Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Ethical Eating Hurts My Head.

I'm really keen to go and see the new film Food, Inc; but I'm scared.

Already, ethical eating creates a bit of a death match challenge for me. It's a juggle between the environment, our health, and the budget, and when one wins, another usually loses.

For example, a can of organic tomatoes is pretty cheap these days: (win: BUDGET and HEALTH) but they are bottled in Italy (lose: ENVIRONMENT.) Etc, etc, etc....

I try and really limit our processed food. I bake our bread and cook from scratch most of the time. I'd like to make more: the muesli, the mayo, the jam, the pasta... but it doesn't happen enough. I dream of a kitchen garden like Jamie's:


...but growing our own is not an option yet. Apart from the small detail of being a crap gardener, by the end of the day I am happy to have kept the family alive and watered, let alone the vegies too.

We're not vegetarians (lose: ENVIRONMENT), and increasingly I struggle to buy meat that I feel OK about. I worry about factory farming, but organic meat is usually really expensive. So we eat free-range chicken, and when we eat red meat, it's usually lamb (which is more likely to be pasture- raised, I've been told.) Sometimes I buy hormone-free,pasture-fed happy-lamb from a nearby butcher who also stocks preservative-free bacon (win: HEALTH, lose: BUDGET.) Really, I'd like to buy a deep-freeze and purchase half a happy-lamb at a time, but Keith's not keen because of the energy cost of running another big appliance (win: HEALTH, lose: ENVIRONMENT.)

We often get a weekly box of veges from the organic co-op (win: HEALTH), grown ata local community farm (win: ENVIRONMENT) but it is expensive (lose: BUDGET) and the quality isn't that great. I've tried the fruit box (win: HEALTH, lose: BUDGET) ) but I'm not sure how to feed a family of four on seven grapes and half a pomegranate. Plus sometimes I can't be arsed putting together something witty with daikon radish and kale. I just want to watch Masterchef and eat a rissole, dammit! There's a local fruit and veg that is fantastic and so cheap (win: BUDGET, ) but the veges are conventionally grown (lose: ENVIRONMENT and HEALTH.) I feel really worried about pesticides and other interference with our food.

Can you even imagine what future research may discover we are doing to our physiology with the amount of pesticides, chemical-enhancers and GMO technologies used to make our food visually appealing, long-lasting and full o' flavour (TM)? It's only over the last two or so generations that it has become so normal, in the West, for us to eat so much processed, modified and out-of-season food. I hate to put on my crazy hat (it's made of foil and it has flaps) but asthma? autism? peanut allergies? ...could it be...?

Recently, Mamamia printed a useful list of 12 top and 15 worst pesticide-affected vegetables - a good one to print and clip for the wallet, I think, when judging purchases and planning menus.

Chocolate's another one. Personally, I count it as a food group, but can I enjoy it any more? No. It's only bloody grown using child slave labour. There is, luckily, a Fair Trade line from Cadbury that's stocked in the big supermarkets.

Sometimes a little information is a dangerous thing. Looking at a trolley next to me stocked with potato chips and processed cheese, obviously the groceries of a woman without a raised food consciousness, I feel the little voice inside me whisper. It's not judging though. No, it's saying 'Oh, you lucky cow.'


  1. I've seen Food Inc and while it will make you cry and doubt every single bit of food you're eating, I'd tell everyone to watch it.

    I've not bought chicken since I watched it, and we're moving towards having all the chicken we eat come from our own chooks. Plus, I know our lamb and beef is grass fed (win!) and so that eases my mind a little.

    It's hard though, the budget has to come first by neccesity here and that makes me sometimes close my eyes and make worse choices than I should.

    Oh! And vege gardens? Once they're in, they're really not that much work. I mostly ignore mine, I spend an hour or so on a weekend making sure the mulch is still evenly spread (bloody chooks) and that is that. It gets watered, oh, once a fortnight at the moment? I use a soaker hose and turn it on for 2-3 minutes and that's it. Mulch helps, we're using straw from the farm next door as mulch, he was nice enough to give us a giant bale that the critters wouldn't eat.

  2. I couldn't agree more. We are only just getting into growing vegies again and getting chooks again after a couple of years off. We often will buy half a lamb and freeze it as its cheaper and we know where the lamb comes from ( next town west of here) but it is so hard. We don't really buy any processed food and if we do we buy organic where we can... we spend a ridiculous amount of money each week on food but as we are both into it so much we kind of figure, well why else do we work?
    I am undecided if I will see it or not.... I agree about the environmental stuff and do consider food miles too - I focus on trying to buy local, we can accessa lot wholesale through chefs work and that does help but its really hard....

  3. ME TOO! It is a constant tug-o-war in my head. Going to the supermarket is like negotiating a minefield. And yet, I think even doing a little good - for the family and/or the planet - is a very good thing. Great post.

  4. I've been meaning to write this post for a while. (Thanks, Rachael, for saving me the effort.) We saw Food Inc a few months back (which precipitated our chook adventure) and have since purchased a "loaner copy" to foist on unenlightened friends, neighbors, and the occasional census worker. Seriously? Changed our lives. Big time.

  5. I've seen it but, only recently as I knew it would flame the fire of my disgust with large food production companies. It was a lot of stuff I already knew but still...
    We eat eggs from our own chooks and grow a small veg garden. Buy organic as much as we are able and try not to buy much processed foods. We are fortunate to live in an area where there are so many local organic farms and have access to good meat but, it is more expensive to be sure. We just try to do our best with what resources and money we have. I also try to buy in larger amounts when things are in season (it is more cost effective in the long run) and can veg and fruit for the winter. We haven't bought a jar of jam in years. We then try to trade with other friends who can their own for some variety. It is a lot of work but quite worth it.

  6. We will probably see it too, but after watching it and reading Eating Animals by Jon Safran Foer, I doubt I will eat anything ever again. I've been veg and feeding Rubes veg for most of her life, but we are talking about eating a little organic free-range stuff (I think it's natural and delicious for people to eat meat, but I don't agree with farming practices. And even when I ate meat I rarely ate red meat as I just don't like it) - we are lucky to have two very, very good and ethical butchers near us - the benefits of living in a hippy town and our next door neighbours provide us with more eggs than we can use - as a thanks for letting their chooks come and forage in our yard too! I hadn't seen that post from mamamia (she's ace, isn't she?) but it's a good one - thanks for sharing.

  7. Ahh, I love a woman who tackles the hard stuff with humour. Doesn't the whole thing just make your brain explode? I've been trying to navigate around similar issues, and kinda-sorta-keen to see Food Inc (with barf bucket in hand, of course).

    I've gone for buying less meat products and getting them organic, but my local seasonal fruit box is traditionally (read chemically) farmed. I guess the animal stuff was freaking me out more than the plant stuff in terms of sustainability issues (not to mention health, but we're all doing ok in that department in this country). That was my concession to budget too - I also struggle with the teensy weensy organic fruit boxes on offer for $$$$. So we eat conventional fruit and veg in order to splurge on fair-trade chocolate, coffee and happy meat!

    Oh I'm hoping to start with the bread-making, because alongside other things it sounds very therapeutic and like I could at least pretend to be an earth mother for five seconds a day :)

  8. Dearest Rach, Rach of the most richly tasty (not to mention ethically sound) brown-rice and lentil dahl curry I have ever eaten,

    I too am here to challenge the idea that growing your own isn't an option (and to point out that Jamie's is not the garden to be aspiring to). And to brag about my garden.

    A couple of years ago I had my own epiphany about the State of the World and the Way That We Live and we moved from an apartment to a house and stopped using a heater and weeded a bed by the washing line for a vegie patch.

    Knowing next to nothing about it, I joined the Diggers Club, ordered and planted some seeds and siphoned bathtub water from the upstairs bathroom (for about two weeks in June, 2007.) Then I got more interested in my choir, the P&C, myofascial therapies, and The West Wing (when not at work).

    In short, the vege patch was neglected (I have watered it maybe three times in as many years since those first weeks), and I can assure you that the mostly shaded, sandy soiled area also no favour to the ambitious things I put in.

    And yet....

    Three years on, the fruits (and greens!) of my unforgivable slatterny are so forgiving neglect and include oceans of self-seeding flat leaf parsley, rosemary and oregano in weed-proportions, the odd asparagus spear, a third year of "annual" Alpine strawberries, sweet potato leaves (only source of vege iodine besides seaweed), many cherry tomatoes, one glorious chocolate capsicum, and all kinds of upstart potatoes.

    Along the way we've had two years of Tuscan Kale, a handful of green beans, soy pods and snow peas, rocket, Silverbeet, baby corn, and a single, majestic, creamy, (but insect ridden) cauliflower.

    It isn't the harvest I'd have planned, and doesn't go far to soothing the savage beast, but combines quite well with pantry staples. It's a real sense of satisfaction to return from, say, a week away, to a cupboard that's bare, and to be able to toss some plain pantry staple (rice, tinned bean mix) with whatever's edible from the garden (parsley, tomatoes - hey - that would be tabouli, right?) and feed one's kinder like the earth mother I have delusions of being.

    And I was much amused to watch the kids eat stuff straight off the plant, stuff I *knew* their preschool friends wouldn't touch with a barge pole - just for the novelty of it all.

    (For months I was cursing the local possums, but it turned out to be Rohan's three-year-old teeth marks on the decimated rocket).

    I can only, so very strongly, concur with the others who have commented here, in encouraging you to plant something edible, anything at all (or even better, a few different anything-at-alls), and to neglect them obscenely and to regard the inevitable bounty that our climate will produce of it as a happy accident, just as a small, persistent, corner-of-the-garden reminder that you could if you wanted to.

    Much love, Sush xoxo


Thanks for talking to me. I don't got cooties. Oh, except for when I got cooties.