We live in a world seemingly saturated with food. On the weekly shopping trip most of us are spoilt for choice with supermarket shelves choc-full of the widest available food choices ever. And mostly at ridiculously low prices. Cafes, restaurants, takeaways and food trucks cater to our every culinary fancy.

Food-wise it all appears so sorted and seamless. Or is it? The more that I’ve delved into this the more cracks and craziness I see in our food system. Like so many aspects of our market driven industrial culture our apparently marvellous food offerings cover up a whole host of issues, that combined, pose serious threats to our health and well-being. Dietary imbalance, food miles, waterway pollution, soil loss, wildlife extinction and farm debt are just some of the ways our modern food system is failing us.

Sane and wise voices have been sounding the alarms for a while now and more folks are waking up. Brisbane local and food systems expert Kylie Newberry says ‘Our food system is in trouble. The way in which we grow and consume food is putting enormous pressure on the planet’. Television host Craig Reucassel showed us that in Australia over 5 million tonnes annually of food doesn’t get eaten, it just goes directly to landfill. An incredible waste of people’s time and resources not to mention the potential pollution that this creates. Here’s a great video from Sustain: the Australian Food Network, talking about rebuilding our food system.

Decisions, Decisions!

Many of us would love all of our diet to be based on food grown in a way that supports our health, pays farmers and downstream businesses a fair price and is environmentally sustainable. To those that have access to an exclusively local organic whole food diet I say ‘half-your-luck”! However, for many people in South-East Queensland a 100% local organic food diet (particularly certified organic – see below) is simply not possible at this point in time for two reasons: cost and access. Whilst we are seeing the cost difference reduce between organic and non-organic food there is still a way to go. Also, many organically grown food products are not yet available on supermarket shelves, however this is improving and there are alternatives such as the Northey Street Organic Farmers Market, various organic food box schemes and organic food stores. In my experience, these alternatives also offer a more fun way to shop.

If you’re on a budget then how can you spend your hard-earned most effectively? Opinions differ but in my experience with both growing food and buying organic I recommend the following:

  • Focus your organic food budget on food concentrates and proteins – like dairy, meat, eggs, nuts and oils (and fruit and veggies with high pesticide inputs – see below). The non-organic versions of these products generally require the most energy, resources, fertilisers and pesticides, and have the most adverse impacts, of all foods. Also, food concentrates are often ‘value added’ products with the highest profit margins for farmers and small local producers. So, by buying these organic alternatives you are making the most effective choice.

  • Buy locally grown, ‘in season’ fruit and vegetables (organic or not) as these generally have the lowest impact of all conventionally grown foods. Local naturopath Samantha Somers has this excellent article on produce with the highest and lowerest pesticide inputs. Get to know local growers and grocers and ask them what is in season and if it is locally grown. Food Connect is a great enterprise that sources locally grown produce and value-added products within the South-East Queensland bioregion.

  • Grow as much food as you can, either in the home or the community garden. For busy people in SEQ you can start out growing the easiest foods like Italian parsley, basil, rocket, chillies, leafy greens (including micro-greens), sprouts, and cherry tomatoes. Or have a go at the more unusual, but easy to grow, crops like arrowroot, amaranth and Madagascar beans.

  • Related to that last point is my recommendation to broaden your diet to embrace seasonal abundance. For example, green mango and green papaya are excellent carbohydrate sources and are abundant in Brisbane and SEQ. People throughout Asia have been creating tasty and nutritious meals with these ‘staples’ for a long time. Green mango chutney and som tam (green papaya salad) are now a part of my diet.



Certifiably organic, right?

If you want to buy organic food, how do you really know it’s organic. Here’s a couple of approaches. Firstly, make sure it’s being certified as such as there’s many a food product out there claiming to be organic but actually isn’t. Both you and the real organic farmers (who pay serious fees for certification) will be ripped off as a result. Look for the certification mark on the product or at the market stall if you’re buying fresh groceries. Certification schemes include ACO and NASAA. SBS TV has this to say about the issue.

Secondly, you could over time get to know your growers and suppliers and find out how your food is grown. Organic certification does add a considerable cost and administrative burden to farmers, and many producers that grow food using organic methods simply don’t want to sign up to accredited schemes. So, by asking lots of questions and finding out more you’ll be able to make more informed choices.

It also needs to be said that there is tremendous pressure for certified organic standards to be compromised as big, industrial agriculture outfits try to muscle in on the act. For example, in the USA the organic standards are been seriously compromised with feedlot animal products and hydroponic fruits and veggies recently achieving certified organic standards. To find out more take a deep dive here. Brisbane local food supplier Food Connect have devised practical and transparent workarounds to the organic certification issue.


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Republished from Hearth – link to original here – https://www.hearth.how/journal/good-food-choices

Cover image by Food Connect Brisbane.