Saturday, December 11, 2010

So this is what they get up to on Saturday Lunch-times

Saturdays from 8 -12 I have the house to myself. I potter, do the drudgery, catalogue my beer-mat collection - all the usual solitary stuff. However, this Saturday Mr Wong and my sons invited me to see inside their world. They go to Kung Fu class, Piano lessons and worship at the temple of Target or Kmart (I'm far too English to do that, give me Argos any day) and before coming home they stop at the Collins Road Asian Enclave and eat at Bamboo.

Bamboo - Authentic Singaporean Cuisine.

Now, I go through phases where I can take or leave SE Asian cuisine. I have had more than the fair share alloted to most White Girls and I am very picky about what kind of places I will eat in. For me, the aroma of chicken broth or the sight of a stack of ice cubes in an cold Kopi-Oh does not evoke the same misty-eyed frenzy which affects my husband. A bowl of Heinz Tomato Soup and some Mother's Pride spread with Country Life would get me going, but I digress. Nor will I eat anywhere in which my forearms stick to the plastic table-cloth.

Bamboo is different. There are three locations; Perth CBD, trendy Subiaco and Asian-dense Willeton out in the 'burbs. That's where they go. This outlet is run by three Cantonese sisters from Christmas Island furnished from Empire It is stylish and spotless and bustling.

The menu is extensive but the men of my family almost always order the same thing: Wan Ton noodles, dry, with barbecue pork and Wan Ton noodles, dry, with crispy roast pork. Two iced Milos and an iced lemon tea. The Wan Ton are filled with a delicate pork mince and float in what I am told is the perfect chicken broth. The dry noodles get mixed in the soy sauce until they are perfectly golden brown. Everyone is very happy. This is the best food of this type in a 10km radius. The noodles, I am told by Mr Wong, are as good as the ones from the China Town markets in Sydney, only the one stall mind you and that was way back in 1993.

I chose Kway Toa flat rice noodles with beef, no egg. I first had this dish in the night markets in Sandakan, Sabah. Served in a plastic bag but none-the-less delicious because the great strength of these flat noodles is that they take on the taste of the wok like no other. As a consequence all the previous built-up layers and patinas of flavour and carbonisation and salt and oil from a properly seasoned wok are imbued on to their slippery surface. If the kitchen does not have an expert and fully focussed wok driver, then this dish will give the game away. Happily, Bamboo has just that.

My order comes out first. I get that smug grin which befalls the diner who knows they've made a top choice and I dress the dish with sliced pickled green chilis marinated in soy sauce.

For dessert, the men of my family make the short journey to the next door store and indulge in Korean Ice Lollies; flavours and colours that immediately take one back to being 8 years old, flavours and colours that have been outlawed in Europe for many years. My sons eat them in the back of the car on the way home. Shark fin shapes made with a tangerine-flavoured blue-grey ice shell with strawberry-flavoured red jelly inside. Wholly and utterly unethical on every level, and a right proper treat and no mistake.

I grabbed a selection of Korean crisps, drawn chiefly by the graphics on the packaging. I have little or no idea what they will taste like, but then that's the fun of it.

We all arrive back home, and while the adults give their bellies an airing on the sofa the sons are on the trampoline at once. Strong stomachs and lots of stamina. Far more than I posses. I may go back to my pottering next Saturday and give my greed a rest. Oh, wait a minute, I 'll be in Bali next Saturday.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Low-Carb Lunches 1: Warm Prawn Cocktail

Ahhhh.... there's been a gap. I cannot find the copious notes I made from my UK trip. I haven't quite looked everywhere; I am postponing the crashing disappointment of realising I left them on the plane/taxi/duty free shop. However, they may turn up somewhere utterly unexpected. Like my Foo Fighters Tickets from April 2008. I put them somewhere for safe keeping while we went on holiday to Kota Kinabalu and the floor-sanders were in. I swiftly erased the knowledge from my mind, came back with 18 hours to go before the show and tried to trawl through a house already turned upside down because of the floor-sanding operation. One of my sons found them wedged right at the bottom of a bolster cushion inside the cover. I have eyed him with a shadow of suspicion ever since.

Anyway..... while I was preparing to ransack the soft furnishings I got hungry.
I am trying to reduce my carbohydrate intake to one serving a day. I am vain and slightly more upholstered than muscular and summer is coming. So I looked for lunch-time inspiration to London. Pret a Manger to be precise
Anyone who worked in London in the 90s remembers their first Pret experience. Good bread, good fillings, easy to grab, made you feel like you were a little bit Continental, wrapped in spiffing cellophane so you didn't get grease spots on your desk and most importantly you could be in and out in 6 minutes flat so more time for lunchtime shopping/fags/flirting/shoplifting.

The book of the shop divulges all its secrets.

Not sure if that was an unwise move or a very arrogant one as Pret was so sure they could not be aped. For the eschewer of bread and carbohydrates in the middle of the day the fillings on their own make a wonderful lunch.

The first in the book is egg and bacon mayonnaise but that dish is dead to me ever since I witnessed at first hand the low habits and hygiene of the London pigeon (the Berkley Square mob to be precise), made the fowl/egg connection with the lumps in my sandwich and have never been able to countenance a boiled egg since. Scrambled is fine, it's just the white bit. And what those pigeons were doing to one another. Everyone has their peculiarities, that is one of mine. The next filling is, however, far more appealing; Avocado and Prawn. And since it has no yeasty cover it will be elevated to cocktail status.

The trick with prawn cocktail is not the prawns (in Britain we would use partially defrosted north sea ones and fancy ourselves exotic and erudite). Today I used frozen West Australian prawn flesh at $40 a kilo. I sauteed them in butter and olive oil with some torn kaffir lime leaf, lemon juice and salt and pepper.

The trick is not the salad vegetables, The Pret recipe calls for Cos lettuce leaves for which I substituted skinned Roma Tomatoes. ( reader, I shall admit this to you: I dislike lettuce. Well, I dislike the way I handle it. I 've never been able to treat it properly and nothing lettucey will ever come close to my first French Green Salad served between courses in 1979. I accept the Ponce Rating and I know my limits), half an avocado, paprika and the MAGIC ingredient Marie Rose Sauce.

Marie Rose Sauce or Cocktail Sauce is irresistable to humans. When I worked in backstage catering we would serve up goujons of snapper with slices of lime and a dish of Marie Rose Sauce in which to dip. Next to the Amelia Park Frenched Lamb Cutlets hot off the barbie this was always hands down the most popular item we could serve. Mick Hucknall demanded seconds. Alicia Keys' rhythm section grabbed handfuls. Only Diana Krall would not weaken. And the secret is ...... homemade mayonnaise, worcester sauce and tomato ketchup.

I made mine thus:
1 egg yolk
freshly ground sea salt and black pepper
a squeeze of lemon juice
a few drops of balsamic vinegar
10 mls extra virgin olive oil
20 mls peanut oil
dash of worcestershire sauce
good glug of Heinz tomato ketchup

Coax forth the mayo in the bowl with much patience and elbow grease, then stir in the last two ingredients. It should glow like a the flush of a lover and hold its shape like jelly.

Unfortunately I chose the rubbery- soft kind of avo and decided it would be better off having a tumble in the saute pan with the prawns along with the skinned roma tomato and the shredded basil I substituted for the Pret recipe paprika. The gentle heat really brings out the sweetness of the tomatoes.

It had texture, flavour, softness and crunch and most importantly of all enough Marie Rose Sauce to lick out of the dish for the finale.

OK, now where DID I put those notes? There are no curtains in my house so I don't have to scrabble behind any pelmets....

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Semantics: disappointment, expectation and hardening the F up in Perth.

Bar & Tapas
Tell me, what does that suggest to you?
If you are European, especially Spanish or Catalonian it will be a strong suggestion, if Australian-Who-Has-Traveled it will be another thing, if it is Perth-CBD-Worker-Looking-For-A-Bar-And-A-Bite-After-Work it will be another.
Me - I'm a mongrel with my roots in north London, a few visits to Northern Spain at the very least. But I live in Perth.

So.... the chief thing I expected at was a) not to be kept waiting for 12 minutes for a glass of Tempranillo; one extra-odinarily pompous waiter took my order mutely, one inert bar-man and several intermittent staff later and I was forced to walk the 5 metres to the bar and pick up the glass myself. I know that this is hardly a hardship in the real world, I'm not waiting for clean water in a Haitian post-earthquake camp or anything, but still....

Bar AND Tapas.

This is a Bar
They choose to serve small portions of Mediterranean styllee food on mis-matched saucers and call it tapas (no baccalau, however the Berkshire pork cheek confit and scallops were good as were the chick-pea battered prawns - I presume that the chickpea element was besan flour).
But a Tapas Bar it is not.

This is a Tapas Bar

(I don't know who the pasty middle-aged woman at the end is)

The goods are on display, the dog can see the rabbit. There is no menu, one trusts the chef.

The wine is in tubs on the counter. One could help oneself, but one has an agreement with the Host; the customer will ask and the Host will pour at once. Not wait 12 minutes while the staff faff about.

This is tapas, this is what it looks like;
It ain't fancy, it's just the best of what the Host likes to serve.

That, mi amigo, is a plethora of fried protein coated in refined carbohydrate on sticks. Salty, crispy, delicious, honest. In the illuminated cabinet below is a selection of less robust items: vol-au-vents ( yes, vol-au-vents because they are popular and people like them and they contain a creamy, vinegary, filling perfectly) filled with crab remoulade, salami and potato salad, elvers and mayonnaise, need I go on?)

So, it is with initial trepidation over spoiling our evening yet resulting in the purity of an informed debate, that I suggest to my dinner date that either the term "bar and tappas" is misleading or that my European -flavoured expectations are simply out of place in this town. My dinner date works with words and concepts and design. He tells me the clue is in the punctuation; Bar amperzand Tapas. It is not a Tapas Bar. Well quite, I say, otherwise they would have had the cojones to put the tapas on display, right there in front of the booze whetting the appetite and assaulting the senses like a common street walker rather than coyly nestling between the leaves of a flock-wallpaper covered menu. Nor would one be at the mercy of the waiting staff but in the care of a Patron (pimp?) who is unashamedly displaying his wares.

Andaluz could be taken as a gravely disappointing misnomer, but as my dinner date reminds me,
this is a bar that does food in the middle of the Perth CDB. It is Wednesday night and it is buzzing: Job Done.
However I would be extremely interested to know how the seed of the vision of Andaluz started out in the owners' eyes. Seriously, I am very willing to have my European smugness knocked out of me. But I would advise that the owners tell the pot-wash guy not to leave the mop and tea-towel drop right outside the kitchen door. A small detail but nothing puts one off ones' head of veal and truffle oil dish like a dirty mop-head standing sentry at the kitchen.

I must share my delight at the growing numbers of Bars in Perth. Yes, a Bar. Where a grow-up can enter, sit or stand and buy a drink. It is heartening to see the stealth licensing laws are being used. And the interior decor of Andaluz is right on the pulse. The dark, bold hues of the walls and colour accents from vintage bric-a-brac is all the rage in the front parlours of Kensal Rise.

At the risk of sounding deeply condescending, and I really don't want to be that person as I do realise how fortunate I am to have got a permanent foot in the door of this country, I wonder if the owner's vision matched the end product his wait-staff supply. This is a mis-match I see time and time again in this city and I truly wonder why these gaps need appear. I am 99% certain the designer did not mean for the bar-staff to stash the paper wine lists on the lip of the gun-metal grey girder which frames the bar. Small details and hardly life nor death, but they must have mattered to someone somewhere along the line.
And speaking of lines, the bottom line is that I have to drive in from the 'burbs to Andaluz, I am not the tie-loosened white-shirted ideal customer looking for drink after work with a boudin noir rather than a pie for sustenance so really, what do I matter?

I would give Andaluz another crack, but with vastly different expectations.
Perhaps I just need to Harden The F* Up, Stefan

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Mint-Chocolate Mousse or Mum - did you get this from the Shop!? (compliment of the highest order)

I have two sons.
One will wolf down confit du canard, foie gras or tripe while the other turns his nose up at a croque monsieur at the same Parisian Bistro because it is "the wrong kind of cheese."
One will ask for Venison Pie for tea after a seeing the dvd of Bambi, while the other's idea of nirvana is to be let loose in a ball-pit filled with Twisties and Crinkle-Cut Chips.

So, it is something of a challenge to cook a meal that satisfies the polarised tastes my children demonstrate. Almost each day there are multiple dishes on offer simply because I cannot take the cruel sting of (food) rejection and I am irritated beyond measure when an empty refusenik stomach demands Milo cereal at 8pm. I pick my battles. However, I do feel the need to ease the fussy one in to a wider range of home-cooked and non-synthetic foods and I know that he has a sweet tooth. I shall, like Paris, loose my nutrtional-arrow in to his Achilles heel. My arrow will be tipped with Mint-chocolate Mousse.

It's not fancy. This is how I made it. And no money changed hand with Nestle, which is nice.

serves 4 children
125g mint-flavoured milk chocolate
25ml water
2 eggs
1 egg yolk
50g caster sugar
50ml very hot water
1 10g sachet of gelatine crystals
100ml thick/double cream
grated chocolate and piped cream (ideally from a squirty can to maximise effect) to decorate

small dishes

1. Melt the chocolate with the 25ml water in a bowl over simmering water
2. In another, larger bowl whisk the eggs, yolk and sugar together until frothy and thick

3. Dissolve the gelatine in the very hot water and add to the eggs and stir well

4. Stir in the cream and melted chocolate and pour in to individual dishes

5. Chill for 2 hours
6. Garnish with the cream and chocolate, and if you can get away with it fresh mint leaves
7. Decide whether you did get it from the shop and just decanted it to make yourself extra washing up, it's your call.

And this is the response: "Mum, did you get this from the Shop? Did you? It tastes fantastic, just like from the shop. Oh MUM you are so clever."

I bask in the glory and ignore the sugar eating away at his dentine. At least he has had eggs and milk. Plus I remember to snatch the mint-leaf garnish away before he sees it (everyone in Year 1 knows greenery=deadly poison). My other son finds it a tad bland. Neige aux Marrons Glaces for him tomorrow.

Girona, Catalonia - El Mercat Del Lleo.

Just across the street from our hotel in El Placa del Lleo is Girona's retail food market. This is the distribution centre for the city's fresh produce. What a joy to behold.
The purpose built hall houses wet, dry, cured, moist, slippery, crunchy, crispy and soft foods. Outside it is surrounded by produce stalls, the goods on which are of every shape and size.
Even putting the olfactory senses on hold, the visual ones are delighted fed and delighted admirably.

are these elvers or smelts?

We walk through, unable to buy anything to cook, but delighted that the chefs and cooks of the city just a short stroll ahead of us have been here far earlier on today and left with full bags.

The elvers on the tapas, I get a hard stare from my friend and to be honest I could take them or leave them but oh, how pretty they look.

54 different kinds of baccalau

Checking the provenance and sovereinty was impossible. The Catlans do not care to speak Spanish. They are NOT Spanish, no more Spanish than the French or Italians and they will NOT, by jingo, speak it unless pressed very hard. Therefore it was not EASY to strike up a casual conversation about the provenance of the monkfish, or the halva or the quinces. Even my friend Lucy ( who took these marvelous pictures) who learned her Spanish in the jungles of Peru could not elicit any information without resort to hand gestures. Plus as it was obvious we weren't buying and were merely passing through and these stall holders are busy, busy, busy.
retro-tastic butchers' stall
So I can only guess that all these treasures came from the surrounding hills and plains and shores. Certainly there were no gimmicks and every one buying looked doggedly assured that they knew precisley what treatment to give the familiar ingredients according to the day of the week and the complexion of the days' weather. In short, this produce is the backbone of the region and while there is definitely room for experimentation (after all Ferran Adria's El Bulli is but a stone's through), none of the cooks here want their supplies titivated or tarted up. This is where the every day cooks and the Post Modern Impressionist cooks come to fill their palettes.

When we reach the far side of the market, we are a tad peckish. We are now faced with the task of sifting through the immense number of choices of where to have lunch in this city. But it won't be too tricky, as long as we choose somewhere whose cook was at El Mercat Del Lleo earlier this morning, and left fully-laden with produce and inspiration.
and with that thought in mind we make our way to the Plaza del Independencia for a bite to eat

Monday, October 18, 2010

Back in the saddle, Mediterranean style

There has been a distinct malaise here at Crackling.
What could it be?
Homesickness? I've been back from Europe for 3 weeks now
Missing something I already have? Could be, but that is a little wet as a theory.
Bug picked up on the plane? Very possibly. Long Haul flights = big metal bird/pertri dish full of other people's germs.

Nothing's really cutting it these days.
Apart from breakfast bacon and eggs (can never go past that happy couple, particularly as my English butcher in Brentwood cures his own streaky)
My appetite for good food is low; pedestrian at best, white-trash at worst. Come midday I am eager for snickers bars and refined carbohydrates. Now I wouldn't usually tell anyone this but it may affect my usual integrity if I don't demonstrate how low I've sunk:- Cheese and Bacon Cheeto Balls with a topping of Kraft 1000 Island Dressing.
Little Else.

I am pining for the peppered smoked mackerel, the plaice, the damsons, my sister's Maran hens' eggs, the pork pies, the Wallace and Grommit range of cheeses and the common High Street Byriani amongst which I was submerged for three weeks. Two weeks with a short sabbatical to Catalonia and Oh! The tappas and the wine. Now so very far away.

Low and Flat. A bit like Belguim.

Until I stumble upon the latest series of No Reservations uploaded kindlyby Kumquasta on youtube. It is the Roma episode.
Even though he's a teeny tiny bit tame these days, Anthony Bourdain still gets me going. Is it the black suit and white shirt or the white suit and black shirt? Or the fundamentally European foods cultured in a fundamentally European way? In this episode Tony visits a rarified delicatessen in the back streets of the city and wallows head first in every kind of singularly European Goodness: milk'n'bacteria (whole fresh parmesan wheel), cured pork products (proscuitto), fermented rape juice (wine) and bread that makes a shattering, raspy noise when cut (hard, fermented, raised woodfired wheat). I can't put my finger on it precisely but it has all put its fingers on me.

I turn to my garden, store cupboard and the remainder of the Red Tail Ridge Olives:

Olive Oil
and Anchovies melted down
Garlic just with the raw edge taken off
Italian chopped plum tomatoes, drained - you must drain them - and
melted in the unctuous perfumed oil
Parsely, oregano.
One red birds eye chili
Cans of cannelini beans and borlotti beans
Hell, even a drained can of "sandwich flake"style supermarket tuna (scraped with a blade from the hulk of a beat far away in Thailand during a 12 hours shift, no doubt)
Warm body heat warm so the flavours can sing out.
It is right for lunch tomorrow with salad leaves and right for tossing through warm rigatoni.

Europe is at my fingertips once more. My appetite has been restored.
Now if only I could get my hands on the raw, sweet red wine from Girona, just right for Sangria. It doesn't even get to the wholesalers', the owners of this restaurant it up straight from the vinyard in the hills. More of that later.

I'm looking out over the Med again, fork in hand, thankful for what I have and the sun is shining. Thanks Tony, both of yous.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Excuse me while I compose myself

Now the jetlag and the ensuing laziness is wearing off, there is work behind the scenes of Crackling to bring reports and recipes from the UK, and Catalunya which is NOT Spain in case you didn't know.
So while you're waiting, feast your eyes on this premium Hampshire Hand-Raised Pork Pie.

a bien tot

Thursday, August 26, 2010

food sovereignty part 2: Reconnecting with the suppliers

The second salient question of the Food Sovereignty forum was, "How can we extend awareness of good local food?"
The unanimous answer was "Farmer's Markets"

And there are many in Perth.
My local one, is in Palmyra Primary School on Mckimmie street. So I head off looking for all the ingredients for Sunday lunch. It's not a huge collection of stalls and most are fruit and vegetables. It's a cheerful place with a steady stream of buyers. I'm slightly disappointed I won't be able to buy everything in one place but that's not really the point; the more customers who visit a market, the more stall holders will come. We have a small amount of power in that respect.

We choose grapefruits from Gin Gin, strawberries from Wanneroo, eggs from Pinjarra and simply can't go past Gourmet Mushrooms from Gidgegannup.
Swan Valley Gourmet Fungi
- Grow your own gourmet mushroom kits, Oyster mushrooms
213 Old Toodyay Rd, Gidgegannup 6083 / email
David Proudmore ph 9574 6540 mb 0414 478 826

David started off as an environmental scientist and has ended up as a facilitator of the most beautiful fungi, they are a living art installation and very hard to pass by without stopping to admire. And as we stop we are offered samples, and are hooked. I ask David why Farmers' Markets work for him. "You can't beat direct selling for feedback. The two way information between us and the end consumer is invaluable to our business. We like to be appreciated"
We buy a handful of mushrooms for $5 and with the eggs we have our lunch.

Oyster Mushroom Omelet: local to 100kms? Yes. In fact I could buy an oyster mushroom growing kit and be local to 5 metres)
Sautee the mushrooms in olive oil and butter, add local organic parsley (10 metres local to my kitchen), and black pepper and we have lunch

I don't quite know what this gadget is for, not whisking eggs that's for sure as it won't break up the albumen.

Back at the McKimmie street market I ask if there is any meat to be had and am told to take the short trip to Lefroy Street in South Freo for the jewel in the crown of Sunday Farmer's markets: The Grower's Green Community Market. I am told I will find organic meat. I grab my child and propel him to the car and zoom off.

This is Freo after all. Tie -dye aplenty

It is buzzing. The car park is so busy it needs an attendant. There are stalls arranged around a centre of cafe style tables. There is a stage with belly-dancers and African drummers. I can buy Moroccan spiced tea and arrange to have my pet professionally photographed and feed with Natural Dog Cookies. I can stay all morning have breakfast, brunch and lunch. This is a Day Out.

There is no mistaking the driving force behind all these stalls; they are proud to be local. The first banner one sees on entrance is from Karra Orchard.
Here we can buy all the fresh produce we want, and what my son and I really want is apples for the lunchbox that are not the size of a fist, they don't get eaten. We are faced with glorious mountains of apples that have just been picked and washed - not sized and sprayed and stored. There are small ones, medium sized ones and we quickly choose the ones that suit us.

thanks to these chaps

I buy my son a banana icecream and station him to the side of the Redtail Ridge stall. and set about pestering one of the owners Mike Gaebler.
Redtail Ridge farm started out with olives and expanded to cattle. Mike drives the 280 km distance from the farm in Mumballup on Fridays, makes deliveries to his large customer base and spends Saturday and Sunday between Subiaco, Bentley and Lefroy Street Farmers' Markets. The meat is frozen and transported in a refrigerated van. Mike's stall is very impressive. His shiny new van is resplendent with the company logo and although he displays no meat the brand clearly attracts a large crowd. Most of the customers know what they want already but Mike is skilled at matching need to product and sends people home with the best cuts and tips on how to cook the dishes they fancy. The customers certainly feel there has been an experience of value.

Between the brisk stream of customers Mike kindly answers my questions and problems around processing come up again and again; as I discovered last week at the Food Sovereignty forum, Annie Kavanagh of Spencers Brook Farm relies on contract butchers who will take her product if and when it suits them, often pushing back the dates if a larger corporate customer is putting on the heat. Annie and Mike advocate a network of small Regional Food Processing Centres with access to cool-rooms, health and safety advice and marketing consultancy. At present she can find the logistics to ship tonnes of product but not kilograms.

In order to address difficulties of scale Kim Chance talked of getting rid of Health and Safety red tape and introducing small domestic abattoirs which are not forced to operate at Export Standard, set incidently by the World Trade Organisation and the USDA. Few facilities have stepped up to support the small producers' needs as Export standards demanded at Domestic level mean 350 head of cattle per day would need to go through in order to maintain the cost of meeting those standards.

Rearing and supplying a thoroughly organic product is a costly business in time and money and those that see it through to the finish invest a great deal of both. The contract butcher used by Redtail Ridge has Organic Certification to ensure the product is Organic at every stage of production. Mike Gaebler is certain of this qualification at that stage in the chain because he had to pay for it. "It's about control, and in order to guarantee our meat was butchered organically, we had to fund the butcher's training ourselves." Ultimately Mike believes the cost is worth it, "Our product has integrity and that value is appreciated by the customers." I appreciate the 1.5 kilo bolar blade roast for under 20 bucks. And a jar of organic Kalamata olives. Roast beef with olive tapenade crust for dinner tomorrow as the joint is frozen it will need to thaw.

Recipe next week.

So would one do this each week? Basics and boring stuff at the supermarkets and IGAs and support for local producers at the weekends? Is it reasonable to expect the "average" consumer to afford the time and money to shop this way? Food buying options can be spread across a broad portfolio of choices, as the Food Sovereignty panel concured towards the end of the discussion. A consumer will spread the activity across the supermarket and, if we are lucky and make enough noise, independent food stores who care about selling local produce and of course Farmer's Markets. Kim Chance pointed out that today food has never been so cheap, especially in comparison to our Grandparents' days. Consumers do have spending power to make a difference and a distinct desire to reconnect with suppliers if only the opportunities are supported by agricultural Policy and retail facilities.

Will the new government listen?

Link to Farmer's Markets Perth

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Food Sovereignty: Does it matter where your food comes from?

Western Australia is a big, big state. So big that just looking at it on the map gives me the shivers: too vast, it simply cannot be all one territory. I 'm used to a single sweep of a weatherman's arm taking in 6 EU countries and a myriad of local regions. Something else that gives me the shivers is that 90% of all food grown here is exported, leaving 10% consumed across Australia nationwide and a smaller fraction of that food available to local consumers.
Where I come from regional identity is often expressed in food; Cornish Pasty, Cumberland Sausage and Bakewell Tart. Sure, they are all for sale in Tesco right across the land but also in the villages where they are produced. The actual hands-on pasty maker can get their product directly to eager, traditional consumers easily via the village shop and more importantly at the Farmer's Market. Could that ever happen here? Does the average WA consumer have any connection to local producers or are most of her/her food choices made in the third party at Supermarket Central Office?

On August 24th Christchurch Grammar School Ethics Centre hosted a forum organised by Slow Food Perth on tackling the question of how we as local consumers can, if at all, connect with local producers.

Food shopping in Perth Metro is a vastly different experience from shopping in the UK. One learns to stock up at Woolworths, Coles or even IGA for the generic staples. Increasingly one may gasp with delight when artisan producers are included on the shelves next to the Big Guys, for example but generally all we know about the produce is that it once lived in a warehouse by the airport. As a Foreigner one learns that a week's shopping means visiting several stores and actively seeking 0ut products with seasonality and a connection to the local area. Personally, I like to befriend Butchers: if you show them you are taking time to think about the cuts and animals you are buying they grow quite friendly.

Meat that was the symbol for the issues raised ast night's Food Sovereignty forum. All the questions asked by SlowFood's Jamie Kronborg can be mapped out with Meat production and consumption. Jamie's opening question was "Do consumers Influence Production?"

Let me introduce you to the panel from second left to right:

Anthony Georgeff is editor of Spice Magazine, which is a champion of small local producers. Anthony answered "People are patronised by the big corporations, they who purposefully separate us from the small producers." He believes consumers can definitely influence producers if given the chance.

Annie Kavanagh runs Spencers Brook Farm in the Avon Valley She specialises in rare breeds with Berkshire pigs, Long Horned Wiltshire sheep and Dexter cattle all farmed to the highest organic and free range standards. My ears pricked up at the mention of Berkshire pigs I can tell you. Annie has been president of the Organic Farming Association and sells her pork at Mt Claremont and Subiaco Farmer's Markets. To get her produce to the plates of Perth she has to wear every single hat in the food chain from pig-wrangler to PR specialist. Her biggest challenge is blinkered retailers.
"When we have placed our pork with retail butchers they complain is sometimes too fat, sometimes too lean which confuses the customer. Our pigs live natural, seasonally-driven lives and a winter chop is markedly different from a lean summer one." It would seem that the customer, used to picking a standard polythene-wrapped pack off the shelf at Coles is mistrustful of anything that doesn't match the graphic in the catalogue. Annie continued, "Farmer's Markets are the answer. I can have direct contact with the consumer with the great advantage of offering a taste and an explanation." Annie, like most of the panel, advocated giving the consumer the opportunity to buy from different systems of production.

"Food grown somewhere near you is great," stated Kim Chance, farmer and former Minister for Food and Agriculture in WA. He went on to frame the debate on a global scale: "There are two paradigms in the matter of food choices. Much of the world either gets by on rice and fish or is conditioned through suppression of choice or budget restrictions to buy only what the global food giants are offering. There is, however, still room for the discerning consumer who has access to choice." He balanced issues by reminding us that globalisation of the food industry as not all bad. He cited Japan as a country reliant on this as it has a GDP of just 1% from agriculture. Being able to supplying the Japanese with food imports benefits WA enormously. We can't really catigate the food giants while as All Bad when we owe them some of our lucky lifestyle.

The second farmer and politician of the panel ex-Western Australian National Party leader Max Trenorden highlighted the contrasting health issues globalisation of food production has given the world; famine and malnutrition versus the raft of diseases such as diabetes and obesity associated with bad food choices in the developed and developing world. He pointed out that lack of choices, whether it be nutrient-poor staples or trans-fat filled standards is damaging the health of the world amongst both the Haves and the Have-Nots. Max says world food production rates are rising but that didn't mean the right kind of food was in the right place. He wanted to capitalise on the evidence that the consumer within the upper echelons of the closed markets does have belief in Local food, "In the West, especially Europe, 60% of all consumers want quality, one third of whom will pay a premium for it. Surely we can take that trend and run with it in WA?" Max believes that the state should try harder to strengthen this trend.

Dr Felicity Newman, who lectures on Food and Culture at the Centre for Everyday Life at Murdoch University was also keen to emphasise the two tier class-based system of food choices. She believes those that can afford to make the quality choice are beholden to support small, non-industrialised growers. Felicity drove the debate onwards by asking how this might be spread this further throughout the state to generate connection to local producers and encourage consumers to value local produce.

After the first round of answers it was pretty clear that the consumer can have an impact on food production, on the one hand through complience and through choosing to spend their food dollars on local produce of the best quality on the other. Food Sovereignty is an issue of interest to a considerable base of consumers who want to make thoughtful choices and to be connected to what they eat for health reasons and to show support to local growers. The next question is "How do we make it easier to connect the producer and consumer?"

That question will be addressed in part two of this report after some field-research. I set myself the practical task of buying all the ingredients for Saturday's dinner grown within 100 kilometres of my house.

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I feel roast pork coming on, but then I usually do.