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!

A Happy Day at Polyface Farms

Polyface. It’s a name that initially sounded a bit wrong to me – I’m thinking ‘two-faced’ here – but one that we hold in our non-Cartesian selves as ‘Mecca: √’.

It really starts in the beautiful historic downtown of Staunton, Virginia, where a couple of organically-minded cafes and grocers stock Polyface produce. We went into Cranberry’s Grocery and not only secured some luscious Polyface bacon and a big, tender skirt steak, but also organic, unhomogenised milk in a returnable glass bottle and a hunk of raw milk cheese from a local dairy. Raw milk and its products are regulated by state in the US, and the movement seems to be gaining more traction all the time.

How I'd love to see this on our shop shelves in Victoria!

The next morning after a farmer’s brekky of bacon, eggs and day-old sourdough, we drove down locals-only side roads to get to Polyface, which is just a bit southwest of Staunton. As we passed a couple of poultry CAFOs I reflected on what it must have been like for Joel Salatin, the ethical, sustainable pioneer of the region, in his early years as a ‘lunatic farmer’.

Poultry CAFO not far from Polyface

Then I got distracted by how beautiful every single piece of land is there, and how much water there is, and how fertile it is… [NB 20 years in Victoria, Australia has given me a slight drought-twitch].

wildflowers everywhere

And then we were there. We were actually there! But would it live up to our expectations? After all, Joel Salatin is the man who convinced us (from a stage, unawares) that our dream to move to the bush needn’t only be a self-sufficiency opt-out, but one that could help us be part of changes to the food system through contributions as primary producers, and the capacity to earn (some of) a living while doing that.

Stuart has read many of Joel’s books, whereas I, mid-PhD, have only skimmed. As we walked around the property he captioned my view, which was an excellent substitute for a personal tour by Joel, which is currently not an option (I think largely do to over-popularity and his need to farm!). But Polyface has an open-door policy – anyone can come onto the property and wander around to see how they do things – and the farm shop is open Mon-Sat 9-12 (and into the afternoon on Saturday).

We wandered in, unsure of where to start, as the many structures have a similar aspect of charming rural decay – Stuart reminded me of Joel’s credo that a farm that’s too tidy is probably not profitable. Judging by what we saw, the Salatins must be doing okay. 🙂

The first hoop house had rabbits and chickens working together to create fertile soil for planting while fattening up for the table.

Rabbits & chickens eating, pooing & growing

Next we found one of the many barns with the cows’ feeding system on pulleys next to stacks of hay. They winter the cows here, throwing layers of mulch in with the cow manure and sprinkles of corn occasionally. In spring, the cows head out and the pigs come in to turn it all, making a rich compost for crops. Talk about harnessing the power of your livestock.

Cow-feeding system on pulleys

We found some of the pigs in one of them doing their job, or perhaps taking a little break from it…

Nearby we found a couple of sows with their new litters – they farrow in large pens with plenty of nesting material (hay), which not only creates a warm, cosy environment for the new piglets, but makes them less susceptible to crushing by careless new mamas, as was explained to us by one of the former Polyface interns.

Next up, a stroll out into the paddocks to see the meat birds – turkeys and chickens. The young turkeys were contained with mobile electric fencing, and the chickens in ‘tractors’ that are moved regularly to fresh grass. As with any such system (we’ve had the same in our suburban backyards for over a decade), the chooks eat bugs, and weeds and fertilise the soil while getting much of the omega-rich grass into them that gives free range eggs their distinctive deep orange yolks.

Turkeys in the verdant pastures of Virginia
Chook tractors

I loved the ‘eggmobiles’ in the middle of the fields with their noisy, happy layers in and around. It’s a clever system, and one we look forward to implementing on Jonai Farm.

'Eggmobile'

Eggmobile interior

Another highlight was seeing the pigs out in the forest, where as with pasture pigs, they’re rotated regularly. These are very happy pigs, let me tell you, which certainly explains that delicious bacon.

Happy as pigs in a forest 🙂

In one of the structures we found the farm cook – he’s here for four months a year to feed all the hard workers a hearty dinner, usually 24 or 25 people a night. That day he was cold smoking some bacon on the mobile smoker, a huge contraption he told he us he also cooks whole pigs on. Yet another good design for us to implement in Eganstown…

Mobile smoker

We did get to meet Joel briefly, having seen him zooming around in his famous hat on an ATV directing the farm’s many activities earlier. I told him ‘hello’ from Alla at the Lakehouse and that she’d said, ‘may your carrots grow straight’, which is one of Joel’s blessings. He offered his blessings back to her and the Daylesford community, and smiled to hear his influence on us. I gather he hears that a lot actually, as he handles fans like us with affable humility.

The Jonai with Joel Salatin 🙂

We bought each of the kids a Polyface t-shirt (we rarely capitulate to such requests, but this was Polyface!) about the ‘pigness of the pig’ and being ‘future lunatic farmers’.

Mid-tour, we headed back to the RockVan for a quick sandwich of Polyface ham, raw milk cheese and lettuce from Nate & Lizzie’s neighbour in Front Royal they’d given us as a parting gift. After the overwhelming amount of industrial, processed food we’ve seen (and eaten) on this trip, it was a very homely and grounding meal.

Lunatic ham & cheese sandwich

As we approached the farm shop for a few more delectables, we found a crew of local farmers and Polyface interns just finishing the morning’s chicken butchering – 360 birds that day. Unlike so many kids (and adults) who can’t bear to think of where their food comes from, Atticus immediately asked if we could have chicken for dinner.

We bought one of the ‘Freedom Rangers’ already cut up, as I don’t have my cleavers with me, and enjoyed a spectacular dinner of fried chicken up high in the Blue Ridge Mountains.

Joel’s philosophy that ‘food production should be aromatically and aesthetically pleasing’ is certainly evident at Polyface. Another bit of wisdom came from Atticus after we visited the pigs in the forest, when he remarked, ‘Farms are about two things: food and fun.’ So long as we keep framing plenty of hard work as fun, I think we may indeed be raising our own ‘future lunatic farmer’.

No Need for New: Some principles for reducing consumption

As I read through our primary school’s newsletter the other day, I had the annual moment of excitement over the Smith Street Xmas appeal – ‘Yay! We can contribute!’ And then I had the annual moment of deflation when I read that all donations must be new. ‘Why?’ I moaned at my secondhand computer monitor, as I pictured the box of toys and clothes in perfectly good condition but no longer of interest to my children, sitting in the shed waiting for a trip to the Salvo’s.

I decided to check my response with the twitterz, expecting replies of ‘don’t poor people deserve new stuff?’ And the twitterz didn’t disappoint, but mercifully a number of the likely suspects joined a thoughtful discussion about the issues – consumerism, the lived experience of poverty and being ‘marked’ by secondhand goods, the practicalities of sorting through secondhand donations, the pleasures of the handmade gift, and questions of sustainability.

Why do people think we have a right to new things? Why do people make others feel bad if they don’t buy new things? I’m not such an ascetic as to suggest there’s no place for wanting something that is new to you, nor that in some cases new will simply make better sense than secondhand, whether for reasons of efficiency, practicality or some desired aesthetic. But having ‘new’ as your default position is, quite simply, wrong.

Logical fallacy #1: New Things Will Make Us Happy

It worries me that people think any of us ‘need’ or ‘deserve’ new stuff. In a civil society, you have a right to a roof over your head, access to clean water and nutritious food, good health and to be treated equally and fairly, and not much else.

There is clear research that shows that buying or having new (or more) things does not make us happy beyond an initial rush. In fact, the research indicates that the more affluent a society becomes, the less happy it is. Increasingly, we are being encouraged to spend our disposable income on experiences rather than things, as we work out that identities need grounding in memory, belonging and discovery, not the shirt on our back. I would add to this wisdom that many experiences cost nothing.

Logical fallacy #2: New Things Are ‘Nicer’ Than Secondhand

An unwanted gift on its way to the donation bin

So many new things are simply bright, cheap plastic – things that caused unhappiness in those who worked to make them, those who worked to deliver them, and those who must work to dispose of them. These things cause little more than a flash of ‘oh! Bright and shiny!’ in the children/adults who receive them, followed by the pallid realisation of how little joy can actually be found in such superficial ‘small pleasures’. These items fail the hedonistic principle at every stage – one should seek pleasure, but your pleasure should not be at the expense of another’s.

Obviously there are lovely things that are new. Handmade gifts can be a great pleasure for the maker, giver (who may or may not be the maker) and the recipient. Good quality items with an ethical production and distribution history can ensure you are comfortably and fashionably clothed, or perhaps using durable and effective cookware without breaching the pleasure principle for anyone (though many such things can also be found secondhand, obviously).

Bookshelf bought at auction, filled with old books inherited & bought.

We all have certain things we prefer to buy new – for me it’s shoes, which I buy very seldom, but always new. And who wouldn’t love to receive a brand new barbecue after two decades of the uneven heat and rust of hard rubbish versions? Last year we asked Stuart’s folks to withhold our birthday presents for the year and pile them into a Xmas present so we could cook entire meals outside for the next 30 years with fantastic results. We took years to decide a new one was a defensible choice and have not regretted it.

The pleasures of well-made old things.

Yet nearly all of the most treasured items in our house came to us secondhand. Bookshelves are a great example – some bought at auctions and some on eBay, some found in the hard rubbish – why would you buy shelves new? Our old hand beater is one of my favourite kitchen implements – my mother-in-law bought a new one a few years back and ended up vastly preferring a secondhand one we gave her. When our 50-year-old fridge didn’t survive our last move, eBay came through with an excellent secondhand one. I know loads of people who buy secondhand books, so what’s with the stigma on kids’ toys? If they’re in good condition, why not choose them over new, both for your own children and to give to charity? And nearly all the clothes I buy the children are from Savers.

Logical fallacy #3: Giving Secondhand Items to Charity is Patronising

Why would this be an unacceptable gift?

Some folks on Twitter suggested it was patronising to insist we give secondhand items to charity, arguing that ‘poor people deserve nice things too’. See Logical fallacy #s 1 & 2 for my response. However, obviously there are resonances of the First World having a First Class Freakout of What Happens when the Developing World catches up on Over-Consumption. Of course that would be patronising if it was my point, but what I’m suggesting is far more radical.

We all need to make secondhand our default position rather than seeing it as a deficit model. In fact, the default position should really be ‘why buy anything at all’, so that purchases are in fact only made when truly necessary or when one really desires to give a gift (birthdays being the most obvious example), and secondhand (or homemade) should be our first thought. New stuff should be a last resort for many consumables. How much waste could we avoid if we actually put a lot of thought into gifts, rather than marching into shopping centres like automatons who believe we might insult someone by giving them something that already has a history?

Imagine

Now imagine that those who can afford new things regularly make the choice to buy secondhand. Suddenly those who can’t afford new things don’t stand out for buying old stuff, and nobody has to feel bad about giving a secondhand gift. Of course any gift you give should be clean and not broken, as should any donation to charity (though there’s another post in what some consider irreparable and others will resurrect – our society is so de-skilled and accustomed to planned obsolescence it’s shameful the things we throw out).

When I was interviewed for the Salvo’s Buy Nothing New Month article that ran in Woman’s Day in September, I was asked how much money we save by choosing secondhand over new, and my immediate response was that we don’t think of it as saving, we think those who shop for leisure or choose new over secondhand are wasting money. We need to reverse our thinking – instead of a world where refraining from shopping is some kind of hardship, we’d all be better off if we saw shopping as the hardship – something we occasionally just have to do when we’d rather be gardening. In terms of both social and environmental sustainability, it’s the right thing to do.

The 18th International Ethnological Food Research Conference

This week in Finland has been a stimulating blur of presentations and conversations about food, punctuated daily with doses of pickled herring. The 18th International Ethnological Food Research Conference was hailed by all as a great success, bringing together international scholars from a variety of disciplines to consider the historical, cultural, sociological, nutritional, political and ethical issues around the production, preparation and consumption of food. As well as many excellent papers, the conference had a thoughtful social program of dinners and outings, offering us all more opportunities for meeting and developing new friendships and possible collaborations.

Some highlights from the papers, in chronological order as I heard them:

  • Johanna Mäkelä of the National Consumer Research Centre in Finland gave a detailed overview of ‘The Making of Finnish Food Culture’, highlighting competing discourses of Finnish food culture, such as: ‘it’s rich and multidimensional’, ‘there is no food culture in Finland’, ‘healthiness’, and ‘food as a central part of culture’. Such discourses exist in all nations and indeed many regions or even cities, of course. Johanna’s comments that almost 20% of the Finnish people consider pizza to be one of Finland’s national dishes resonated with Australia’s cultural borrowings as I wrote about in New Matilda earlier this year.
  • Nancy Yan of Ohio State University spoke about questions around ‘authenticity’ in the Chinese American context, asserting that authenticity can either disempower or empower, that it is ‘pervasive but limiting’ and that rather than dismantle the concept, perhaps we need to reframe it. She argued a case for ‘multiple authenticities’, and raised the particularly interesting question – ‘why does location determine authenticity?’ That is, why can’t a dish such as chop suey, invented outside of China, stake a claim to being an authentic Chinese dish? I would probably answer that its stake is in Chinese American cuisine, but that arguably the most pressing question is why is it important to the producers and consumers of chop suey that it have any claim to authenticity in the first place?
  • Eldbjørg Fossgard of the University of Bergen in Norway offered a history of the ‘Cultural and Symbolic Aspects of Everyday Meals in 19th & 20th C Norway’, which sketched out the shift from practices of children eating alone in the kitchen to moving to the family table over time. The changing values around raising children and the importance of role modelling as the nuclear family became more important than extended family models led to discourses of teaching children manners, hygiene and healthy eating habits. This talk resonated with me as I had received an email from my 10 year old Oscar that morning responding to an email I’d sent lauding the virtues of pickled herring for breakfast, in which he wrote: ‘The brekky didn’t sound that good but when you said it was delicious I wanted some.’
  • Ken Albala of the University of the Pacific followed up with a discourse analysis of what food scholars are saying about the perceived decline in the family meal and its social impact. He ultimately concluded that very few in his survey seemed overtly concerned that the declining importance of the family meal signals social decay. Those most likely to be concerned about such changes were in countries where traditions are changing rapidly, whereas those in countries where agro-industry is a fait accompli were very unlikely to note concerns.
  • Christian Coff from the University College Sealand in Denmark gave an excellent presentation on ‘Food Ethics in Everyday Food Consumption’. Christian kindly gave me the copy he’d brought of his book ‘The Taste for Ethics: An Ethic of Food Consumption’, which I’ll write about here on the blog after I read it. Some of his most interesting points included:
    • Ethical traceability – the story of the food should be traceable (in the EU traceability is law, but stops at the retailer – there is no compulsion to pass the information on to the consumer).
    • There are many philosophical schools of thought on ethics, but some of the most compelling perhaps include Honnerth’s notion of ‘consciousness of injustice’ – thinking about ethics in terms of relationships. Food is a relationship, originating from nature and undergoing a transformation from the natural to the cultural.
    • ‘The vision of the good life with and for others in fair food production and consumption practices’ – that is, you cannot enjoy the good life ethically if in order for you to do so you must support or cause some injustice to others.
    • He suggested that the main areas in food ethics include: food security, food safety, nutritional values and production history, and posed the question ‘what about taste?’ – what is its role in considering food ethics?
    • As for food ethics in everyday life, we can consider them at common meals, while shopping and cooking, and via catering outlets (everything from restaurants to hospital canteens).
    • Christian offers a model via the semiotic perspective, where there is the food with its values and qualities as related to two different interpreters, in this case producers and consumers (or suppliers and receivers) – and in between them is the food sign, or the trace, in which case nothing may be signified. The point at which the food is signified or merely leaves a trace is of major significance – how can a consumer have an ethical relationship to his or her food if it is untraceable – the mode of production completely invisible? When the mode of production is invisible, we are left ‘eating secrets’. Agro-industry often has a strong investment in maintaining this opacity – it is not in the interest of a massive pig factory farm (as reported here on boing boing) to show the consumer the horror of the conditions these animals suffer, or they are likely to make different choices. Joel Salatin advocates for making farmers transparent and accountable, as I summarised after hearing him a few months ago.
  • Hanne Pico Larsen from Columbia Univeristy & Susanne Österlund-Pötzsch from Åbo Akademi University in Turku, where the conference was held, gave a very interesting presentation on Marcus Samuelsson, the chef until recently at New York’s Aquavit restaurant, who uses the notion of Ubunto, a word from Zulu loosely translatable as ‘I am what I am because of who we all are’ in his cooking. Samuelsson is ‘multi-ethnic’, being African Swedish now cooking and writing in the United States – and Hanne and Susanne refer to the notion of ‘American plus’ – where there are advantages of being American with a sort of ‘bonus’ non-white ethnicity. They extend the idea, suggesting that ethnic identity in Samuelsson’s work is playful, and that he draws on what they call ‘playful nostalgia’ to make old traditions appealing, also developing a creative hybridity, such as a ‘sushi’ made from pickled herring on a rolled bit of mashed potato. Ultimately, they argued, ubunto enables one to keep multiple and flexible ethnicities.
  • My paper followed directly after Hanne and Susanne, which was timely as I was talking about the importance of maintaining distinctive vernacular foodways in order to have cosmopolitan societies. That is, if one never encounters difference – if hybridity is the new homogeneity – then society stops being challenged by difference and seeking greater openness to and engagement with the Other. I talked about how ‘creative substitutions’ are an essential aspect of successful tactics by migrants at settling homely identities in new lands, but that distinctive traditions and dishes should be respected and to an extent preserved in order to maintain real difference. I also pointed out the inherent ‘dangers’ in insisting on ‘authenticity’ – particularly the dangers of essentialism – but also to the opportunities and affordances for the cosmopolitan project.
  • Déirdre D’Auria from University College Dublin offered a fascinating insight into the historical rise of Italian food as everyday food in Ireland. Interestingly, there is only a very small migrant population of Italians in Ireland, but the many Catholic crossings of the Irish to Rome from 1950 may have been a key factor in the rise of popularity of Italian food. It is a topic worth following further given what I’ve learned in Vietnam, which also has Italian as the fastest growing non-Vietnamese food sector in the country, without a concomitant migrant population to explain its popularity.
  • Håkan Jönsson of Lund University in Sweden gave a very interesting presentation on the ethical aspects of commercialising ethnological research. Pointing to the growing interest in food culture from both consumers and producers, and the nature of glocalisation giving places new values, Håkan believes there is a growing imperative and opportunity for trained ethnologists to provide expertise, in particular to the producers. He warns that as a researcher working for commercial aims, you may end up ‘being an alibi for a traditional line extension product’, and proposes that we should be preparing students for these challenges. Lund University now offers a Master of Applied Cultural Analysis that seeks to provide its students with precisely these research and commercial skills. In the discussion that ensued, Christian Coff pointed out that in fact researchers in this case may end up as ‘tools for the exercise of power’, and I expressed concern that such research training must include ethical training – that surely it is central to scholarship to ensure we are working for the global public good, and not ending up as ‘alibis’.
  • Maria Frostling-Henningsson from Stockholm University in Sweden gave a fascinating paper about her recently concluded research project into ‘Consumer Strategies for Coping with Dilemmas Concerning the Meal and Eating Habits’. The project was particularly interested in examining the gap between intentions and practice, and how people cope with significant gaps. They found that those with children and teenagers were most likely to have a significant gap, whereas empty nesters were much less likely. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the most common strategy was a ‘justification of non-choices’ – a ‘passive’ strategy that lays responsibility more at the feet of society rather than taking individual responsibility. I was reminded strongly of my post on good cooking and finding time, and my own coping strategies when practice doesn’t measure up to intentions. Two of Maria’s methodologies interested me enormously, one called ZMET, where subjects are asked to choose pictorial representations of their attitudes about food, and another where they asked subjects to write poems about their attitudes. Both seemed very creative ways to engage subjects in multi-faceted ways rather than just straight interviews and observation. In the subsequent question period, Christian again brought a useful philosophical lens when he pointed out that in asking subjects about their intentions and practices, it depends on whether you are asking and answering as a citizen (global good) or as a consumer (individual desires and habits).

There were many other papers worthy of discussion, but I couldn’t go to all of them (we had three parallel sessions each time) and I have here highlighted those I went to that were of most relevance to my own project and interests. The days were incredibly fruitful, the participants wonderfully diverse in discipline, nationality and in fact, age (ranging from late 20s to 93 years old!), leading to many surprising and fascinating discussions. I really hope to be able to attend the 19th IEFRC in 2012 at Lund University, and then to convince them to let the conference move outside of Scandinavia to attract even more scholars from other regions.

Do you eat chicken? Could you kill one?

The recent story from the UK about the teacher who was pressured by parents to resign after slaughtering the school’s farm lamb because their children were ‘traumatised’ provoked exactly the outrage you probably expect from me on this topic. The same week, Jamie Oliver spoke of the importance of teaching children where their food comes from, focusing primarily on health rather than culture, sustainability and competence.

So here’s the story of the Jonai family raising chooks for eggs, and slaughtering and eating them when they stop laying.

A little background: we’ve had chooks since about 1997, primarily for the eggs, but also because of their contribution to a healthy garden system – they dig, eat insects and weeds, and fertilise extremely well. We move them around the garden, planting out the spot they vacate to great effect. Our system is based on the principles of permaculture, though we are fairly unorthodox in most of our gardening efforts. The one aspect of permaculture to which we are totally committed is to maintain a closed cycle – no organic waste leaves our property, which is an average sized suburban block in Melbourne.

The first few years we had chooks, we lost them occasionally to foxes or disease, and continually replenished the flock with new pullets. Then came the year Antigone brought home nine chicks that her kinder had hatched – our first time raising them from so young. Of course, probability being what it is, we ended up with a few roosters, which you’re not allowed to keep in the suburbs. The dilemma of what to do with them had an obvious, if not easy, solution – we would have to slaughter and eat them. Neither of us had ever killed our own meat, though we’d always said we should be willing to do so if we were going to be meat eaters. At last, here was our chance to practice what we preached.

The first time was definitely the hardest, but each time since has not actually been a great deal easier, insofar as it’s difficult to take a life. Roosters are truly magnificent creatures, and it seems a shame to cull them so young and glorious. But of course, all those carefully wrapped breasts and thighs in the supermarket were once lovely young (mistreated, usually) creatures, and they’re tastiest while they’re still young.

Stuart slaughters them by laying the chooks gently on a chopping block, patting their head all the while so they remain very calm and content. And then quickly, down comes the cleaver, the chook is beheaded, Stuart holds its wings so the nervous system’s reaction doesn’t result in that awful sight of a headless chook running around the yard, and then the bird is hung from the monkey bars to drain the blood.

We’ve experimented with both plucking and skinning, and unlike the intrepid Zoe’s preference, we prefer plucking so that we still have the luscious fatty skin on, which is especially important if you’re roasting a younger bird. But even with boilers, we pluck as neither of us really likes the sensation of skinning a still-warm animal.

We both find the eviscerating quite unpleasant, especially if we’re trying to keep a whole bird to roast, which requires that someone reach inside and pull the guts out – it’s rather blech. With the boilers, we cheat and cut them open at the breastbone with sharp Chinese scissors and then sort of scoop the organs out. The kids are fascinated by sorting the organs and feet on a piece of cardboard, and we either save those bits to feed to the neighbour’s dog or compost them, though we have eaten the livers from some of the roosters.

With the young roosters, I make roast chicken, chicken arrabiata and other such tasty dinners, but the old girls aren’t called boilers for nothing. And so Australia Day 2010 was our first experience of culling non-layers and making the most of them. We explained the plan to the children, who were initially a bit sad that we were going to kill the chooks, but after we reiterated the rationale for keeping, slaughtering and eating our own animals, with details they’ve heard before about the horrors of factory farming, they were back on board with the project. They feel sad about killing the chooks – I do too – but I think it’s irresponsible for omnivores to use that sadness as a justification for not exposing children (and ourselves) to the realities of what’s behind meat eating. I really think only vegans have a reasonable position from which to oppose exposure to animal slaughter.

The killing went as usual, and this time Atticus was game to help me pluck them, which made a mother proud. 🙂 The evisceration was interesting as we’d never seen the eggs inside a chook before. Zoe’s got great photos, but you can see in mine that there were some large and small – we worked out that one of the chooks was in fact still laying once or twice a week but had set up a secret nest in a little-seen corner. We were a bit sad about this discovery, but figured she would have stopped completely like the other two soon enough.

Three chooks filled my biggest stock pot, and after simmering for about six hours, we had a deeply flavoursome 18 litres of clear stock. I pulled all the meat off and finely minced some, mixed it with prosciutto, ricotta and reggiano, and the kids and I made masses of tortellini for that night’s dinner & to freeze. The resulting feast included tortellini en brodo, and a tomato and bread salad made with a variety of cherry tomatoes and cucumbers from the garden and the stale remnants of my last loaf of homemade sourdough, dressed in olive oil pressed from last year’s harvest with the Binks. For starters we enjoyed that day’s fresh loaf of sourdough with Stuart’s olives and a tapenade. The sense of homely virtue and connection to the natural world as we enjoyed this dinner was profound, and I reflected on the fact that it’s only fairly recently in our history that we’ve lost these daily rhythms, skills and ensuing satisfaction.

Our society will almost certainly never go back to the majority of us raising our own meat. However, probably more of us than realise could do the sort of small scale livestock raising that we have in our backyard, and growers could certainly go back to or redevelop sustainable models of production, such as if egg producers were to slaughter unwanted roosters and sell them for the meat, and then sell the old non-layers as boilers, as well as the obvious need to raise chickens (and pigs) in free range environments. In the meanwhile, it’s a very simple decision to refuse to buy factory farmed meat of any type, which gives producers the message that these systems will no longer be tolerated by the public.

As for squeamishness about the killing of animals, and especially about children witnessing or taking part in the slaughtering and butchering processes, it’s obvious we have this backwards. In the UK case where children witnessed the slaughtering of the lamb, some parents actually claimed their children would need therapy to overcome the trauma. I would argue the high rates of people seeking therapy is rather about not witnessing the food chain, it’s about our lost connections – to the land, its plants and animals, to each other, and to the past. People who are engaged each day in creating things for their basic needs – by gardening, raising and slaughtering animals, cooking, building, repairing and maintaining a home and its contents – by and large enjoy a strong sense of competence, sometimes mastery. (My interviews to date support this claim across class, culture and generational differences.)

And it’s not just a sense of competence that is gained by working for your food in this way. The respect engendered by having to face your dinner and take its life in order to sustain yours cannot be overestimated. Again, my research around frugality has certainly highlighted the strong drive to waste nothing that arises from both a fear of scarcity but also a true understanding of the value of what you’ve got. And of course my own experience has been precisely that. Understanding and respecting our food sources is a great motivator to reduce our consumption – especially of the high impact foods like most meats.

Yet we’ve drifted so far from this basic principle of living thoughtfully in the world that too many people think it’s reasonable to insist that they should not be exposed to the realities of food production. It is indeed sad to kill animals. But the majority of us choose to eat them, and to eat them we must kill them, and so we must learn to do so in the most humane and sustainable manner. If every omnivore killed a chook even once in their lives, we might not be facing the serious ethical and environmental issues we have today as a result of overconsumption, and we might not be suffering the sense of disconnection and isolation that is the real trauma in our society.

Bring back competence and mastery in the everyday.

(This post is a part of Fight Back Friday @ Food Renegade)

The University of Melbourne’s Response to my Resignation from Council

I only just discovered this on Crikey from the 10th of December – it’s Melbourne University’s response to my resignation from University Council (and paywalled, so full text below) – my responses are in italics:

Melbourne University:

Christina Buckridge, Corporate Affairs Manager, University of Melbourne writes: Re. “Why I resigned from the University of Melbourne Council” (yesterday, item 15) & “Leaked email: Teach for free? Melbourne uni councillor calls it quits” (Tuesday item 14).It is regrettable that Tammi Jonas has decided to resign from the University Council where, as member elected by graduate students, she could have raised concerns and had them thoroughly and sympathetically considered.

How disingenuous to suggest that the Melbourne Graduate Student Association (GSA, formerly UMPA) had not been lobbying on the issue of exploitation of casual labour for YEARS – well before my time as President and certainly during. You can read blog entries from that period here. And as an elected member of Council I had repeatedly raised these issues, as I did on just about every university committee before that. The response usually takes one of two forms: a) we don’t know what you’re talking about – our policies don’t allow such things or b) tutoring is all part of training, so of course it’s not going to be that well paid. See the uni’s response below for proof.

Ms Jonas is wrong in claiming that the Arts Faculty made a ‘strategic decision’ to stop paying postgraduates.

Have a look at this blog entry on what was going on in Arts in 2008. To my knowledge, it wasn’t official ‘policy’ to stop paying, but subject coordinators were told not to offer any paid positions guest lecturing, and passed it on to their postgrads, who expressed the quandary it put them in.

Dean of Arts Professor Mark Considine says it has never been suggested that graduate students should give lectures or tutorials for free. While Schools within the Faculty experiencing straitened circumstances might have cut back on the number of guest lectures, it is not the Faculty’s policy to ask people to give tutorials/lectures without payment. Postgraduate students are an important — and paid — part of the Faculty’s tutorial program which rolls on as usual.

Again, the company line simply doesn’t match the reality. See my earlier blog post with stories from real postgrads, some of whom had been asked and were giving guest lectures for free. Is the University suggesting these people are LYING?

Of course, some guest lecturers — retired honorary staff, for instance – may elect to present a lecture pro bono.

The email inviting Ms Jonas to take part in the Melbourne School of Graduate Research (MSGR) 2010 programs should not have been sent; no other postgraduate students have been invited by MSGR to teach into 2010 MSGR programs without payment. MSGR does not condone requiring postgraduate students to work without payment. However, some staff, and very rarely postgraduate students, may volunteer to take part in MSGR student enhancement programs but that is their decision alone — there is no compulsion.

My word. Compulsion is interesting, don’t you think? Of course nobody is strong-armed into working for free, but they’re not employed if they don’t work for too little, or in some cases, don’t agree/offer to guest lecture for free. And for those who believe that tutoring is important to developing their career as an academic, surely such exploitative practices amount to compulsion.

The University’s position is that if people are in employment, they are required to be paid in line with University policy.

Can somebody PLEASE pass that information on to the lecturers who are simply grateful when someone will teach for free since they will otherwise need to fund them out of their already limited grant money (if they even have any)?

Current rates for casual tutors at Melbourne are $104.84 ($125.37 with a PhD) an hour for the initial tutorial and $69.90 ($83.57 with a PhD) for repeat tutorials. These are standard for the industry and comparable to other countries. The hourly rate is way above average wages.

NB: $104.84 is for three hours work, not one – preparation, contemporaneous marking, student consultation & delivery. That is, it’s the same as the pay for marking at $34.94/hour, and some tutors are not paid for marking. Here’s the text from the University’s Personnel and Procedures Manual:

‘Tutorial’ means any education delivery described as a tutorial in a course or unit outline, or in an official timetable issued by the University. A casual staff member required to deliver or present a tutorial (or equivalent delivery through other than face to face teaching mode) of a specified duration and relatedly provide directly associated non contact duties in the nature of preparation, reasonably contemporaneous marking and student consultation

However it is important to note that postgraduate study is usually a full-time occupation and tutoring should not be used as a prime source of income.

And yet if you’re fortunate enough to have a scholarship, you’ll be living below the poverty line, and if not, you’ll certainly need to work, preferably in your field… a conundrum? I have heard sympathetic senior academics make the argument to pay tutors better to management: “We don’t want them to have to work in petrol stations, do we?”

In recent negotiations towards a new enterprise agreement, the University has agreed to increase the casual loading, ensure that all casual marking is paid at a separate marking rate (currently $34.94 per hour) and that casual academics have access to University facilities over semester breaks. The University is committed to improving conditions for casual staff during this round of bargaining.

This is good news, of course, though insufficient. What about paying casual academics when they continue to respond to students out of semester? Or attend student academic misconduct hearings? Or respond to online forums on the uni’s Learning Management System? Or attend meetings?

Also where there is evidence that a casual staff member, or any staff member for that matter, is not being paid in accordance with University policy or that there is a mismatch of expectations about the work they are required to do, the University acts to correct it.

It seems to me that the only action the University usually takes is to quickly deny there was ever a problem. If you believe their official responses, whether at Council, on committees, or in the media, academics (both casual and permanent) are just prone to whinging and are seriously misguided about the ‘reality of the situation’. How patronising, insulting and wrong. Until they stop denying there is a problem, what hope is there that conditions will improve? Analogies with national denialists abound here.

Food and Community at Church St Enoteca

Church St Enoteca
527 Church St, Richmond VIC
(03) 9428 7898

As I’ve claimed before, the Twitterverse runs on a gift economy, and so last week Stuart and I found ourselves the grateful and delighted guests of the charming Ron O’Bryan (@ronobryan) at Church St Enoteca, along with @myfoodtrail, @jetsettingjoyce, @mutemonkey and @cookingwithgoths. It was Ron’s last regional dinner of the year, the Tour of the Obscure, designed around six obscure Italian wines which were complimented by food from the region of the grapes.

I don’t carry a particularly good camera, and these days I rely on the iPhone almost entirely (which has a terrible camera), so if you want to see great photos, check out My Food Trail or MEL: Hot or Not. These lovely bloggers also gave a detailed description of our meal, which was delicious start to finish, so I won’t give such detail here. Highlights for me were definitely the Prosecco di Valdobbiadene upon arrival, the divine salad of prosciutto with shavings of raw artichoke and fennel, and broad beans, almond and lemon, and the rabbit, fennel and cotechino brodo with rabbit cappelletti. These two dishes were totally heavenly combinations, and fed my current obsessions with rabbit, filled pastas, and cotechino very nicely.

But now it’s time for me to digress, or rather return to what are really my central interests in our dinner at Church Street Enoteca…

First of all, a quick word about social media, food and community. I’ve never been a regular reader of any particular blogs, though I usually enjoy reading casually when I have the time. Predictably, most of the blogs I look at are food blogs, though I do love a dose of a good feminist or political blog. Since Twitter, however, I now follow many dozens (dare I say hundreds?) of food bloggers, food enthusiasts, chefs, and food scholars (yes, we’re a real category), as well as people representative of my other interests in social media, politics, and feminism. On Twitter I have very rapidly expanded my ‘communities of interest’, and have had opportunities to meet many of the people I follow, such as at Enoteca last week. I’ve followed Ron for awhile, and have really enjoyed his tweets about sourcing sustainable and ethical ingredients. We’ve even had a couple of exchanges over the questions of what people are looking for and will pay for when eating out, where I shared some of the findings from my own interviews. And so what a pleasure to then be invited to join the other bloggers to taste his delectable food, followed by a great discussion with him about his upcoming new venture in St Kilda, where he will be showcasing local, seasonal and where possible, organic and biodynamic foods.

Ron is clearly passionate about his cooking and the quality of his ingredients. This passion extends to the ways that food supports community, and his educational dinners that focus on regional cuisine see all sorts of people sitting side by side learning, tasting and conversing. Our dinner was served a la famiglia, with big share plates down the middle of the tables. As Ron said when he was introducing the meal, he served us family style in order to bring people together, and he even suggested that people would probably eat something they hadn’t tried before, which would give us more to talk about. Of course he was right, and our table was abuzz with conversation about what ingredients we were seeing and tasting, and comparing notes on flavour and texture. In fact, it was nearly midnight before we all left, a late hour we had chattered our way to without noticing.

So in terms of creating a congenial environment, Ron’s really nailed it at Church Street Enoteca, where quality ingredients are transformed into truly delicious regional Italian dishes, and interesting individuals connect to form rich and diverse communities.

Thanks, Ron! We look forward to checking out the new venture soon!