Hail To The Nihilist

Category: Food

Federal Assistance for Australian Farmers: Really?

Farmers in Victoria are doing it tough. They are in the grip of “drought-like conditions, land devaluations and [are] struggling to feed their cattle” according to The Age. The Federal Government have agreed to help out by providing low-interest loans with a view of consolidating growing debt.

Whole Larder Love‘s, Rohan Anderson, is critical of this and tweeted:

“How to plug an unsustainable agricultural system by the Victorian government … PULL UP THE  ORCHARDS? Logic has been removed and replaced with short sighted economic rationalism”.

I agree with Rohan. I added:

You would be forgiven for thinking farming is a sacred act. The way farmers respond to threats that would make businesses in other industries “shape up or ship out” is indicative of them being [viewed as in] some higher category. But, is this really the case? With farming suffering because of globalisation and competition; are a few local farmers in a drought stricken region really of such great economic importance and benefit? Or should our primary industries be treated like any other?

I’m sort of playing the devil’s advocate here, as I am not a big supporter of free-market economics. I’m concerned that this apparent sanctity is getting in the way of better decisions. Just as one is told they supposedly cannot question another’s religious choice, one ought not question the role of farming in our country or whether or not farmers should be eligible for Federal assistance. From the conversations I have had with farmers, they consider their role to be of unequaled importance. However, the fact that many farmers are doing it tough, and not just because of environmental reasons, but global competition and consumer behaviour too, suggests that they are maybe not as highly-regarded – rightly or wrongly – as they think.

I for one think it’s a dreadful shame that we source so much food from overseas and will not buy Californian oranges or Chinese garlic. However, while ever this is allowed, it seems wasteful and contradictory that the government bailout farmers. There is an important premise that needs to be addressed here: If we care about sustaining agriculture in Australia, then we need to put some substantial protections in place.

A reply to Jessica Fleming (Aussie Dairy) et al

I think I went over the maximum character limit, so I am not sure this comment will be published on the Weekly Times Now article it is in relations to, “Spark in Online Animal Activist Threats“. However, I’d like those involved in the article to read my comment nonetheless. To summarise the article, Jessica Fleming a dairy farmer/blogger has received an increasing number of threatening and abusive emails from “animal activists”. She makes a few comments about the collective that I think are generalist and unfair.

Dear Shannon Twomey, Jessica Fleming, and Curt of Mackay –

Want to know what’s also very frustrating? Being told that we “really do not understand agricultural industries” and have “no practical experience of any description”. Who are these people you are describing? Your ideal of an animal activist or a truth? It fits your rhetoric to think of them all as left-leaning arts graduates that live in share-houses in Fitzroy or Coburg or Newtown or Bondi. However, this is far from a truth. Those that choose to spend time fighting for better treatment of and/or rights for animals come from all walks of life and I’ll have you know plenty of them are ex-industry.

It’s tempting for me to add that you “really do not understand animal activists” and have “no practical experience of any description” in rallying against legislated injustice. However, I don’t really think that of you. I don’t know you. Animal ag’s response to the live export ban (I don’t know which side of the fence you guys sit on as it has diverse support) is testament to a willingness to rally in such a way. And I do applaud you all for using the internet as a means to have your voice heard and to contribute to the dialogue. I agree that contributions should be without abuse. But I also think they should be without fallacy, without logical errors, and based on evidence. And shouldn’t resort to statements like “You surely can’t know as well as us, we’re on the coalface”.

What is Food For?

There is a very important question I feel we don’t ask ourselves often enough. “What is food for?” With the obesity rate at 63% now is a good time to start thinking about the answer.

Food is fuel. It allows us to function. But it has become much more than that. I think food as a social thing is great–it enriches our culture. However, other things have taken away from the importance of food as fuel and we now buy certain types of food over others for convenience and price. We want our food cheap and quick.

In the stimulating documentary, Food Inc., a young hispanic family share their plight of not being able to afford real food. They argue that it is cheaper to buy takeaway instead. All members of the family are overweight or obese. The problem in the US, which isn’t necessarily the case here in Australia, is that many of the components of fast food are highly subsidised by the government. It’s cheaper to produce food that relies on things like high-fructose corn syrup which is heavily subsidised than it is, say, lettuce or tomatoes.

Back in Australia, the quick-and-cheap mob are being pandered to as well. Amidst the price war between Coles and Woolworths things like milk and bread are being dropped to ridiculous levels. However, this price decrease is an illusion as produce prices remain steady. You may pay $1 for a carton of milk but that’s offset by the $3+ you pay for a listless-looking bunch of bok choy. People are led to believe that due to their buying power, the big two are cheaper across the board and that we mustn’t support small and independent as we’ll end up paying more. Wrong. I buy all of my produce from small, independent suppliers and pay much much less as a result.

I think food in our lives needs to be reconsidered. We need to push beyond it being this necessary burden. We need to spend more time thinking about it, making good decisions about it, and not buying the cheapest or most conveient. Do we make our decision to buy a new TV or car this way? No. These purchases usually occur after a thorough research period. We associate cheapness with poor quality. Why don’t we think about food this way? Worse still, we fall en mass for the marketing messages dispensed by the big processed food companies. What food writer Michael Pollan refers to as “edible food-like substances”.

We complain about having such busy lives nowadays but that’s our own doing. Our priorities are such that we work longer and harder. But we make concessions where it really matters. I don’t think food should be one of the things on the hit list. Perhaps TV time should take its place?

I’m glad for how things are heading. Farmers markets are popping up all over the place. Organic is becoming mainstream and cheaper. And more and more people are growing their own–they’re getting back to nature. This is all very romantic. We ought to ask ourselves why we are following these trends? Is it because they are trendy–the thing to do at the current time? Or is it because we have thought long and hard about what they stand for, and how they fit into the bigger picture?

Ask yourself: Is this bag of potatoes, frozen ready-meal or loaf of bread good enough to FUEL mine and my children’s bodies?


Newstart, Budgeting and Eating

I think the amount that Centrelink’s Newstart pays is disgusting. Less than $450 a fortnight. How is anybody meant to live on that? Having said that, if you must, I think one needs to be savvy. I just read Dwayne Pitts story on Sydney Morning Herald. His fortnightly grocery list comprises “mince meat, sausages, milk, bread, bananas, pasta, juice and a soft drink” and costs him about “$70 to $80”. To me, that doesn’t look like money well spent. But Dwayne probably doesn’t know any better.

I read a comment the other day calling for Job Services Australia to be centralised. The case was compelling as it would remove several layers of dead wood, would cost less to administrate as a result and would make it easier for job seekers. Such a department ought to provide counselling and budget assistance. Obviously, people like Dwayne need assistance with their budget.

It’s a common misconception that eating healthy is expensive. I can make a nutrient-packed soup for less than $5 that will yield about 8 serves. Sure, it requires a bit of know-how and shopping around to find cheap produce but making the soup is within anybodies grasp. Pot of water. Stock cube and maybe a few herbs and spices (why not give a few packets of herb seeds to people on benefits?). Veggies. Boil. Blitz in a blender if you’ve got one. If not, eat it chunky. Delicious and healthy. And the varieties are endless–stick to what’s seasonal and you’ll pay less.

Hey, maybe my views are simplistic. Well, they are as I don’t know the circumstances of each and every person. However, budgeting and home cooking aren’t skills that the program teaches. These are soft skills and they are vital. The program instead concentrates on having them find work. And it’s ineffective at this for the most part.