Feed your blood

Blood. It drains from our face when we’re shocked, flushes our cheeks when we’re embarrassed, heats our veins, and is chilled by bad news. Blood is reputed to offer immortality to those who would drink it, and its symbolism is potent enough to ostracise women through history during their monthly flow.

Blood is life’s most basic building block, and yet most of us never think to feed it.

The only time I remember consciously ‘feeding my blood’ was when a bad case of influenza left me with the white blood cell count of a leukemia victim. As well as my usual whole foods diet, I included vegetable juices every day with a slice of aloe vera in them as I read that aloe boosts liver function (that great engine room for healthy blood cells). Once healed, I returned to feeding my soul, nurturing my family, and winning hearts with vast feasts. I forgot all about blood once again.

And then came the day that my beloved Mama got blood cancer, or Hodgkins lymphoma. Continue reading Feed your blood

The Food Revolution is Not a Big Fat Lie

The following is the speech I gave as the final speaker for the negative at a debate last week at the Lake House, ‘The Food Revolution is a Big Fat Lie’. On my team were Necia Wilden and Michael Harden – on the affirmative there were Dani Valent, Janne Appelgren and Richard Cornish. It was a rousing debate followed by a predictably delicious country-style meal put on by our host, the wonderful doyenne of the Daylesford Macedon region Alla Wolf-Tasker.

Of course we won, because of course the current food revolution is no lie, though there is a lot of work ahead…

***

Comrades and colleagues, I’d like to continue the excellent work of my fellow revolutionaries here on the opposition, and tell you a bit more about this revolution that is everywhere, and that we must win lest we abandon our children’s hope for a future.

Let’s start with the children. 20 years ago, chef Alice Waters in California said: “What we are calling for is a revolution in public education – a Delicious Revolution. When the hearts and minds of our children are captured by a school lunch curriculum, enriched with experience in the garden, sustainability will become the lens through which they see the world.”

As Necia has already mentioned, here we have Stephanie Alexander’s Kitchen Garden Foundation – and Waters’ and Alexanders’ efforts are certainly not restricted to the middle class – Waters’ program started in the disadvantaged schools of Oakland, California, and Alexanders’ took root in inner-city Collingwood, and has now spread as far as the remote communities of Bourke and Coober Pedy.

The international Via Campesina peasant movement has been around for 20 years and is still gaining momentum. Currently they’re uniting to fight against land grabbing by the World Bank and Wall Street in countries as diverse as Honduras, Mali, Italy and Indonesia.

In India, Vandana Shiva’s work over the past two decades is legion.  “I don’t want to live in a world where five giant companies control our health and our food,” said Shiva, and so she started a food revolution in India in 1993. Shiva’s foundation, Navdanya, trains farmers in seed saving and sustainable agriculture.

She cites the peasant prayer:

“Let the seed be exhaustless, let it never get exhausted, let it bring forth seed next year.”

Continue reading The Food Revolution is Not a Big Fat Lie

The Omnivorous Ethics of Ecosystems

The New York Times recently ran a competition to write a 600-word essay on why it’s ethical to eat meat. Six runners up have been selected by a panel of judges (Peter Singer, Mark Bittman, Michael Pollan, Jonathan Safran Foer and Andrew Light), and now the public gets to vote for a winner. There are some good ones over there, and I recommend voting! I submitted the essay below, which didn’t make it into the short list…

I look forward to a rigorous debate in the comments, which I promise I’ll join in on this time (work commitments have limited my capacity to engage lately, my apologies).

The Omnivorous Ethics of Ecosystems

You ask why eating meat is ethical, and I retort, ‘the real question is how can we feed 9 billion people by 2050 sustainably and ethically?’ The answer: ‘we must grow our food in an ecosystem.’ Ecosystems are complex, and animals are merely one part of the equation – there are also flora, microbiological organisms, and abiotic components – minerals, energy, water… Restricting ethical arguments to people and farm animals merely contributes to the anthropocentric problem-solving that got us into our current unsustainable, unethical mess.

It’s a bit of privileged righteousness to read Peter Singer, become vegetarian, and debate the finer moral questions of whose interests are served by the killing and consumption of animals, when humans can live without relying on meat. It’s also a damned sight easier than grappling with the complexity of ecosystems.

We’re part of a food chain, not a constellation of highly evolved autonomous links engaged in synchronised swimming. Each link consumes others in an endlessly complex cycle – remove a link, and others must disproportionately bear the weight of the world.

Industrial agriculture has dropped such a burden on us – it is being born heavily across many ecosystems and species, including our own, but the answer is not ‘stop eating meat’, because the more important question is ‘how can we participate in ecosystems without creating massive imbalances?’ The answer is to dismantle industrial agriculture, and to do so the global north must stop eating so much meat (and dairy), stop growing so much grain for too many farm animals to eat, stop growing soy and corn to insert into every industrial, processed food in existence, and eat foods farmed in biodiverse agro-ecological systems. Equally the global south must be assisted to restore their own agro-ecologies.

It’s only by exiting the anthropocentric mindset that we can understand the ethics of ecosystems – while not every component may be determined to be of equal value, each must be considered. The soil must be nourished just as human and non-human animal bodies must, water must be protected from systems of excess, and biodiversity – including crop and animal diversity- must be protected and maintained to provide natural crop protections and increase our food system’s resilience.

The ethics of ecosystems demand we eat so that we are growing our food in concert with the local environment. We would grow what fruit and vegetables are viable locally, and trade to supplement our diets with what can’t be grown locally.

Continue reading The Omnivorous Ethics of Ecosystems

Should Animals Be Off the Menu?

Last week I went along to one of the Wheeler Centre’s IQ2 debates, ‘Should Animals Be off the Menu?’ with my usual high hopes of learning something new, and in a way, I suppose I both learned something new and confirmed something old.

New: vegans can stack the Town Hall.

Old: most people don’t actually want to learn, they just want to be right.

So allow me to take you through the ‘debate’, such that it was…

Peter Singer, renowned philosopher and author of Animal Liberation (1975), was the first speaker for the affirmative. Singer is what I usually refer to (perhaps sloppily) as an ethical pragmatist, but I gather he is more rightly classified a secular, preference utilitarian ethicist… (Although I have some training in philosophy, it’s not actually my field, so please correct me insofar as it is useful to the discussion we will have here, but not for the pure pleasure of pedantry, if you please.)

Singer opened with the arguments I would expect from him, and ones I agree with:

  • ‘we can live a healthy life without eating animals’, and
  • ‘misuse of grain to feed animals is wasteful’.

On the first point, I agree with Singer that the majority of the global north could lead a healthy vegetarian life. I certainly did for seven years of my life. I’m not sure it would solve our environmental woes given the state of industrial monocropping, industrial-scale dairy and intensive poultry raising for the majority of the world’s eggs, but he’s right, most of us could be healthy as vegetarians. As for how healthy even we in the global north could be as vegans, there are healthy vegans around (and some less healthy), but I’d be interested in research around how many are taking supplements (especially B12…), and what sustainability would really look like if we all ate fridgeloads of processed soy products.

In many parts of the global south, strict vegetarianism or veganism is clearly less healthy given lack of availability of nutrient-dense foods, but I’ll return to that point later.

Continue reading Should Animals Be Off the Menu?

Save Rare Milk

I still remember the forearm strain of carrying four four-gallon jugs of milk in from the car when mum would get home from the supermarket. When we were little, we drank what Americans called ‘Vitamin D milk’, which was full cream. A bit older and we were moved along to ‘2%’, the equivalent of something like ‘Rev’ in Australia. When I started university, I switched to ‘skim milk’, or as we’d say here, ‘skinny milk’.

There was a short period in my adolescence when Dad insisted we drink a glass of raw goat’s milk every day to help boost our immunity against poison oak. We loathed it, and I reckon I contracted poison oak intentionally to demonstrate the futility of this daily torture before he gave up.

When I gave up skinny milk, I repudiated it with the scorn of a reformed smoker. Keep that thin blue liquid with the mouthfeel of vinegar away from me, thanks. Nowadays I like my milk raw, especially after a night in the fridge so that the first pour has globules of cream to tantalise the tongue as it dances through the skim milk underneath.

It’s illegal to sell raw milk in Australia. You can buy cigarettes, eggs from chickens that never knew a day outside a cage, and as much Coca Cola as you want, but not unpasteurised milk. I understand the health risks, just as I understand them about raw eggs and undercooked meat. But I won’t give up drinking raw milk any more than I’ll stop making mayonnaise and eating burgers made from freshly ground beef cooked so they’re still red in the middle.

What I don’t drink anymore is milk from the big processors, and goddess forbid someone should offer me private label milk from Coles or Woolies. According to Australian Dairy Farmers, some 30 dairy farmers have gone out of business in Queensland since January 2011, at least some due to the duopoly’s unscrupulous milk wars. I know who needs my business most, and it’s the independent dairies, preferably organic. And I’ll continue to defiantly drink raw milk when I can.

Continue reading Save Rare Milk

Vegans and Ethical Omnivores, Unite!

Full disclosure: like the rancher, hunter and butcher in a recent story in The Atlantic, I am what some would call a ‘reformed vegetarian’, or a ‘born-again carnivore’, as this less charitable vegan would describe me. I consider myself an ethical omnivore.

My story is not unlike many who spent years as a vegetarian only to resume eating meat – I chose a vegetarian diet for ethical and environmental reasons, and returned to meat for health reasons. I had two very healthy pregnancies while vegetarian and breastfed my first two children with no issues, only to become severely anaemic early in the third pregnancy. I tried Floradix Herbal Iron Supplement, which had seen me through the final trimesters before without dropping into the anaemic range, to no avail.

As I sat in wan exhaustion at work one day in the third month, it came to me: a burger will fix this. Considering I hadn’t eaten nor craved meat for over six years (and no pork or poultry for even longer because of my particular concerns about the horrific conditions these animals face in intensive systems), this was a pretty weird thought. But moments later, I walked into a little burger joint in Smith Street, Fitzroy and ordered a burger and asked them to slather it with hot English mustard. I’ll be honest, I felt absolutely nothing except exhilaration and a sense of well being. No guilt – I think my body was thanking me, again, weird, I know, ‘cos it was a burger after all, not a scotch filet, but, hey, that iron slid into my blood cells and brought colour to my cheeks for the first time in months.

Continue reading Vegans and Ethical Omnivores, Unite!

Why agroecology is essential to food security

A recurring claim in discussions of food security is that small-scale organic agriculture cannot feed the world, a claim used to support the continued centralisation of agriculture into the hands of a few mega-multinational corporations, who will save us all with GM crops. Arguments are posited around higher yield and decreased pesticide use with GM crops, totally eliding the high yields that can be obtained in organic agriculture and the complete lack of pesticides in these systems, just for a start. Such GM propaganda is utterly spurious and refuted in the literature.

The field of agroecology offers a rich body of work that makes the argument for moving to more sustainable, small-scale agriculture, whether organic or with reduced external inputs such as commercial fertilisers and pesticides. In a few recent discussions I’ve had with supporters of GM, I’ve sent them links to reports to back up the clear and demonstrable evidence that we must move to a very different way of producing food that works to preserve natural resources and regenerate landscape while supporting local communities, but I don’t believe any of them ever read the research.

So today I decided to tweet quotes and paraphrases from one piece of work, the UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food report: ‘Agroecology and the Right to Food‘, released on the 3rd of August 2011. I hoped that by reading the 21-page report myself and offering just the highlights, those who speak loudly on a topic they appear to know little about might be better informed. Of course I also knew it would offer plenty of good evidence for those already advocating for sustainable ag. I offer you the list of the quotes and paraphrases I tweeted here in one place for easy reference. Note that most of these are direct quotes from the report, and a couple of them are paraphrased – I have not added any of my own comments.

Another excellent resource of the latest research in agroecology is The Laboratory of Agroecology and Urban Ecosystems at Washington State University Vancouver – and you might like to follow Assistant Professor Jahi Chappell on twitter – he’s @mjahi – as he often tweets links to relevant research.

Continue reading Why agroecology is essential to food security

Happy ‘Free Range’ Holiday

I have an article up on The Hoopla today: Happy ‘Free Range’ Christmas. In it, I detail the certification standards around free-range meat in Australia, and give suggestions about which ones to trust and where to source ethically-produced poultry and pork, plus some advice and links on sustainable seafood.

There are more retailers and promoters of ethical and local produce than I had space for in the article, so I thought I’d put a few more here. Not all produce listed by these sites will necessarily be free-range meats – I’ve included local directories here, and you’ll need to do your own local homework on the details!

I’d be very interested in feedback on more sites – I’ll pop them into the following list as I’m made aware of more.

Foodo

Australian Regional Food Guide

Pigeon House 150 (Wollongong, NSW)

Transition Mt Alexander Local Food Guide (VIC)

Daylesford Macedon Produce (VIC)

Local Harvest: The Sunshine Coast Regional Food Directory (Qld)

Feast Fine Foods (Adelaide, SA)

 

Tacos de carne asada

 

I’ve been making tacos and burritos at home for a very long time, and it was with great delight I went on a hunt for a tortilla press on our recent Road Trip USA (I came home with three – two for me and one for Zoe). Now that I have the presses, plus access to instant masa flour from Casa Iberica in Melbourne, corn tortilla making is very simple indeed.

So it was rather amusing that as I was making tacos de carne asada the other week food writer John Lethlean tweeted a request for a recipe for soft tacos. @FlavourCrusader put me forward, which motivated me to write out my recipe. With the current craze for all things Mexican in Melbourne, I hope this helps all the home cooks see what the fuss is about.

Tortillas:

3C Masa flour
2C water

Carne asada:

1 large flank (skirt) steak
2 limes
salt
pepper
sliced white onion
chopped coriander

Pico de gallo:

diced tomatoes
minced red onion
minced chilies
chopped coriander
lime juice

Guacamole:

2 avocados
1-2 cloves garlic – minced or bashed in mortar & pestle
salt
pepper
juice of 1 lemon

For the tortillas, mix masa & water and knead until a smooth dough – this doesn’t take long. If too dry, add a bit of water – should be slightly tacky but not sticky. Roll into 16 balls and cover with a damp cloth until ready to cook.

When ready, place baking paper on press, put ball in centre and press flat, then place tortilla on dry hot griddle and cook until brown spots appear on both sides. Keep warm in a tea towel until serving. If you don’t have a tortilla press, these are easy to roll out with a rolling pin.

For the carne asada, squeeze juice of limes (I typically use 2 for one steak) over steak, add pepper, cover and set aside for an hour while steak comes to room temp. Just before grilling, salt liberally, then grill to taste (we like it med rare). Rest for a couple minutes before slicing thinly.

For the pico de gallo, dice tomatoes, red onion and chilies and mix with coriander and lime juice. It’s best done at least half an hour before serving to develop the flavours through the tomato. We often leave the chilies out for the kids and just add Tabasco at the table.

We like the simplest guacamole: mash avocados with minced or bashed garlic (1-2 cloves to 2 avocados), add lemon juice, salt & pepper to taste.

You can either construct them in the kitchen and bring them out on plates served with frijoles or Mexican rice, or let people construct at the table. The order for us is usually: tortilla, carne asada, white onion, pico de gallo, guacamole, coriander. Sometimes we add a bit of homemade yoghurt (which we use instead of sour cream for pretty much everything), and we usually let everyone opt in or out of the coriander. Thinly sliced purple cabbage is also a delicious addition.

This entire meal, though it includes a number of separate processes, can take less than half an hour to prepare for a family of five! It’s a Jonai staple. 🙂

Will you pay for the ‘pigness of the pig’?

Last week it was my honour to do a guest post for Milk Maid Marian (a truly excellent and thoughtful blogger on the realities of dairy farming) on what ethical farming means to consumers. There is some great discussion in the comments on Marian’s blog, and the post generated a lot of interest on the twitterz. Next thing I knew, @andrewfaith had suggested to @wendyharmer that she might like to cross post the piece on The Hoopla, which she did the very next morning. The comments there are also well worth the read.

All of this happened while I was at the inaugural Australasian Regional Food Networks and Cultures Conference in Kingscliff, and then immediately afterwards at the Annual Council Meeting of the Council of Australian Postgraduate Associations (CAPA), for whom I am no longer an office bearer as of 1 January 2012. Hence you’ll see I haven’t responded to any of the comments on the posts on Marian and Wendy’s sites, which I aim to rectify soon.

Just to finish this little update, I’ve also just been appointed Company Secretary to the Rare Breeds Trust of Australia, where I look forward to using my years of higher ed advocacy and activism to step up my advocacy for sustainable and ethical farming and consumption practices.

Thank you, 2011, for the glorious life-changing opportunities, and here’s looking towards 2012 for even brighter (and bigger) horizons!