ABC Radio National’s Alan Saunders – host of By Design – interviews British architect and author Carolyn Steel about ’sitopia’, the power of food in shaping cities and the significance of urban agriculture. It’s a story of the challenge of our times for city dwellers largely disconnected from the source of their food. Download the audio file. You can also read Steel’s book, Hungry City: how food shapes our lives, ISBN 9780701180379, published by Random House.
Archive for the ‘food politics’ Category
BEES pollinate up to 90 per cent of the world’s food crops. Without them, most of the foods we eat would disappear. Basically, we’d starve. So the ongoing issue about the dieback of bees in many countries should be ringing alarm bells loudly in our ears.
The increasing use of mobile telephones and the subsequent rise in the usage of this broadcast wavelength has been examined. Chemical use has been studied. Most fingers seem to point to the overuse of certain chemicals known as neonicotinoid pesticides and, with our very food supply at stake, erring on the side of caution in surely the only sensible route to take.
You can help by signing a web petition managed by Avaaz, an international, web-based, ‘people power’ organisation, to support a ban on the use of neonicotinoids in the European Union and the United States until independent research can prove conclusively that these are safe. Nearly one million concerned citizens have now signed it, urging legislators to act.
WITH a State Government slating great chunks of north-west and south-west Sydney for urban development, we are in trouble. How do we feed ourselves when the farmland is gone? There is an assumption upon which such development relies that there will always be food available from somewhere, even from abroad. Many are beginning to question the wisdom of basing our future food security on imported foods, however action may not come quickly enough to achieve any meaningful response.
Local governments in western Sydney are concerned about urban development across local farmland but State and Federal governments have been rather slower to acknowledge the problem. A spread of articles on the issue, published by the Sun Herald in 2010, includes an interactive map that demonstrates clearly the importance of the Sydney basin to various crops.
Many of Granny Smith Natural Food Market’s favourite suppliers feel pressure from such land development. Where will our beautiful tomatoes come from if they need to be brought in from more than 1000 kilometres away? Could they possibly be as fresh or taste as good as Alf and Lee Sorbello’s from just up the road? What about Michael Champion’s magnificent salad greens? Peter Clinch’s chickens? With more and more housing covering the Sydney basin and ever greater urban run-off, how long can we expect clean local oysters and fish to hold out?
Please take a few minutes to email Senator the Honourable Joe Ludwig, Federal Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries & Forestry, about your concerns.
Alternatively, please cut and paste the following if you prefer to not write your own email:
I write to you to express my concern about the disappearance of farmland around Sydney. Many of the products that are now grown locally, such as fresh fruits and vegetables and chicken, appear on my dinner table regularly. Where will they come from if farming in the Sydney Basin disappears?
We already have water issues in other parts of the country and transport costs are rising. I do not wish to have fresh vegetables grown overseas as my only option and with dietary-related health issues costing more each year, how does this protect our long-term health and food security?
I look to you to take action to protect Sydney’s remaining urban farmland in perpetuity. We cannot afford to lose this vital source of food to urban sprawl.
Please keep me appraised of the action you are taking.
We are asked for raw milk several times a week. Whereas raw goats’ milk is legal to produce and sell for human consumption, cows’ milk is not. Regulations against its sale for human consumption are clear and our government has determined that its ingestion is potentially dangerous. We sell both types of milk here, though we must advise you that only raw goats’ milk is suitable for human consumption. The raw cows’ milk we sell is only for bathing. One suitable use might be to swirl no more than 1-2 tablespoons under the running water as the bath is filling. This makes its use very economical, especially with its reputed skin-softening properties.
It’s been pointed out before that the human race existed long before Louis Pasteur was around. You can find a lot of information about raw versus pasteurised milk online, including Food Standards Australia New Zealand’s working papers. Interestingly, despite working jointly on almost all food regulations, New Zealand is parting ways with Australia on this issue and is set to allow the production of all raw milk cheeses. It is not clear however that they will allow raw milk sales. Australia’s proposal is to possibly allow the production of hard cheeses using raw milk but stopping well short of permitting the manufacture and sale of soft cheeses or raw milk for human consumption.
Carlo Petrini, founder of Slow Food, was recently in Australia. He reported having dinner with the Minister for Agriculture in Western Australia and pointed out that the cheese they were eating was made with raw milk in Europe and then imported. “Are Australians to be protected against the “dangers” of raw cheese made by Australians but okay eating raw cheese from Europe?” he asked. If you’d like to see Carlo Petrini’s speech at the Sydney Opera House in October, click here.
If you are interested in the issue of raw milk and raw cheese, you may like to sign the online petition organised by Slow Food Australia, which is being conducted by pioneering, beyond-organic farmer Michael Croft.
You can also find out more about this subject from Real Milk Australia, advocates of raw milk.
Note that the views expressed by Real Milk Australia are not necessarily those of Granny Smith Natural Food Market. We most certainly do not condone the consumption of raw cows’ milk.
Please remember that we do not advocate that you or any of your family drink raw cows’ milk. It is clearly sold as a bath milk only and you should be very careful to avoid getting any on or near your face when you’ve put it into your bathwater. Please be careful!
Last night I was invited to attend a panel discussion on the rights of farmworkers here in San Francisco. The four panelists were all experts in their fields and highlighted some of the deplorable situations under which many farmworkers in America labour.
While there’s been tremendous growth in the availability of quality food in wealthy countries these past few years, the politics of bringing it to the table has often been glossed over.
In Slow Food’s call for food that is “good, clean and fair”, there is an implicit acknowledgement of the rights of the people who bring us our food. Panelists at last night’s discussion pointed out that even local and organic food here in California doesn’t necessarily mean that labour standards for farm workers are what we might expect.
Farm workers in the US are so often illegal immigrants that they have no rights to start with. The ability to complain about poor and abusive work practices, when even their presence in the country is illegal means they live in fear. This constant fear has led to some shocking examples, including actual modern day slavery. See more about this here. Illegal labourers living in trailers subsist on diets of instant ramen noodles and Pepsi. They’re picking quality fruits and vegetables that keep the well-to-do in cities alive. Is this fair?
Child labour laws in the US exempt farm work, so while “it is legal today for a 12 year old to perform back-breaking work in 100-degree weather for 10-12 hours a day, the law will not allow that child to work in an air-conditioned office for two hours a day.” (Children in the Fields campaign) Many struggling farm labourers’ children work alongside their parents in fields all over the US, performing activities such as tomato, blueberry and squash picking. The labour component of a punnet of blueberries is consequently insignificant.
If you’ve ever wondered why canned tomatoes from Italy are so cheap, wonder no longer. Several years ago a documentary on SBS highlighted the plight of African workers labouring the tomato fields of southern Italy. Find out more in a European Parliament report or the original journalist’s investigation.
In addition to such brutal farmworker practices as outlined in these reports, you must also remember that food in Europe operates in a shockingly distorted economic environment so the true price of a single item like a can of tomatoes is impossible to determine. The alternate Australian can of tomatoes is not nearly as mired in labour misery and industry economic rewards. The price you see on the shelf of the domestic product represents pretty accurately the following: the land, the tomato plant, the growing time, the labour to pick it paid at award wages, the can itself, the label, the packing and handling, the transport and distribution and the retail margin. Trying to get those same components squeezed into the consumer price of a can of 99 cent Italian tomatoes is like getting camels to disappear through the eye of a needle. Imagining the price difference is just “economic size and efficiency” is ignoring the obvious.
I often hear people who’ve been to the US and to Europe, or who visit from those places, comment on the relative expense of fresh food in Australia. I had often suspected that a huge component of this apparent difference, in addition to our seemingly-eternal drought, is the price we pay for labour in this country and the more research I do, the more convinced I am of this.
You may not be aware that the Australian agricultural industry relies very significantly on backpackers for labour. Fruit and vegetable picking by backpackers is something that tends not to rate in the news (with the exception of the backpacker hostel fire in Childers, Queensland some years ago when 15 young backpackers died).
Quite simple, we do not have the “luxury” in Australia of an endless pool of cheap, exploitable labour, as exists in North America and Europe. Young backpackers from wealthy first-world countries, having extended vacations in Australia, are not so easily taken advantage of. Conditions, while not what these young people would want to work under for the rest of their lives, are not generally poor. Pay and conditions are well-regulated, the workers know they have rights, they’re left time to socialize at night and their ability to leave should the situation be onerous means exploitative work practices on farms are very limited.
I certainly don’t think Australians wouldn’t take advantage of the ability to employ cheap, illegal labour on a wide scale if it were possible. However our geography has saved us from having to make such choices.
We might pay more for Australian food by not directly abutting the third world but we’re also very fortunate in our isolation in not having nasty alternatives to tempt us.