23 October 2007

Oh SOLE e mio

Lives there who loves his pain?
Who would not, finding way break loose from hell,
Though thither doomed? Thou woudst thyself, no doubt,
And boldly venture to whatever place
Farthest from pain, where thou mightst hope to change
Torment with ease...

Salman Rushdie

Reading an article in this week’s The Age, Epicure section – Moving up the food chain, on “Eating your way to salvation” – I felt quite self-satisfied that I was doing my bit by embracing the majority of items raised in the piece, in terms of eating seasonally, being a Locavore where possible, avoiding packaged foods, especially those with palm oil – supporting sustainability, fair trade, organic and bio dynamic practices, eating free range, heritage and rare breed, blah-blah-blah etc. We aim to eat ethically and we’re introducing household practices that hopefully will help minimise impact on the environment and support local suppliers and manufacturers.

And then I looked at myself and thought, what a wanker.

I am privileged. I have had a good education leading to a healthy career where I have had the opportunity to earn an above average income. Mr Stickyfingers and I have no children or crushing amounts of debt, in fact he has worked for the same company for 27years. We live in the inner city, enjoy the arts and dining out, we travel, read, socialise and have a comfortable home.

In short I’m a lefty wanker. In fact I’m a former anarchist, greenie punk who has gone a darker shade of ecru. Oh the shame of it. How did I become so vanilla?

For most of my life, I have been cocooned in a world of high maintenance, status-seeking achievers who I naively felt that I was rebelling against. But in the cold light of my energy saving light bulbs, I’m no different. Although my badge of honour is not the latest handbag from Chloé, European cars and entry to The Birdcage to rub shoulders with the skimpily clad, solarium set for Spring Racing Carnival, I am no less elitist in my practices, because it takes money to live ethically.

I’m doing my bit because it comes easily in my circumstances. While there are many people significantly better off than me, the vast majority of Aussies are not. As I trawl through the online sea of comment, forums and blogs, I begin to see the people who are beyond my social demographic and get some comprehension of the attitudes that I have for the most part ignored.

I see people who are driven 24/7 by the routine of their lives and by the example of their peers, lifestyle shows and trash magazines. An understanding of the planetary ecosystem, farming, culture and industry is not relevant to their lives. Many have an idea of how to cook, but not many consider the nutritional or environmental impact of their trips to the shops on their families.

To be SOLE in your approach - sustainable, organic, local and ethical - quite frankly takes dosh, which is manageable for us as a couple, but how far would it go if we had three more mouths to feed? I know in my heart that we would cope because slow grown is more filling and so less is required on the plate. And that ethical practices work as loss-leaders, paying off in the long run, but it is not easy to convey this to others.

So while people like myself are kicking back and feeling smug about our contribution, how much will our efforts actually impact on helping the environment, when industry and the majority of the populace need cheap and easy solutions to fit in with their budget and time poor lives? It is exactly to fill this need that Supermarkets have created a demand for items that are impacting negatively on the environment.

I watch Stephanie Alexander and Jamie Oliver with admiration in their attempts to roll back the years and teach children about growing food, cooking and eating responsibly. I feel saddened that in the UK Jamie’s efforts are being undermined by parents and a system that is beginning to reject his ideas because they are not cost effective. And when I read that some UK families regually choose a Pizza Hut family meal that delivers twice the daily requirement of salt to their children - over fresh home cooked produce - my high and mighty streak kicks in with a resoundingly self righteous “How dare they do that to their children!”.

But I am not a mother and I was raised with gallivanting gastronauts for parents, who rejected fast food. The stresses of the average family are not mine.

So in this world where many years of endorsing right wing governments has resulted in the cosseting of a generation of complacent young Aussies - who thanks to the efforts of the battlers who’ve gone before - have had it all at their finger tips, I have found myself gradually slipping into neutral. Like driving a car with a dodgy gear box, I adapted without even realising what I was doing. I see that I too am apathetic. Rather than rousing the punk spirit and reaching out to educate, I am like many others, vainglorious in my endeavours.

So in the midst of my mid-life crisis I have resolved to reignite the fire of my youth for causes. As a bonne vivante spin doctor, I have been nominated to assist the Slow Food Movement with their efforts and though I have never officially joined the cause, I support their practices. In order for a wider community, beyond those of privilege, to embrace these practices we need to get word out. The government and the media need to be involved.

We need a champion for the cause. Although Slow Food and The Slow Movement has been around for a number of years, they have oft been discounted for being a bunch of elitist, unrealistic, fuddy-duddy fundamentalists. The challenge will be to disprove this and to show more people how to live economically, ethically and in the process raise a happier, less obese population that has a planet with a positive future.

It’s time to step up to the soapbox again. I will make a difference. Old punks never die, they just go green around the edges.

Facts from Slow Food Foundation for Biodiversity:

of European food product diversity has been lost since 1900

93% of American food product diversity has been lost in the same
time period

33% of livestock varieties have disappeared or are near disappearing

30,000 vegetable varieties have become extinct in the last century,
and one more is lost every six hours

The mission of the Slow Food Foundation for Biodiversity is to organise and fund projects that defend our world's heritage of agricultural biodiversity and gastronomic traditions. We envision a new agricultural system that respects local cultural identities, the earth's resources, sustainable animal husbandry, and the health of individual consumers.


Anonymous said...

Sticky don’t be so hard on yourself!

Just because you enjoy privileges shouldn’t exclude you from being passionate about where your food comes from. Yes you are right; coming from the vantage point of being comfortable gives one the choice to be interested in these things. People with very little money will generally not choose the free range eggs at $7.50 per doz when they can get them for $3.50. The chicken’s circumstances will always come a distant second when one is doing it tough. Another way to look at it would be that if you didn’t purchase those more expensive eggs, the people who have made the ethical decision to go down that particular path might go out of business. You are supporting change with the spending power that you can exercise.

There will always be those who see the broad dialogue about food & its related issues as elitist so it’s not worth engaging them or feeling the guilt that they project. Michael Symons wrote about this issue in his updated book, One Continuous Picnic. The perception out there that food is not seen as serious enough by mainstream academia.
Instead you are taking positive steps to address issues that you feel strongly about, surely that is not something to feel bad about, are you sure your not a Catholic!
Deciding to be involved with slow food is a good thing. History has shown that over the ages many movements at the vanguard have attracted the patronage of the privileged, the wealthy & the powerful. Without their support, some of the great artists, musicians, political movements & peace activism would never have flourished. Noble Largesse is the way you should think about your contributions & you don’t have to prove your credentials to anyone

PS. Our local chapter of Slow food will be at Fed Square early next year. I was due to go but I have work commitments.

Anonymous said...

That's a strong post, sticky! Nice. If change or good can come from a privileged position then that's great - it serves others in a constructive, enlightened way, doesn't it:) Privilege is fine if people in that position understand their situation relative to that of others -- too often something that is missing.

I was having a conversation with a stranger this morning about why I like Melbourne over a popular European city. He was uncomprehending. But, as strangers, I couldn't say to him "everything you describe as 'better than Melbourne' comes from a position of monied opportunity. REAL life in [the European city] is not so much better than that in Melbourne... but you wouldn't know that life!" He wouldn't have understood your good post today.

grocer said...

I have been drafting a comment on and off for an hour now. several times.

thank you for highlighting this article. it is simplistic but introduces some important notions.

I have so much to say and yet every time I start to writ it becomes verbose and complicated and more verbose, and...

I have done a post re the article on my blog; different to yours of course.

I have two points that i keep trying to make and losing...

(1) as long as ethical/ethicurean practices are inconvenient or expensive they won't be adopted by the masses.
(2) being in a position to afford a conscious decision is not wrong, unless you then decide not to bother making a conscious decision.

I think you're a champ!!!

Jon! said...

Wow! Reading posts like this really put a whole lot of things in perspective and make me think with totally open eyes. I am a battling student, working my way through, but can always find the extra money to go out to good restaurants occasionally, buy organic and free range products where possible and try to do my bit for the environment when I can.

That being said there are many things I could do better, and would do differently if I had the extra money. I’d love to switch to green energy but realistically cannot afford the extra expense. I would love to buy more organic and local products but again this is not always possible. Given my position however I generally try to do my best, which is more than can be said for many.

I actively use public transport instead of driving to the shops or work. I think carefully about purchases, particularly when it comes to food and the way in which it has been sourced. I will generally pay a little extra for something because it is an ethically sound choice, but as you said not everyone can do this, whether they want to or not.

I have grown up in a family of six, of average class, where money is stretched, and my parents could not afford to pay twice as much for free range eggs etc. etc. etc. The dilemma is however that even those who can afford to make the right decision often do not. Why? Most humans are inherently greedy.

Anyhow, that is enough from me for now. A really insightful post and I will certainly continue to do my best in taking the SOLE approach. I do however now feel somewhat guilty as I regularly spend $100+ on a dinner, when that money could be better spent on making other aspects of my life more SOLE – everyone however needs to have some enjoyment, and at least I take the train out to dinner:- better than driving in and further polluting the environment on the way.

Cheers, Jon (Melbourne Foodie!)

purple goddess said...

Like G, I have been mulling over this post since I saw it yesterday morning.. and I keep writing long, rambling responses that go nowhere (Long and rambling??? C'est Moi??)

I do what I can, with the money available to me. I recycle. I collect the shower water and use it on my plants, I grow some veggies and herbs. I buy most of my groceries thru a company that sources them semi-locally (within Vic).I compost.

I buy milk from the Warnambool Dairy (in support of the farmer's co-op)and my bread is delivered fresh from a suburb away.

But sometimes I find myself wondering whether it's best to buy eco-friendly rice from a village co-op in Thailand, but worry about the carbon credits it's racked up getting here.

And at that point my wanker-alarm sounds.

I have 5 kids. There are weeks when I'd love to buy only locally grown, eco-friendly meat/eggs/vegies, but it is simply out of the budget.

So, on those weeks where I am fiscally forced to buy a non-carbon neutral, non-organic chook for tea, I make the choices I can.(NEVER buying gas-packed meat from big supermarkets, NEVER buying cage eggs, etc)

I buy it from my local butcher, keeping the $$$ supporting my local businesses.(god forbid the day I have to buy from Coles or Safeway). That week I trade some bread with my next-door neighbour for his home grown tomatoes. I make stock from the carcass, for risotto the next evening. I talk to my kids about the shopping choices I've made and why I've made them. As much of the family food budget as I can afford goes to ethical, sustainable, recyclable "stuff"

And I bet on the karmic pay-off that next pay cycle, we WILL buy from the butcher that only sources his meat from the Mornington Pen ($10 a T-bone... do-able when it's just Furry and I. Out of the question on weekends with 7 of us)and we WILL source any extra fruit and veg from roadside stalls that we know of.

This is not meant to be a justification of what I do, more a musing on what those of us, with kids, in the 'burbs are doing. And I have to say that I think most of us are doing what we can, when we can.

Hell, once upon a time, recycling and composting was the bastion of the hippy mung-bean crowd. Now, even people like Mater Beige are doing it as par for the course!!

Anonymous said...

For this to work there needs to be a change in the way food is produced as a whole, not just an isolated thing that the iner city folk can afford. There was an interesting program on radio national yesterday that talked about there needing to be a change where EVERYONE grows their own veg - even if you only have it in pots or on your balcony. this is going much further than buying organic or free range and thinking you have done something. Avoiding overpackaged over processed foods is something everyone should do so there is no longer a market for it. This is important from an environmetnal point of view, plus would help Australia economically too if we all kept it local.
The other thing is that organic and free range produce is not really available in the suburbs. I recently moved to the Dandenongs to get a bigger yard and live amongst the birds, and have found it impossable to get decent seafood and free range chooks. I have to go to the Prahran market which is a wast of fuel so i cant justify it, unless i combine it with another trip for a different reason.

real change needs to be made and can be made, but it needs to start with a change of culture, where quality of food is more important than price, and dont get me started on bottled water from overseas...

stickyfingers said...

Wow I am overwhelmed by all your wonderful contributions. I really appreciate all the great points raised. And Gobbler, as a Buddhist I'm sounding very Catholic though more appropriate is probably an unrelenting Jewish questioning of myself and actions, as part of my childhood was spent with a very charitable Hungarian Jewish family.

Yes, I'm beating myself up and please accept a very heartened thanks to all who gave me comfort.

I feel heart broken by what is happening in primary industry. I worry about obese children. I feel devastated when people lose their jobs because supermarkets are trying to squeeze local manufacturers down to the point where they can't afford Australian labour.

I want to do more while I can. I want the earth to recover from the damage we are doing. I want to make it the norm to put the planet first by making it more affordable to avoid fast growing, genetically modifying practices that use way more resources than traditional farming techniques.

I want to teach people that you need to be clever in your approach to being ethical. I want to teach people how to cook better meals economically and to eat better.

In the spirit of Salman Rusdie's poem, I feel that I would do whatever it takes to extricate us from a potentially hellish situation.

I have business and marketing skills. I'm not Bono or Bob Geldof, but I have a strong network of contacts and I feel that now is the time to pull them together for a worthy cause.

BTW Gobbler are you missing Slow Food here for your own Locavore event in Tassie?

Anonymous said...

Hi sticky, I am really getting enthused by the way you have nailed your colours to the mast!

Maintain the rage! Always!

Oh & no its a strictly work associated confilct. The big long table lunch at the farm is another matter entirely. If we continue to enjoy these most glorious of spring days, I will feel emboldened to hold an event every weekend!