to other smallholders like ourselves, check out our Pozible project to crowdfund a boning room here on the farm!

laksa

You’ll recall that this is the year our meat is real – where we only eat meat from animals we’ve grown ourselves here on the farm. As the first quarter of the year is nearly past, I figured this was a great time to share a vegetarian recipe, as for the first six weeks of eating our own meat, we didn’t have any!

It was an interesting experience having six weeks as predominantly vego, but not entirely, as we had homemade chicken stock from our own chooks still in the freezer, plus some chops and our pancetta from the first pig. So while our meals were overwhelmingly plant-based, there were delicious little morsels of ethically-raised meat added to some of them. I had to keep catching my former vegetarian brain from admonishing me against the bit of pancetta or the chicken stock, remembering that I wasn’t seeking to be a vegetarian, just to rely on our own meat!

A quick look at our meals in the first month shows that we enjoyed the following list of fantastic plant-based meals: fettucine with pancetta & mushies, cheese souffle & garden-plucked artichokes, veg Hokkien mee, veg penang curry, banh mi op la, stuffed parathas, 2-cheese ravioli (made by 11yo Antigone), rice paper rolls, gado gado, pasta puttanesca… and that was just the dinners! Our brekkies, as usual, included a wide range of egg-based dishes, including: Beijing-style egg & tomato, spicy Indian omelet, eggs en cocotte, Chinese fried eggs with oyster sauce, spring onions and chili… and a bit of Bircher muesli for good measure.

It’s telling that most of our vegetarian meals tend to be from the sub-continent or southeast Asia, given their much longer history of primary reliance on a diverse range of fresh vegetables. So here’s one of our family favourites, the luscious laksa lemak, which the delightful @bronya_l has patiently waited for me to post. :-)

Laksa Lemak

Oh, laksa, how I love thee. The diverse, spicy flavours in a coconut-rich stock that squeezes so delightfully from each mouthful of tofu puffs, punctuated with the crunch of fresh bean sprouts and the aromatic appeal of Vietnamese mint… this is warming, delightful comfort food. There are many varieties of laksa – our favourite is probably closest to what would be called a vegetarian laksa lemak, though as we use chicken stock, it’s not in fact vegetarian…

The only real work in making laksa is the paste, but a decent food processor can make this a pretty quick task as well. My own food processor is not really that decent and leaves the harder ingredients such as galangal and lemongrass a bit gritty in the paste, so I’ve always preferred my mortar & pestle.

Because this is such a favourite in our house, sometimes the craving won’t be denied though the larder is lacking. I’ve found that adding dried turmeric for fresh, though not as pungent and magical as the lurid orange rhizome, is definitely sufficient for the job. A lack of galangal is a problem, in my opinion, as its aromatic qualities are not easily replicated with anything else. And although many traditional laksas call for rice noodles, we love the fat toothiness of hokkien noodles. But be bold and you’ll be eating laksa of many creative varieties in no time!

Paste

4 cloves garlic, chopped

1 med onion, chopped

2 tspn belacan (shrimp paste)

1T galangal, finely chopped

1 tspn fresh turmeric, chopped

2T candlenuts (hazelnuts or macadamias work in a pinch)

3 coriander roots, chopped

1 kaffir lime, zest only

2 stalks lemongrass, finely chopped

1-2 chilies, depending on their heat & your tolerance

1-2T peanut oil

(NB this will make a small jar of paste, which will keep in the fridge for a few weeks. )

Soup

1.5 L homemade stock

400 ml coconut milk

Dark soy sauce to taste

2 limes, juice

Bok choy or silverbeet

Fried tofu puffs, chopped in half

Bean sprouts

rau răm (aka Vietnamese mint or laksa leaf)

Crispy shallots

Hokkien noodles

Method

It’s simplest to make the paste in a food processor, but when you have a bit of time or need to work through some aggro, a mortar & pestle is definitely your friend. It also makes a smoother paste, in my experience, with the flavours pushed together better.

Once the paste is made, heat a drizzle of peanut oil on a medium flame in a large pot and pop 3-4 T of the laksa paste into the pot. When it colours and before it burns, pour the coconut milk in and stir frequently. Once it’s hot, add your stock (we use homemade chicken stock, but of course a flavoursome homemade vegie stock is an excellent option as well) and heat through.

Add lime juice and soy and taste – adjust to your palate. Add your leafy greens and the tofu puffs and heat through.

I pre-heat the hokkien noodles in a bowl of hot water, then drain them and add them into the soup at the last minute. Alternatively, after warming in a bowl you can put them straight into the bowls and pour the soup over the top.

Garnish each bowl with bean sprouts, Vietnamese mint, and crispy shallots. A small bowl of chopped chilies for the strong-tongued is a nice addition to the table, and of course some sambal oelek should be offered.

The only real trick to laksa is how to eat it without splattering your chest, something I cannot profess to have mastered reliably. Enjoy!

Our food system is in crisis. Private labels are ruining Australian farmers. Choose free-range pork and poultry. Eat less meat. Stop eating meat. Are any fish still sustainable to eat? Ban GMOs. Labelling is the problem. We need CCTV in abattoirs. Misleading certification schemes make it impossible to trust free range. Eat slow, whole foods. Shop at farmers’ markets. Only eat organic. Ban live export! Save live export! Don’t eat sugar. ColeWorths is the real problem…

PEOPLE, THERE’S A PROBLEM. THERE ARE PROBLEMS.

But how do we solve them?

Let’s step back for a moment from immediate and pressing concerns around seasonal, local, organic, safe, fair, humane food, and consider the confusing array within an ethical framework, such as one that the fabulous Cristy Clark has called ‘ecotarian‘. All of our concerns about the industrial food system can be better understood (and so addressed) if we are led by a coherent ethical approach, rather than atomised ‘problems’.

According to Socrates, people will do what is good if they know what is right, and therefore be happy. But how can we know if we can’t see the means of production of our food (and myriad other items we consume, even if not corporally)?

If we ask ourselves ‘is this organic?’ we are wondering whether there are synthetic, artificial inputs in the form of harmful pesticides or fertilisers, but we haven’t asked ‘how far did it travel?’ or ‘how much were the workers paid?’ We may in fact also be worried about food miles, workers’ conditions, and the treatment of animals, but ‘is this organic?’ didn’t open up the space for those other concerns. The same is true of ‘is this free range?’ or ‘is this GMO?’ and many other such questions about the history of our food before it gets to our plate.

But when we ask ‘was this produced ethically?’ we are required to think about ‘is this right?’ and ‘is it good to eat this?’, which requires consideration of the environmental, social, cultural, political, economic, and physical impacts of our choices. We must consider the entire ecology of the choice – and I include human welfare in my definition of ecology here.

If we take an ethical approach, and in particular the hedonist ethic I have spent some years trying to understand and follow, then a narrow focus on food miles, organics, or heritage breeds is too limiting. These are the cornerstones, the seeds if you will, that make for a fecund garden of ideas to nourish a healthy world. But on their own, each one is but a luscious zucchini, a wayward tomatillo, a cheeky piglet.

An overarching, well-articulated ethic is to local potatoes like permaculture is to veganism. We need systems thinking – what are all the constituent parts? Who are the key players in the system – the seeds, the nurturers of the seeds, the carers of the seedlings, the micro-organic activity of the soil in which the seeds grow, the people who want to eat the zucchinis and all of the potential players in the web of those who will see that the produce makes it from paddock to plate.

Choosing to eat organic, local, seasonal, free-range, fair-trade or vegan diets are all legitimate and important parts of changing our food system, but on their own, they don’t address systemic problems.

But the problem with following an ethic in today’s world is that the supply chain – that long set of links that goes from the production and harvesting of food through to the processing, transport and sales – has grown so long and obscured that you can find yourself eating horsemeat when you ordered beef.

Join me over the next few months as I explore how to demystify the supply chain and participate in transforming our food systems, from production right through to consumption.

And welcome my new title as I re-launch this long-running blog as Tammi Jonas: Food Ethics today – it’s not just me tasting terroir, it’s all of us.

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