It is time to evaluate how we are travelling with some of our rules of the household. It is one thing to devise such things, and quite another to actually carry them out. We have found some easy, and we have compromised on others for a variety of reasons. Some, like achieving around 80% self sustainability in fruit and vegetables from our garden, is still a work in progress, especially as we are only just coming into spring now. But we will probably get there with this one, and we have plentiful green vegetables and root crops like sweet potato, Yukon and Jerusalem artichokes still available. Coupled with eggs from the household chickens, and the mountain of preserved citrus we have, we could conceivably feed ourselves a lean albeit monotonous meal once or twice daily.
The rule about purchasing food grown within 3 hours of where we live, with Fairtrade exceptions, has been challenging, though not outrageously so. We do continue to support our local farmers via our monthly markets & other local outlets. But we have found that we have persuaded to make some exceptions given the amount of produce we have grown. For example, we had a huge surfeit of citrus fruit. We squeezed it into juice, and decided to turn a lot of it into jam, cordial and marmalade. But that takes sugar. And we are not in the cane fields here in the mid north coast. Our original thought had been to replace sugar in our cooking with local honey. This is certainly possible for some things, but trickier with others, and quite expensive if one doesn’t own hives and one has the equivalent of a small mountain of citrus fruit. So given the several odd tonnes of oranges, mandarins, lemons and other citrusy odds and sods we had, we reverted to making jam with Bundaberg sugar, an Australian grown and processed (though not owned) product from sunny Queensland. The Australian ethical consumer guide gives it a grey tick. We have bartered it for other local produce, have given some away and have used many jars of the resulting jam, and have many still in the cupboard, so it seems like a fair deal. If we ever get our own honey bee hives (we only keep native bees), we will revisit the honey and jam-making scenario again.
The other big issue was grains, as we are not in the wheat or grain belt here in the mid north coast either. I had not really thought about how much our cooking relied on little bits of flour (or even big bits of flour) and rice and pasta. There was the option of turning paleo, but paleo cooking relies on some quite exotic ingredients, such as coconut oil and flour which seems to be in everything. We could have just cut grains out completely, but that meant a bread, biscuit, pancake and porridge free existence. To complicate things, I am a celiac. So we have decided to order a 12 kilo bag of Australian organic wheat flour for John, and I am making my own gluten-free flour using various Australian grains, seeds and legumes purchased in bulk (no packaging) from the local health food shop. We make our own breads, crackers and porridges from these, and are supporting small scale Australian organic farmers. It seems like a reasonable compromise, though it has given me moments of unease, as it wasn’t what I originally had in mind. But wimpy or not, I am not ready to give up grains and grasses. Surprisingly, we had previously discovered a small organic rice farm actually within the three hour zone. But the crop does not appear to be ready for sale this year, though I still have half a jar of it in the cupboard from last year. And if I want pasta, I am going to have to learn how to make it, not easy using gluten free flour. At the moment I am doing without.
Sticking to buying no packaged food or highly processed food has proved to be easier. Most packaged stuff we had bought originally was either gluten free stuff, like bread, yoghurt or cereals or porridges, or oil. We are either making our own or buying these in bulk from the health food shop. We are also making our own cat food, using fresh mince purchased locally from locally grown animals in containers supplied by us. Pets and sustainability is a whole other topic, which I will write about in another blog.
It should be clear that buying food in bulk in our own containers to avoid packaging has not been an issue for us. We are extremely fortunate to have an excellent health food shop here where we can do this, and the staff have been very obliging in looking up the place of origin for us of their various products. All their products are organic, but not all are Australian so one has to ask. I will talk about why we prefer to use food produced chemical-free in another blog. The owner also tries to source her fresh fruit and vegetables from local farmers, so mostly they are from within our three hour limit. We can’t avoid packaging on meat, which our beef and pig farmers are obliged to package in plastic in order to meet regulations for sale. While we aren’t looking to generate more plastic waste, this is a compromise we were prepared to make, as small organic free range farmers would soon be out of business without local support. We also support the local biodynamic cheese maker, who sells us wedges of Swiss cut from large wheels, and which he wraps in paper. When he is waiting for his cheeses to mature, there is a local cheese factory, though their cheeses come wrapped in plastic – to the great disgust of the biodynamic cheese man, who says no cheese should ever be subjected to plastic as it needs to breathe.
One unexpected piece of pain for John was dried fruit, which he is very fond of. He has run out of raisins, sultanas and currants. None of these are local, and the organic raisins at the health food shop were from Argentina. So no dried fruit for John on this occasion. This week though, they got in some Queensland ginger from a small farm, and I relented and we got that. We then also added some recently arrived apricots from a small organic South Australian farm that the proprietor waved at us with the assurance the famers needed the support of people like us to make a living. Well, it sounded like a noble cause at the time. We are rationing them as small delicious snacks. And also fortunately for John, the local macadamia farm makes macadamia butter. So his predilection for peanut butter at least has a worthy substitute. It does however, come packaged in plastic. So there is always a catch.
The other unnecessary food (or beverage) item in our house was beer. The original idea was John was going to brew his own, and he has a brewing kit and some different brews to make. He never quite got there, but discovered the Black Duck micro brewery in Port Macquarie, which has around eight different beers. When we visit the doctor or go for meetings in Port, we have been known to drop by the Black Duck brewery with our boxes which the owner fills with various beers in exchange for filthy lucre. We can recycle the bottles and lids.
It has also been easy to support Fairtrade products, which aim to raise poor communities out of poverty. We buy limited purchases of coffee, coconut products, and tea. Coffee is actually grown at the top of our three hour region, so we can also buy that here in the health food shop. We also buy fair-trade castile soap, which is one of our stock standard cleaning products.
So far the exercise has raised serious questions for us as to what we are prepared to do without. In Australia, most of us are used to a very varied diet, much of which is not essential for life. While all of the stuff we eat is seasonable and Australia, we have easily found what look like reasons to break our three hour limit for food. While we might be supporting a small organic South Australian fruit grower, are we actually demonstrating local community resilience traits by eating their fruit? And on the issue of beer, it is hardly essential to life, and the grains used in its production could presumably be used for food. It is though, an ancient tradition, originating in ancient Egypt where they apparently brewed a variety of excellent beers. Along with wine (which I am very allergic to) it features in communal celebrations and is part of human conviviality and hospitality. Does that make it OK then, to drink the local brewer’s beer, knowing that he probably used non local barley, malt, hops and some imported stuff to make the product?
I am still pondering these questions. I feel like I haven’t really been prepared to grasp the full extent of this project yet. How much am I really prepared to forego for the good of the planet? How much should I support local food growers in spite of the required plastic packaging? How are we navigate the complexities of modern life that we have grown used to, and that we take for granted, yet live more sustainably and simply? I haven’t really arrived at many good and definitive answers yet, with what should be a challenge for all of us. But we hope to try and keep minimising our impact so that those who come after us may also enjoy a similar world to the one we currently have.