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Dear Bob Beale

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For those of you who missed it, I was lucky enough to recently find a comment left on my blog by Mr Bob Beale (you can see it here).  As described by the Penguin Books Australia website, ‘Bob Beale has been a writer for more than 20 years, much of it working as a journalist for the Sydney Morning Herald as Science and Environment Editor, Chief of Staff and European Correspondent. His work has won many awards and has appeared in many newspapers and magazines around the world. His previous book – co-written with Peter Fray – was The Vanishing Continent (Hodder & Stoughton, Sydney, 1990). He is now a freelance writer, living in Sydney. He writes regularly for The Bulletin magazine.’  This is a letter I wrote in response to his comment.

Dear Bob Beale,

Wow! What a pleasant surprise it was to see your comment on my blog.  I’m not sure how you found that little mention of Vanishing Continent, but I’m glad you did.  After reading your comment, I thought I better do some more research in order to sufficiently reply.  Funnily enough, I had recently been lent another one of your books, Going Native, and so sat down to read it.

I wish I could say that I have some grand ideas or conclusions to share with you from my time spent reading these books, reading online, and researching these topics.  Unfortunately Bob, I feel I have quite the opposite.

In your comment, you said ‘Thanks for mentioning “The Vanishing Continent”.  As you say, it’s getting a bit long in the tooth now, having been written largely in 1989 and published in 1990, but I think it was also a little ahead of its time back then. I’d be interested to know how you think it stands up after two decades.‘  To be honest I was mostly shocked when I read it.  As I mentioned in my post, the data was dated but the ideas only seem to be more and more relevant as we continue to exploit resources and neglect certain environmental issues.  I was shocked because I had never heard of half of the things you mentioned.  I count myself to be an active environmentalist, perhaps not an avid or extreme one, but certainly interested and engaged with environmental issues.  You can understand my surprise then to read about water tables, deforestation, salinity, the destructive elements of agriculture, erosion and the complex links between them all.  Regardless of the dates and statistics, the book was eye opening for me.

Going Native was another kettle of fish, but perhaps a little more reassuring.  You mention a number of groups working on these issues and engaging farmers to develop more sustainable agricultural techniques – Landcare, The National Farmer’s Federation, CSIRO etc.  I looked into many of these organisations and was inspired to see action, enthusiasm and movement coming from the agricultural sector.  I was at the same time, totally overwhelmed by the content of these sites and the relatively inaccessible nature of them to a consumer audience (Landcare perhaps being the exception).  Not only are these sites hard to get your head around, but so is most of the information out there.  A lot of groups talk about increasing awareness and education of land care issues, but to be honest, I don’t see it.  If I can’t find basic information and I’m looking for it, what hope is there to create discussion and raise awareness about these issues amongst people who aren’t already participating?

I appreciated your books Bob, because they were well written.  They contained useful and technical information, but not jargon.  They explore complex ideas in simple enough terms that people such as myself from a non-scientific background can begin to engage with and learn about these issues.

Having said that, I have a long way to go.  There was one final point I wanted to cover in this letter, but I feel it might warrant a post of its own when I’ve finished collating the mass of information I collected this weekend.  In Going Native, you and Michael Archer suggest that it would be beneficial for Australia’s future to focus less on the Agricultural sector and concentrate on Mining and Tourism instead.  I have to admit, that sort of blew my mind.  I had to read it a few times before it sunk in that you were serious.  Mining over agriculture? Yes, you justified it well – smaller environmental impacts for greater economic benefits…but it still seemed, well, counter intuitive.  I did my best to follow up on the idea this weekend, but I feel a little out of my depth at the moment.

If nothing else, I have learnt a lot of acronyms for Mining related terms today.  I’ll keep everyone posted on my progress here on my blog, but it might be slow going for a while.

To conclude Mr. Bob Beale, once again thank you.  Thanks for your research, thanks for your awesome books, and thanks for taking the time to read my blog!

I hope one day we get the chance to discuss these issues more in-depth, or maybe even in person!

Kind regards,

Sarah.

Bendigo Adventures – Growers and Eaters Forum 2012

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Well, what a day.  Today I stumbled out of bed at 5am and tripped on down to Bendigo for the Growers and Eaters Forum 2012.  There were inspiring and informative speeches, I met some great people and had a delicious lunch!  Here are some of my notes and reflections on the day.

Michael Ableman started off the day.  I have to admit before I heard him speak, I had no idea who this guy was or why he’s so special.  Having heard him talk, I recommend you take any opportunity you can to meet him, or hear him present.  While he was talking, gospel-like murmurs started running through the crowd, people were nodding their heads in approval and were obviously moved by the stories he told.  Enthusiasm in the group was as crisp as the apples we had for morning tea.  True to the nature of Farmers, they stubbornly refused to run on time, and stopped Ableman from leaving the podium when his time was up.

And so they should have.My new idol

Here is a man who weaves landscapes with his words so vivid you can feel them.  From the cliffs of Jamaica to Foxglove farm in British Columbia, Ableman brought his passion, his experience and his knowledge to life.  His dedication to this area is kind of mind blowing, as are his achievements.  Not only that, but after lunch I said hello and turns out he’s also a total charmer!

Today we heard about two problems in society – neglected land, and neglected people.  Ableman is finding inspiring ways to reinvigorate them both. He brushed on some big ideas relevant to Australia including ‘feedback loops’.  The consequences that come back to us from our lifestyle choices, and the way that Australia as an island, and human kind as an island cannot escape these. It should be something at the forefront of everyone’s minds, and there certainly are already some inspiring examples of changing these loops – take A Plastic Free Year for example.

According to Ableman, ‘stories we tell ourselves allow us to accept the things we believe we cannot change.  These issues then become invisible, like wallpaper.’ He says that by doing this, we stop looking for alternatives and stop ourselves from seeing other possibilities.  One of the first things that came to mind when I heard this, was the Carbon tax.  Now I’m no expert on the topic but so much of the opposition to the tax seemed to come from the industries that would have to change.  These are the industries that are built into our economy, and that feel comfortable thanks to the dependence we currently have on them.  For some people the fact that things are and have been like this for ages, stops them from seeing the chance we have to create new positive systems. Yes it’s a big job to change…but it doesn’t mean we CAN’T.Everyone outside for Lunch

Something that I’ve started to come across more and more lately is the idea of taking responsibility for yourself – and I mean on a big scale.  It’s often called the survivalist movement.  I know this seems like an unrelated tangent, but it’s really not.  Recently I read a book called Emergency by Neil Strauss (he’s the guy who wrote The Game), and it wasn’t what I expected.  It was mostly the story of his progression into a paranoid American trying to find as many ways as he could to prepare for some kind of apocalypse.  To be honest, I kind of dismissed the book as unrealistic and not very helpful.  But after reading the book, survivalist ideas have cropped up again twice this week.  First I heard about them here, when I was listening to an episode of Big Ideas on ABC Radio National and secondly, from Michael Ableman today, albiet in a smaller capacity.  The basic idea is, that in an emergency situation like a natural disaster, no one is coming for at least the first 72 hours.  All you have to rely on is your community, your resources, and yourself.  Are any of us prepared for that?  Translate this to the food sector – any instability, disturbance or disruption, and what would we do without the supply we take for granted?

This comes down to the greater problem – that there are simply not enough people involved in producing our food.  According to Ableman, only 2-3% of the population is currently producing all of the food for the rest of us. This is all happening while Australian wages have risen up to 70% and farmer’s wages have decreased by 40%.  Food input costs continue to rise, while the value of food does not. How can we take for granted that this small group will continue to shoulder our heavy burden, when there are not any obvious economic incentives for them to do so?

Monopolies like Coles and Safeway stay competitive by dropping prices.  They do this by simplifying and working in volume. Selected suppliers need to get bigger quickly, and everyone who cannot satisfy this need or is not chosen to, is out of the race.

Dessert!The solution needs to be supporting smaller scale, local and independent growth.  We need to find a way to get people on the land and keep them there.  Things are changing, with 150 farmers markets around Australia and 70 of these in Victoria alone.  But it doesn’t have to be, and shouldn’t be all about the farmers.  At the beginning of the 1800s, people spent around 90% of their time earning their food.  Nowadays, it’s about 17%.  Yes, this sort of system allows us time to have an education, to better ourselves and therefore our society, but convenience is ruling our lives.  The corners we cut by buying cheap, mass produced food  are coming back to bite us in the butt.  And they’re going to bite hard.

There is the problem of course that many people can’t afford to shop at organic farmer’s markets. But that shouldn’t be seen as an excuse – we should see it as an opportunity to build capacity. Today I met a lady who gives workshops in the Ashwood College Permaculture Garden, focusing on doing exactly that.  She teaches people who don’t have enough to eat how to grow their own food, and begin to support themselves.

I also saw Jamie Oliver speak in Melbourne last month, and something he said stuck with me.  He said that he’s never met a child who was involved in the growing and cooking of a vegetable who wouldn’t eat it.  Another point he made was that many poorer families or individuals simply lack the knowledge to shop for, prepare, and serve their familier healthy and nutritious food.  Oliver believes that food and cooking classes should be as mandatory as Maths and English in our schools and today Ableman suggested the same for learning about land and producing food. Should we be looking at a whole revolution of our education system?  Are we already moving towards this, with programs like Stephanie Alexander’s Kitchen Garden Foundation? I can’t wait to see what else is going to come out in the next few years.

There are amazing steps being taken, but the crux of it comes down to Michael’s closing point: That revolutions can be talked about online, but they cannot be manifested there.  Hands on participation is vital for our farmers, our food, our health and our planet.  The best bit is it’s not hard to take that first step!  There is so much support out there, regardless of whether you’re a complete novice or already a greenthumb. And you’ll feel it, once your hands are in that soil.  The connection to something big.  To something powerful.

As another one of the speakers Katie Finaly said, “I’m a farmer, because I love what I do.”   Farming, and providing people with the food they need is a noble and amazing thing.

If you wonder why I blog about food so much – go outside, dig a hole and plant something in it. When you see the results, you’ll find that connection I’m talking about.  When you take it inside and cook it, you’ll the find the joy I’m talking about.  And when you serve it to the people you love, you’ll feel the pride and the satisfaction and just like me, you’ll never want to stop.

I really had an incredible day, and feel inspired by what I heard today.  I hope I’ve managed to share some of that with you, and if you’re interested in learning more get on the Slow Food Melbourne website.  They’re a great group of people – thanks for a wonderful day!

To eat or not to eat, that is the question! Seriously.

Ok, it’s late tonight so I’m going to be efficient. Dot points it is!

Updates:

  • I found the culprits for the veggie munching! Check out these fellas!  I tried the soapy water, but it didn’t seem to help.  Any other suggestions?

    Hungry Caterpillars

  • We finally built the possum fort today!   I heard him running around and squeaking last night, I couldn’t bear the thought of waking up to more messed up pots! Plus, today was such a nice day.  Here’s our handiwork:

    Possum Proof

  • Final update – I started making sourdough! I don’t have any pictures yet, but so far so good! It does take a while, but tastes greaaaattt, and it’s so cheap too! So much satisfaction 🙂
  • Ok I lied, here’s the final update.  I’m reading a book my sister lent me called Animal, Vegetable, Miracle.  If you haven’t heard of it yet, I highly recommend it! Great writing, great information.  Have a look: http://www.animalvegetablemiracle.com/
Now, here’s the crux of tonight’s post.  While reading that book, something occurred to me.  I’ve been a vegetarian for something like seven years. I remember the day that I stopped eating meat – I said to myself that I couldn’t endorse eating meat until it could be done in an ethical and sustainable way. The problem is, I somehow lost my passion for it, without losing my belief that we have to be really conscious of the food we eat.  How could I stop being a vegetarian when I’ve been telling people for years that the meat is bad for the animals, our health and the environment?  Now I know that’s not true for ALL meat, but over the years I’ve seen a lot of meat products that don’t really reassure me.
Today though, I think I worked out what has been unsettling me.  While I still feel like there are certain health and environmental benefits to vegetarianism, I guess this kind of eating doesn’t leave room for the animals.  They are a vital part of our ecosystem, even our food system! They provide important fertilisation for the ground and keep ecosystems in check.  As you can tell, I don’t know all the details – but I know that we can’t just stop greenhouse gasses by not eating cows.  My understanding of our environmental and health problems, and of ways to deal with them has deepened over the years. Suddenly it’s not enough to just pretend I’m solving the issues by trying not to be a part of them.
There’s plenty of me that struggles with the idea of going back to eating meat, but maybe it’s time I gave it a try.  Maybe it’s more effective to support local farmers who raise animals in an ethical and cruelty-free way than to boycott it altogether. Argh! What a dilemma!  Any thoughts? Opinions?  I’m still a bit unsure about this whole thing, I’d appreciate any advice.
Ta! xo

Greeen Smoooossshiiieeees!

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Ok, I promise after this post I’ll write about something other than food.  But I had such fun making these that I had to share!

Wrinkly Lemons

The smoothies were inspired by two things; First of all, this awesome website http://kemisrawkitchen.com.au/blog/ with fabulous green smoothy recipes.

Secondly, by the large amount of not-so-fresh-fruit in my kitchen.  While I appreciate the home grown lemons Mum, turns out I really only have so many uses for them.

Ingredients

Ingredients included:

– Soft oranges

– Wrinkly lemons

– VERY soft kiwis

– 1 Suprisingly fresh apple

– Lots of baby spinach

– A tub of vanilla yoghurt

– Awesome amazing delicious raw honey

Yes, admittedly, I made a mess.  But it was soo much funn!!!  I advise you, if you’re ever home alone with old crinkly fruit, GET ON IT!

What A Delicious Mess

They were a little tricky to get your head around at first, but they were so tasty! Couldn’t even taste the green stuff, I swear!  🙂

Also, bonus points for frugality, right?

SOS, Help my garden grow!

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I’ve started a small vegie garden over the last few weeks,

Novice Gardeners

with some help from my friends.  Having said that, it seems I’ve ignored all the gardening that has been

happening around me during my life till now, and I’m a total novice at it.

So, my first efforts consisted of garlic, celery, baby spinach and lettuce.  I don’t get a lot of sunlight in my garden, so I thought I’d be tricky and put the seedlings up higher where the sun shines.  Exhibit A:

Sunlight Garden

It was so nice to wake up and look at the happy little greenies outside my bedroom window!

Until…DUM DUM DAAAAAHHH!!

Along came Possum.  Granted, it was probably mostly my fault for assuming he would ignore the conveniently placed vegies.  But still, HEARTBREAK AND SORROW!

No joke, I feel educated.  If that’s how much it sucks when a possum eats your three lettuce and spinach seedlings, imagine how farmers who live by their crops must feel when disaster strikes.

Ok, enough of the dramatics. Here are the remnants of the first incident.

Keep in mind, these pots were full and blossoming when I put them up there.

Post Possum

Lucky I had a few out the front, Poss hasn’t found them yet.  Net making is on my list for tomorrow, especially considering I have since updated the pot garden to include three more pots of seedlings! Woot woot!

The survivors

Now for the second and final section of this post.  I have titled it;

Other Problems Novice Gardeners Have.

 This is where YOU come in.  My celery has bugs.  Or a disease. Or self esteem issues.  The point is, clearly something is wrong.  It has black stuff on its leaves and some of them are being eaten/rotting away.  Look!

The Culprit

The Evidence

Any advice?

I’d like to leave you with a quote from a book I’ve been reading, seems appropriate for tonight’s post.

“If a man owns a little property, that property is him, it’s part of him, and it’s like him.  If he owns property only so he can walk on it and handle it and be sad when it isn’t doing well, and feel fine when the rain falls on it, that property is him, and some way he’s bigger beacuase he owns it.  Even if he isn’t successful he’s big with his property.  That is so.”

– John Steinbeck, The Grapes of Wrath

Days 6,7,8 and 9 – Oops.

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Well, just in case you were wondering, I did go to the movies, and Dad brought mint chocolate with him.  Needless to say my vegan run was finished.

Went away for the weekend and didn’t have internet so I couldn’t update, sorry.  Plus, since stopping the vegan week I’m not so sure what to write about! I have had other thoughts, but little spare brain power to back them up with.

Here are a few things that I’ve learnt that I can share with you till my brain comes back at least:

  • When I eat well, I feel better.  When I feel bad, I don’t eat well.  Interesting cycle.
  • Don’t watch people playing angry birds on their ipads on the train.  It’s surprisingly easy to start up a running crtitique of their technique and miss your stop.
  • Being a vegan is hard work, but soy milk milos and hot chocolates are an awesome compromise. Delish!

Ok that’s all for now from my tired brain.  If you have spare time and you’re interested in my future career path (current plan is Masters of Public Health next year), you might like to read this assignment I wrote.  It’s not very long, but it was interesting to write.  It’s an opinion article called Tackling Climate Change to Improve Global Health

Much love to my dedicated readers, all three of you.

xo

Day 4 – Overkill.

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What I’ve eaten today:

Bowl of porridge with soy milk
Nectarine
Vegan Moussaka (from a cafe)
Plum and a handful of peanuts
Vegetable couscous with sultanas

So far, so good!

I had another idea today too.  I was shopping at the Prahran market the other day and noticed that a few places sell grains, legumes and things from bulk.  So today when I went, I took some little tupperware containers with me, and put my couscous and Quinoa (if you’ve never heard of this super grain, check it out!) straight into the containers.  I felt a bit goofy doing it, but thought it was a great way to reduce packaging! The only thing I hadn’t thought of was that you pay according to the weight of what you buy.  The store I was in offered little paper bags to put your grains and things in, which makes sense because they don’t really weigh anything.  Not that my little tubs weighed much, but when I thought about it, I wasn’t sure how big a difference I was making either. Anyone know what the environmental impact of 2 paper bags is? Hmm.
Might have to admit to overkill on this one.

My packaging-less purchases!

My packaging-less purchases!

I’m sure there are situations where this idea could work really well though.  Sushi bars for example! If you had a little tub in your bag to hand over the counter when you pick out your sushi rolls, it could really work.  And if sushi features quite often in your diet then I think the differences would certainly start to add up.  I’ll give it a go and let you know if it works.  Not sure if there would be health regulations against it or anything.