Thursday, July 12, 2007

it aint easy being green

We all know fresh is best. It’s almost too fundamental to repeat in the hallowed world of food blogging. We flock to read what our fellow food devoted friends are eating around the world. We recently had a buzz about samphire, from Melbourne to the northern hemisphere. Despite two different seasons we synergistically were getting into it’s salty goodness and exploring its crunchy delight. The samphire I found in my local market had come about 1,000 kilometres, over a state border. Though the last leg of its journey from stall to plate took only a few minutes by car.

I shop locally – within a stones throw of my inner city home. I am lucky as this could be a fresh produce market, an Italian specialty store or a Middle Eastern deli. Of course the major supermarket chains, and one valiant independent retailer, are also close by – a short stroll 3 out of the 4 compass points away.

The close proximity and its minimal carbon emissions to gather from them are misleading and I admit lull me into a false sense of security. When a friend in New Zealand told me that their family’s quest for the year was to move towards a carbon neutral life, I felt a little smug that the first thing they had chosen to have maximum impact - was to stop eating meat. I’d been ahead of that one for a couple of decades, before the effects of beef production had been viewed through such energy inefficient glasses. No real sacrifice for me, then I realised that meat still comes into the house to feed 4 furry carnivores. Though a cat could possibly live on fish and chicken, these guys are geriatrics and we swear will not be replaced after their eventual demise!

I am a long time fan of Barbara Kingsolver and her latest piece of non-fiction is causing quite a buzz. “Animal, Vegetable, Miracle” takes the world of seasonal eating by storm. It follows her family's choice to to eat locally for a year, contrary to their compatriots who happily consume food produced from around the country or the world. Like Paul Mathis and hjs 100 Mile Café, they have hit some similar obstacles – both nominated coffee as an exotic food they would barter for exclusion. Here in the nontropical Melbourne climate the nearest coffee producers are in Byron Bay – at least a 2 day drive in a road train, if amphetamines fuel the driver. Unlike the Kingsolver clan, olives are grown within the state and produce some fine olive oil. Actually, there are olive trees dotted throughout the neighbourhood (this being a once strongly Italian migrant stronghold) though I’ve yet to see any oil pressed from them and sold at the gate.

I have in the past had a largely seasonal diet. In my final years of communal housing we sourced an organic farmer who drove 250 km (still a fair hike beyond Mathis’ 160km/100 mile exclusions zone) to the city once a week and formed a food buying collective. About 10 households, of 2-9 residents apiece, bought 90% of their fresh produce through the collective, making organic food very affordable on a low income and for minimal effort of sorting the orders every couple of months. Though some struggled with the realisation that there would be no avocados or tomatoes are only in season for the first couple of months of the years, others got excited, bought extra and started bottling excess produce just as many of our own mothers had done. I have to say though, that the human energy cost of each precious glass jar of perfect peaches or tomato sauce is rather high, unless done collectively to offset the tedium.

Am I about to jump on the ecologically sound bandwagon? Well not quite yet. The first step is to increase awareness about where my food is really coming from. Sure I know to sidestep those ludicrously glossy cherries that have turned up in the past month. I have been on the earth long enough to know they don’t grow in a winter climate (the highly priced fruit has come to our city across the world in a jet plane from America, which may explain why it’s a pricey treat). But it’s the other things that slip under the radar that I need to become more aware of – that nice sauvignon blanc from New Zealand or my favourite Fruili Pinot would have to go in a carbon friendly lifestyle. Is the rocket in my salad coming from a massive, heated greenhouse while the frost settles outside? The prawns on the plate are at best from Queensland, at worst further a field in Asia and let’s forget about barramundi, as that hasn’t ever swum in Port Phillip Bay.

My pocket handkerchief garden produces a few green herbs, the odd lime and in autumn an incredible yield of grapes. I can squeeze in a few more vegetables but in the heart of a city, so close to roads and factories, I am unsure just how many heavy metals these home crops deliver. Chooks, though up to 3 are quite legal in these high density areas, are out of the question – even if we could find the space – free range poultry would be too tempting for the colony of cats in the meantime.

As for cooking classes in Bali – if I’d sailed in a boat, maybe they would be allowed!

Just how green is your valley?

update: it aint easy being green part II

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Blogger Ali-K said...

Sigh. It seems hard being green. I'm determined to get there one day, but as a renter it's baby steps for me. Still, the food we buy is obviously an area in which anyone can make an effort. I shop at the local markets, but they're not growers markets, so the food probably isn't all locally grown. There's so many things to think about but I'm glad there are many people thinking.

5:17 pm  

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