Now that the Masterchef fever that gripped Australia is fading, we are being subjected to the onslaught of a merciless election campaign with cynical, vote-grabbing promises being hurled about from all sides. I suppose I am not alone in feeling jaded and disenchanted by the modern political landscape, but I fervently hope for a bit of sincerity in the announcement by the Labor party that they intend to develop and implement a national food plan. Tony Abbott seems reluctant to address this issue, but with their fondness for one-upping each other, lets hope that the Libs will come up with a similar idea, too.
Food security is an issue which should be on the minds of us all and if you don’t know why, then please have a wander over to the ABC’s story, “Selling the Farm” parts 1 and 2. Good quality, arable land is being bought up in large parcels by international interests both here in Australia and overseas. Presumably this is bought with a view to securing future food supply, but often the productive land is given over to the growing of bio-fuels instead of food. Alternative fuel supplies are all very well – but what are we going to eat? Overseas, this is occurring cheifly in Africa where, in some countries, productive farming land lies unused – often because of inefficient and/or corrupt governments. In one instance – in Ethiopia, a country regularly in need of food aid – the government is offering 7.5 million acres of its most fertile land for sale to wealthy countries! Here in Australia – a dry country, dependent upon very limited water resources -we are selling up water rights with the land. One internationally owned company now owns 45% of almonds under cultivation in Australia plus 89,000 megalitres of water and another, registered in the Caymans, is making a bid for Cubbie Station with it’s enormous and unsustainable water license.
The Australian dream of home ownership is also responsible for compromising significant tracts of prime farm land as developers move in and make seemingly generous offers to exasperated farmers who frequently have their backs to the wall. Most producers who hope to have a contract with the only two large supermarket chains in Australia must resign themselves to rigid and uncompromising terms and cut throat prices which pare back their profits to the bone. It is hardly surprising that the prospect of a fat cheque from a property developer and a future free of backbreaking work for little profit looks appealing.
Encouraged by the large supermarket chains with their commitment to industrialised food systems, we have been led to believe that food is cheap, when this is far from the truth. There really is no such thing as cheap food and whatever is saved at the checkout will have to be paid somewhere else up – or down – the line. Not only does it cost us the loss of productive land and the people who know how to work it, but we also end up paying in soil degradation, pollution problems resulting from widespread use of chemicals, health problems from those same chemicals and reduced nutrient values in the food we get. On the other hand, when we buy our fresh produce from a farmers market or an organisation like Food Connect we know that we are getting fresh food that has been grown locally and for which the producer is being paid a fair price. When shopping at a farmers market we are also getting the opportunity to form some sort of relationship with the growers and the opportunity to develop our community, rather than being another faceless part of the industrialised food machine.
Food security is a big issue – far bigger than can be in any way adequately addressed here. However, I believe that it is one which we all need to give some thought to now – not in some dim, distant future. For if we are to have good, clean, fair food in our future we need to care about where it comes from and how it gets to us right now.
The link to the Adelaide Showground Farmers Market and Food Connect Adelaide are on this page.
For info on other farmers markets in Australia see –