A quick message about Eco Survival Week on campus from the 11-15 October. Check out the awesome events and hop along to some if you have time. There are so many amazing events I’d love to get involved in but since two of my papers didn’t get offered formal extensions, I need to get myself into writing mode!
Category Archives: Food
Finally there is some mainstream acknowledgement of the way fresh fruit and vegetables are priced by the supermarket duopoly – high, and more interestingly, far higher than processed food. Sue Kedgley’s survey only consisted of 75 farmers and the actual markups are hard to extract from the supermarkets (they deem it “commercially sensitive” information), however this only makes the need for an independent investigation more urgent. What’s even more worrying is that a majority of those surveyed are actually selling below the cost of production. The supermarkets have defended themselves by claiming that price differences between their produce and other produce (sold at other greengrocers) is a quality issue, which just goes to show how stupid they think the average person is. While many supermarkets do get higher grades than some greengrocers, the fact that they leave them on the shelf so long, and the fact that it’s so easy for the average person to notice, means that the “quality” you paid for was lost ages ago. However, this is not a call to throw away even more fruit and vegetables that are no longer very fresh. The problem comes down to buying too much at one time.
My partner and I stopped buying fruit and vegetables at the supermarket quite a while ago due to the clear price difference, and started shopping at the greengrocers only 2 minutes walk away. I’ve not only noticed a price difference, but a freshness difference as well. On the rare occasion that I get up in time for the farmer’s market, the freshness and range is astounding, and the fact that there is no middleman between the growers and sellers gives me the warm fuzzies. Prices are similar, but you’re paying for actual quality and contributing to someone else’s livelihood, rather than paying to be screwed over and screwing over a farmer who is stuck between a rock and a hard place.
Best solution though? Start planting your own produce! Sure, we’re in winter, but there are plenty of green leafy things that still grow (and I live in Christchurch, so don’t use the Southern excuse). Or if you’re impatient, start planning and ordering seeds so that you’re ready when spring rolls around.
Also, I have an idea (which you’re welcome to rip to shreds, as long as you reason it out). What if, instead of removing GST on all fresh fruit and vegetables, we removed GST from all fresh (ie. unprocessed) NZ grown organic fruit and vegetables (someone should probably fill me in a little more about the complications of the certification schemes right about…now)? It is pretty well established that much of (although admittedly not all) organic farming is better for the soil, waterways, workers, consumers (as we pay less tax to clean up after the problems that conventional agriculture involve), and farmer incomes. For example, a study conducted in Canterbury, NZ found that economically, ecosystem services in organic agriculture are worth more than they are in conventional fields. To quote the study (ES=”ecosystem services”):
If half the arable area under conventional farming shifted to organic practices, the total economic value of ES would be US $192 million and US $166 million annually for organic and conventional arable area, respectively…conventional New Zealand arable farming practices can severely reduce the financial contribution of some of these services in agriculture whereas organic agricultural practices enhance their economic value (in abstract)
If you’re interested in reading the study but you’re not enrolled at a University, email me. If you are enrolled, check out the study (the whole journal issue is really interesting actually):
Harpinder, S. S., Wratten, S. D., Cullen, R. & Case, B. (2008) The future of farming: The value of ecosystem services in conventional and organic arable land. An experimental approach. Ecological Economics, 64(4): 835-848.
The respective profiles of each of the authors:
National Centre for Advanced Bio-Protection Technologies, PO Box 84, Lincoln University, Canterbury, New Zealand (first two authors)
Commerce Division, PO Box 84, Lincoln University, Canterbury, New Zealand
Environment, Society and Design Division, PO Box 84, Lincoln University, Canterbury, New Zealand
PS. I forgot to mention the proposed Supermarket Code of Conduct which is being proposed in response to the exorbitant pricing. Personally, I don’t think letting supermarkets self regulate is actually benefiting us – it didn’t benefit Britain, for example. Setting more stringent limits on the market you’re allowed to dominate would be a start.
Having a day off to breathe, and watch The Daily Show, is pretty cool. This satire of those terrified of the “guvmint telling us how to live our lives” made me giggle.
What the video made me ponder more seriously is the fact that many of us don’t think a whole lot about what we eat. The video is referring to a campaign rather than a policy, and of course, getting the public thinking and informed is an important step towards improving national health. However, I would argue that it is simply not enough to tell people to eat healthier. First of all, trying to compete with multi national corporations that have advertising budgets the size of national economies is difficult to say the least. In addition to the mind fuck about food that has been proliferated through advertising junk, there’s the biological side that’s even more difficult to control. Even as an extreme food snob, I will indulge in deep fried potato chips, even if I know that the acrylamide is probably not good for me. Humans are hard wired to gorge on fat and sugar and salt due to the fact that we’ve never had them in such plentiful supply before. The US government has subsidized corn (which ends up in most junk food) long enough – in the interests of fairness even, it’s time to subsidise healthy food. Campaigns for healthy eating are, in themselves, not enough.
Some may argue that that’s all well and good, but why not let individuals decide for themselves? Ordinarily I would agree, but clearly, there is even mainstream support for the fact that the Western diet is causing unprecedented health problems, which have both a monetary and social cost. Every act of willful ignorance in terms of food choices isn’t an act of freedom, it’s an act of selfishness which infringes on the rights of other people down the effects chain. Public taxes don’t just pay for hospital stays due to heart attacks, they pay for the day to day cost of type II diabetes, the little pills that are doled out due to nutritional deficiencies. The effects, of course, don’t stop there. Food choices have ecological effects, and damage is usually also payed by taxpayers, with profits being privatised.
While many people in New Zealand seem pretty smug about our clean green image, it’s always an awakening experience when the States does something that is worthy of applause. Take Meatless Mondays for example. This article at the Centre for a livable future caught my eye (and it’s really worth reading for a rational voice for eating less meat), because while I have stopped eating meat (except for seafood, which I realise is something I need to think about), I have no problem with people eating meat, as long as they do it in moderation, which, as far as the current Western diet, is a bit laughable. Cheap meat is being added to more and more things where it previously did not belong, and the saddest thing for me as a food lover is that most of it doesn’t even taste any better. Cheap meat is icky, not necessarily because it’s cheap per se, but because generally, it’s farmed in a way that lowers the economic cost of production, and simultaneously, the standards of farming. And you can taste it. Anyway, before I get on a vegetarian rant, Meatless Mondays is a phenomenon which asks families and individuals to make a pledge to eat vegetarian on Mondays. If you’ve seen the American love of bacon, you’ll know that this is not going to be an easy task. Yet all over the world, food blogs and chefs are recognising that the current way Western countries eat meat is not healthy, for themselves or for the environment. Farming animals is not inherently unsustainable, but we’re pushing our luck. According to the Food climate research network, to feed the world in the near future the maximum allowance of meat and dairy would be equivalent to about 2 sausages, a small piece of chicken, and a small pork chop. Per week. That, and milk for cereal and maybe tea (this is from Raj Patel’s The Value of Nothing).
New Zealanders like their cheese, and they love their steak. Cattle farms here may not be as atrocious just yet, but even for the reasons of personal health and eating more variety, eating less meat is going to be a treat. As someone who now thinks about food with passion, I can say that eating little to no meat has been a pure blessing. I was determined to prove that a vegetarian diet can be just as rewarding taste, health, and variety wise, and I feel confident and proud to say that I’ve done just that. My best friend and past flat mate now eats spinach and feta, I never feel tempted to eat meat, even my past favourite dishes, and most surprisingly of all, I have a far more varied diet because I don’t just rely on meat for protein. The cooking skills, the knowledge about how to eat healthy, and the adventure of eating now is so worth it. I considered supporting more sustainable meat farms, but honestly, I don’t miss meat enough. It turns out not eating meat was a lot easier than I thought.
Anyway, I hope you give it a try, and challenge yourself a little at first. Obviously I still love and eat cheese, but for the sake of variety I haven’t stopped looking to vegan sources of protein, like amaranth or quinoa. Yeah. Make life interesting.
We will be using twice the planet’s capacity; that’s physically impossible. And that’s our collective dream.
Eternal growth is the central dream of capitalism. The promise of profit informs investment, invention, industry. It’s possible that it’s impossible to find the political will for any project that seriously threatens growth.
Today is Earth Overshoot Day – the day when humanity has used the total amount of resources that the Earth can regenerate in a year. All resources used beyond this point dig too deep, damaging the Earth’s ability to provide for us in future. Every year, Earth Overshoot Day comes a little earlier though this year, it came two days later than in 2008 – long may the recession continue >< ).
This is the price of dreams of limitless growth: you run past the very real limits, and then you pay the price.
In the early days of the 20th Century, there was the very real threat that the Western working class would rise up and overthrow capitalism. Hard to imagine these days I know. Thing is, they lived (by our standards) in abject poverty. The world had just gone through a period of economic liberalisation (sometimes referred to as the first round of globalisation), the welfare state didn’t exist. Unions were massive, militant, and revolutionary. Economic growth was an important part of the New Deal, which defused the tensions over class inequality by guaranteeing that all would benefit from a growing economy, with the extra value spread around through progressive taxation and a welfare system. In addition to being the source of economy-wide profit, economic growth also relieves the tensions of inequality in our class system.
So what happens when the economy has grown to fill all the space available? When all natural resources are fully exploited (or rather, overexploited: we already use more than the earth produces, and dump more than it absorbs).
The first thing to realise is that this is not an abstract question, nor one that sits safely in the distant future. It’s already happened countless times, though on a local scale far less disastrous than the present crisis. The Mediterranean, famous for thousands of years as a fertile cradle of civilisation, has suffered massive desertification. The ‘fertile crescent’, between the Tigris and Euphrates, the ‘historical garden of Eden’, is better known these days as the dust-blown, bomb-pocked desert backdrop of the occupation of Iraq.
This is not a drill. Exceeding the carrying capacity of one’s environment has brought down countless civilisations throughout history, and there is every sign it will end ours, too. Malnutrition alone already claims millions of lives each year, even leaving aside lack of other resources like healthcare. Now, you could say that this has nothing to do with the limits to economic growth, that it’s a problem of distribution. Yes, the USA throws away more than enough food to feed all of Africa. But this leads to the second point.
We live in a radically unequal society. Different people will run out of different resources at different rates, and unequal distribution will accentuate the burden on the humanity’s poorest. The system will eventually hit a wall, but rather than an abrupt twisting of flesh and metal it will be a prolonged affair. Most of our awareness of it will be awareness of the suffering of distant others.
This inequality produces all sorts of pressures, and once we can no longer hold out the promise of growth and improvement, many will find the pressure intolerable. In addition to civil unrest, we will see migration out of resource-starved areas (well, more: we already see a lot of this), wars over resources (again, I’m not actually predicting anything new here) and deepening class divisions (ok, I don’t have a single original thought).
Happy Earth Overshoot Day.
If you’re a vegetarian in Christchurch or have ever wondered how vegetarians eat without meat, check this out. The Christchurch Vegetarian Centre holds New Zealand’s largest vegetarian event anually, complete with food stalls, cooking demos, free tasters, workshops, films, info & displays, community groups, businesses and artists, cafe, kids stuff, music, and a huge “sausage sizzle.” Entry is only $5 (and considering cafe food prices, this is honestly not much to pay) and kids enter free. This year it’ll be at the Horticultural Centre on Riccarton Ave, sort of in South Hagley Park.
Volunteers get free entry – email me and I can pass you on to the person in charge of volunteers.
I only just discovered that Etsy, home to hundreds of thousands of individuals around the world selling handmade items, had a seeds category. There are some interesting heirloom varieties that you’d not otherwise be able to find (I like “myvictorygarden‘s” selection), and many more organic options than your local garden shop would usually have (although Kings Seeds has a pretty good organics selection). Unlike buying other things online, however, the shipping for these babies is usually very affordable.
Start planning what to plant for spring now, and you’ll be far more prepared when the planting season hits!
Note: the above image is not actually from Etsy, but is called “Magenta Spreen Lamb’s Quarters,” and was taken at the community garden at the University of Canterbury. It tasted (and looked) fantastic in a salad with salted duck eggs and fresh cherry tomatoes…I miss Summer 😦