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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Barefoot gardening

I found myself out in the garden again this morning. It often happens like that; I don’t intend on doing any gardening, but find myself amongst the lettuces early in the morning in my pyjamas, or dressed somewhat inappropriately for work. So this morning, I ended up weeding a whole lot of wheat out of the vegie garden, without shoes.

At first, I didn’t pay much attention to my lack of footwear, though as I continued to work, I realised just how awesome it actually is to garden barefooted. Without trying to sound too New Age here, there is something wonderful about being able to actually feel the earth beneath your feet, and connect with the soil which is very much alive, providing nourishment to the little seedlings, which in turn will nourish you. In Western culture, it is very rare that we exerience this physical connection to the earth, as unfortunately we as a society have deemed it unacceptable to walk around in public barefoot. (Such a shame.) It may just be me, but getting your feet dirty is also quite fun. It reminds me of playing in the mud in kindergarten, or the feeling of the sand between your toes at your first trip to the beach for the summer. Also WOMAdelaide.

There are actually some tangible benefits to barefoot gardening though. Earlier in the year, I completed my Permaculture Design Certificate at The Food Forest. Amongst an amazing line-up of tutors, I was lucky enough to be taught by David Holmgren; co-originator on the permaculture concept. Something he said during the course which I remember just now, is that walking around barefoot is actually a wonderful tool for observation. (For the uninitiated, observation is a key principle of permaculture design and practice.) Literally feeling the ground beneath us, allows for detection of subtle changes that we mightn’t otherwise notice. The change in soil moisture across different garden beds, and the temperature change in spring indicating that carrots can be planted, are just a couple of uses for bare feet.

Though of course, always keep safety in mind. I definitely wouldn’t recommend using tools around bare feet, and be mindful of small, biting critters who might feel threatened by your presence. But when feeling a little disconnected from nature or life, taking a stroll without shoes can only be a good thing.