Eating ethically.

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**Heads up! – The following post is a bit of a ramble on the ethics of food. If you’re just keen to see some pictures of delicious food, scroll to the bottom! (I won’t judge you).

So I did have a huge, in depth post about the philosophies I follow around food, but it got deleted. Looking on the positive side, this is probably good, as you now don’t have to endure such a ramble about food ethics. Nevertheless, I shall recap a little of what I had, so I don’t feel like I wasted hours thinking about this.

The other day, I went to lunch at one of my favourite vegan eateries in Adelaide. My friend pointed out a delicious-sounding dish on the menu. Being 100% organic (and of course vegan), eating at this particular place is usually so simple, because you don’t have to consider each item on the menu for its suitability to your diet. However on this occasion, something really struck me about this dish. Eggplant and tomato. Had it been summer, I would definitely have gone for this delectable curry, however standing there in my scarf and jacket, I couldn’t help but feel something was wrong. I couldn’t possibly choose to eat this curry when eggplants and tomatoes are summer fruits.

So here’s the thing. Joe and I are house-sitting at the moment. We decided that this would be a great opportunity to actively pursue food choices that fit with our ideals around eating as ethically as possible. What does this look like? Mostly fruit and vegetables grown in our own or our friends’ gardens, and trying to get everything else locally from farmers markets. To ensure we were still eating a nutritionally balanced diet, we also allowed organic legumes (namely lentils and chickpeas) grown within 500km. Challenging? It sounds like it, but actually, it’s been a brilliant insight into eating seasonally, and being creative in the kitchen using ingredients that are available.

Everyone values different things when it comes to food. Some people will prioritise convenience, price, flavour, or preferred brand, while others with consider things like brand ethics, seasonality, the environment, or production method. Each person’s “rules” around food are different, and that’s okay! Diversity is wonderful, and conversations about food are a great way of challenging your own ideas and philosophies.

So here are mine. They are very much a work in progress, and constantly being challenged. ‘Tis quite the journey.

I eat a predominantly vegan diet, due mainly to the ethical/environmental problems associated with industrial production. I don’t eat meat, dairy, or other animal products (such as gelatine). I do, however eat eggs if they are from happy chickens (store bought eggs are not happy eggs). This means chickens that are valued as part of a greater system (eg contributing to fertility and pest/weed control in a vegetable garden). I avoid eating honey unless it is from happy bees (similar philosophy) – lucky my friends produce honey in their backyards!

In the past year or so, I’ve also become very aware of the ethics of vegetables and other food products too. To me, there is not much use in avoiding meat and dairy due to their environmental implications, without also considering the vast distances much of our food travels to get to us. Where possible, I am now trying to only eat food that is in season, and produced locally. I prefer organic, but also recognise that organic certification certainly doesn’t indicate that the food has been produced in a sustainable way. On a predominantly vegan diet, soy products have also started to ring alarm bells. Would it be better for me to get my calcium from fortified soy made from beans grown as a monoculture in Switzerland? Or would finding a system I am comfortable with involving a local with a cow, farming Joel Salatin style be better? I’m still working on this one.

I do think it’s important to be flexible. If I am a guest at someone’s house, and they offer me a cheesy veg lasagne, I will hardly decline. I also ate goats cheese, milk and yoghurt while wwoofing recently. It made sense. Likewise, I am very open to the idea of eating meat and dairy, if I were to find a system I was okay with. At the moment, this would probably be home-produced dairy animals (eg cow or goat), and either roadkill or elimination of pest species (eg rabbits, fish). I would also need to be okay with butchering the animal though, and I’m definitely not there yet. To me, it comes down to knowing how my food is produced, and being okay with it.

Maybe I sound like the fun-police here, and you are wondering how anyone could live on such a boring and strict diet – no meat or dairy, minimal soy and rice, no tomatoes or eggplants in winter, and never shopping at Woolworths and Coles (did I mention I loathe them?)…

I do want to just point out that eating ethically (whatever that means to you), doesn’t need to be a drag. In the past few weeks of house-sitting, I have eaten so incredibly well, and the kitchen has seen a lot of exciting food being prepared. There is something quite wonderful about coming up with a meal based on what you have, rather than nipping down to the shops to get the ingredients you need for a recipe you had in mind.

Agree or disagree, I think it’s always good to have conversations about where our food comes from. If you like, leave a comment below about your food philosophy. I would love to hear what you think! For more info, you might like to check out some writings by Michael Pollan, watch some episodes of River Cottage on ABC iview (love Hugh!), or maybe even have a listen to the annoying vegetarian debating the much more convincing meat-eater on last week’s Triple J Hack program.

And so, I will leave you with some pictures of the things we’ve been eating on our as-ethical-as-possible diet. Yes, it does help that Joe’s family produces wheat on their farm (hello bread and pasta!)

Food!

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Cooking from abundance.

There is nothing more satisfying than walking through the garden and making a meal from what’s available. Ever found yourself deciding on dinner then going to the shops to buy ingredients? If so, you might like to read on and discover the joys of creating from what’s available. If you start with what you already have, there’s very little chance you can go down the wrong path and cook out of season, over-processed or well-travelled “food” (read: items from the supermarket). Cooking from the abundance of your garden also gives you this crazy-brilliant feel-good buzz. True! Harvesting actually releases dopamine, and makes you feel good, supposedly a remnant from our hunter-gatherer days, where finding food triggered a release of dopamine, resulting in a feeling of bliss or mild euphoria. (Also supposedly the same process in play with compulsive shopping – ever heard of retail therapy?) But I digress!

Those who know me will be aware that I spent the past 6 months in Victoria, travelling, learning, wwoofing and exploring.

For those not in the know, WWOOF stands for ‘willing workers on organic farms’, and is basically a program whereby you stay on host farms and properties as a wwoofer, working approximately 4-6 hours per day in exchange for food and board, while receiving the benefits of learning and sharing skills, knowledge and culture with your hosts. Pretty cool way of exploring the world.

We spent three weeks at the end of last year on a permaculture property in Violet Town, which was super-peaceful, had an abundance of fruit, and where each day was started with a trip to the olive grove to milk the goat. Our second host was in Castlemaine, where we had stayed several times previously, and ended up being our semi-permanent home for around four months. A secluded and semi-cleared bush property on a hill with a yurt dwelling and a huge vegetable garden.

With each host, we mostly had meals provided, but on occasion (like when we got the chance to farm-sit the Violet Town property for four days) the garden and kitchen were entirely ours to express our culinary creativity. I have to say that while in Violet Town, there wasn’t all that much in the way of abundance except for a lot of greens, goats milk/cheese/yoghurt and fruit. If there is one thing I learnt at that farm it was this:

It is very hard to go wrong if you combine garlic, olive oil, salt and chilli.

This is a winning combination, and even if you only add a few leaves of chard to these ingredients, you already have a pretty delicious side dish.

By the time we got to the second property, we were pretty well into zucchini season. Queue “101 ways with zucchini”. I made everything: pasta sauce, chocolate muffins, stuffed zucchinis, pickle, sandwich fillings… you name it. I’m pretty certain that by March I alone was consuming an average of three zucchinis per week.

But the moral of the story is that cooking from abundance is fun. It allows for an incredible amount of creativity and expression, and it’s unlikely that you any two dishes will ever be the same, because the products of the garden are forever changing and evolving.

So here’s a celebration of home-grown-and-cooked meals, with a selection of my favourite farm/garden meals from my travels.

Homemade fettucini with new potatoes, zucchini and mint

Serves 2

Pasta:
300g flour
3 happy eggs

Topping:
2-3 potatoes, boiled and diced
olive oil
sprig mint, chopped
several (2-4 depending on size) cloves garlic, finely chopped
2 spring onions, sliced
1 zucchini, diced
salt and pepper

Place flour on a clean surface, make a well in the centre and crack in eggs. Mix all together, slowly incorporating flour until a dough is achieved. Knead well and allow to rest for an hour in the fridge. If you have a pasta machine, use it now – roll into thin sheets and cut using the fettucini cutter. Otherwise, it’s a rolling pin and knife.

Heat oil in a pan, add zucchini, spring onions, then garlic, cooking until zucchini is soft. Add boiled and diced potatoes and carefully stir in chopped mint, and season with salt and pepper. Meanwhile, cook pasta in boiling water for a few minutes until al dente, then drain. Add pasta to pan with other ingredients and some more olive oil. Carefully mix together. Season with more salt and pepper if required, then serve.

Stuffed roasted zucchini

Excuse the shifty photography…
Serves 2

I totally can’t remember the exact quantities here. Just play.

one large zucchini
3 leaves chard/silverbeet
3-4 cloves garlic, diced
olive oil
1/4 tsp coriander seeds
handful fresh coriander leaves, roughly chopped
tomatoes, chopped
1/2 cup (approx) roasted almonds, chopped
salt and pepper

Cut two rounds of zucchini, hollow out (keeping inside intact) and roast in the oven covered in oil and salt. Dice the remaining zucchini (or another one if not enough), including the hollowed out part.

While hollowed zucchini roasts, prepare filling by cooking remaining zucchini until soft with garlic. Add coriander seeds, and finely chopped chard. Toss in almonds, season with salt and pepper, then remove from heat. Stir through tomatoes and fresh coriander.

Stuff the roasted zucchini with the filling, and garnish with fresh coriander.

I served this on toast (as we had an abundance of bread), but it would definitely go much better with a potato rosti or similar.

Spiced potatoes and chickpeas with chapatis

I’m getting pretty tired, and am doing some major procrastination by writing this, so I’ll just give a basic outline of what’s in this.

chickpeas, cooked
potatoes, diced and boiled
onion, chopped
garlic
whole cumin seeds, roasted
salt
olive oil (farm grown might I add)
pepper
fresh coriander

Combine ingredients in a pan in a logical order, and serve with chapatis:

Chapatis:
flour
water
pinch salt

Combine ingredients to form a dough. Roll out and dry fry in a hot pan. Applying pressure with a tea towel can help them puff up :)