Celebrating a true Aussie Christmas

Our two boys are at that wondrous age (4 and a half and nearly 7) where Christmas is a magical event. The excitement of putting up the decorations and the Christmas tree, the countdown to Christmas that at that age seems to last forever (still 8 more sleeps to go), the sharing of special food and treats, and of course, the wonder and mystery of Santa and the gifts that he brings.

The joy of Christmas was put into a whole new perspective today when my four and a half year old loudly piped up with the statement to a few of his friends that “sometimes Santa gets his presents from China because he is too busy to make them all himself!”

My friend and I rolled around in laughter at his instinctive comedic timing, acerbic wit and insight beyond his years; but as we dried our tears I was also struck with a sense of sadness. My child’s experience of Christmas is partially consumed by the inevitable cheap, plastic toys made for pittance in a country where labour standards are far lower than ours. My husband and I take full responsibility for meeting their demands, and as Christmas rolls ever nearer, undoubtedly the Christmas stockings will again this year be partially filled with light sabers and plastic figurines.

However, it has made me take stock and think about whether this is really the kind of Christmas experience I want our family to have. I know for sure that for me Christmas is much more than presents. It is about sharing with family and friends. It is about a celebration that is largely expressed through food that is prepared and cooked with love. Good, wholesome food shared around the table with laughter. For many, it is the one time of year when the family get together and all contribute. We take the time to prepare and take care to ensure that all have plenty to eat. We bake special treats, we take time and reflect.

So the one thing that I am going to make sure of this year is that the food that we share does not reflect the toys that find their way into the Christmas stockings. I will not be serving cheap, imported ham that we end up eating for weeks on end. Instead, I will buy a smaller, carefully smoked local ham packed with real flavour. I will take the care to source produce from local farmers and growers, who are all busy working hard at this time of year; barely with time to stop for Christmas. My Christmas this year will be a celebration of what is near and dear to me – local, Australian produce prepared and served with love, affection.

Merry Christmas to all!

Cherries on the tree

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Value of food

Weekends are a special time for me. On weekends life slows down enough that I have time to be creative with food. During the week my main priority is ensuring that my family’s nutritional needs are being met, generally with quick and easy meals. But on weekends, I take great pleasure in cooking at least one special meal for my family, where I take time to plan and source the freshest of ingredients. For me, the meal becomes the centre-point of my day. Often my children will help me with the preparation and the process itself is just as important as the finished product. It all culminates in a wonderful sharing of food, conversation, love and sense of togetherness and belonging.

Today’s special meal will be home made pasta served with slow braised pork belly. I have browned the pork, sauted seasonal vegetables and now it is gently simmering on the stove top in a flavoursome broth of red wine and stock. As the dish gradually develops its rich flavours and the meat slowly tenderises, I take time to reflect on my own personal food values and what it is I look for when I go shopping.

20130713_130740-1Primarily, the food I buy has to taste good. If I have an unpleasant eating experience, I will tend not to repurchase. Secondly, it has to fit within my food budget.I do allow extra money to spend on quality produce, but I have to make sure that I have enough money left over to pay all the other bills. I am sure these are qualities shared by most.

I also take great pleasure in sourcing local produce where possible. There are a range of reasons why this is important to me. I have a much greater sense of connection to food that is produced locally, because I can see the fruit hanging on the trees or the animals grazing in the paddocks and I can relate to what I am eating. Further, by buying local I know that I am supporting local businesses, infrastructure and people, which in turn contributes to a much more vibrant and healthy society for my family to live in. It also helps to secure our future. I also can’t see the sense in growing food locally and sending it half way around the world only to import the same product to serve our own needs. What a waste of energy!

I embrace the concept of seasonality, enjoying the variation of food between seasons and savouring the diversity of flavours and dishes. I love the hearty, rich dishes dishes in winter that lend themselves to winter vegetables and look forward in anticipation to the delightful array of fresh fruits and salads in summer time. Sometimes going without something for a while makes it that much more special.

If buying local isn’t possible, I like to ensure it is at least made and grown in Australia. I have a much greater sense of trust in food that is Australian and on a macro scale, it feels worthwhile to support the broader community in which I live.

However, I also understand that not everyone shares the same food values that I do. For some people, affordability is key. For others, access to a key ingredient at any time of the year, whether or not in season locally, is a great thing. Many people just want to ensure that their food needs are met in the most convenient, affordable way possible. Some will not eat meat, choose organic options or have specific dietary restrictions. That doesn’t make their values any less worthy than mine. In fact, that contributes to the rich diversity of our culture and who we are.

In our society, we are incredibly lucky to have so much choice and consistent access to high quality food, to the point that our food supply is more often than not taken for granted. I take great pleasure in sharing information about where our food comes from, because I would like consumers to continue to be able to make choices about their food based on a real understanding, not just heresay. I feel that it is important that collectively we continue to recognise the diversity in people’s requirements and ensure that our food choices are not taken away from us.

As consumers, we don’t want to allow these choices be taken away from us by large suppliers who want to dictate market terms. As suppliers, we want to ensure we continue to meet all the different market needs.

This certainly is food for further thought as I start preparing the pasta. What are your food values? What drives your decisions when making purchases?

20130713_161933 20130713_180010….. and by the way, the meal was worth the wait and loved by everyone!

How those three small steps are changing my purchasing habits for the better

In my blog Three things we can all do to make a difference I challenged myself to make three small changes when I go shopping to try and make a difference to my purchasing habits.

I set myself the task of:

  1. Checking the labels on at least three different items to make sure my choices were locally grown and produced.
  2. Asking a shopkeeper if I couldn’t find a local option or wasn’t sure of the labeling.
  3. Sharing with my friends and social media networks about fabulous local brands

Now into the third week of this challenge, I am really pleased to say that I am gradually changing my habits and I feel great about it.

I am discovering new things about what is and isn’t available and am making conscious decisions about what I am buying. Looking and taking notice is starting to become a habit, rather than a chore.

On the weekend just gone I set about preparing for our Sunday afternoon ritual of enjoying home made wood oven pizzas. I ventured into the local independent supermarket and sourced some wonderful, local ingredients. I found a superb artisan wood smoked prosciutto that was no more expensive than any of the commercial imported brands. This went beautifully with some fresh South Australian La Casa Del Formaggio Bocconcini and Lucia’s Fine Foods olives, and the finely sliced Red Anjou pear from Paracombe was a highlight!

The enjoyment of sharing wonderful, freshly prepared food with family was particularly special because I knew that by and large, everything we were eating was grown, made and produced by an Australian farmer and food company. Even more special was the fact that most of it was produced within a 50 km radius of our home.

However I am also making some discoveries on this journey. I now know that most packaged ham is made from local and imported ingredients (don’t ask me why). I now know that a large percentage of fruit juices are made from 100% imported juice concentrate and diluted with Australian water to show a label of made from imported and local ingredients.

I also have a much greater appreciation of just how confusing our labeling systems are and how many discrepancies there are in the standards. Often labels will not even show if a product is made and/or grown in Australia.

I was in the Adelaide Central Markets on Saturday morning, an icon of Adelaide renowned for its atmosphere and range of produce. I was astounded to see that in a market where many shoppers go specifically to source local produce, there was no enforcement of country of origin labeling. Californian cherries were proudly on display front and centre of one stall with no indication whatsoever that they were imported. The only giveaway to the discerning eye were the few loose, empty boxes that they had arrived in strewn under the stall.

I also know that I need to work on raising my voice further, because instead of questioning the stallholder I walked away under the excuse that I was in a hurry.

So my journey of change continues. As I grow in confidence that what I am doing is making a difference, I am more determined than ever to share my story and encourage everyone to join me. So if you are prepared to join me in this challenge, let’s raise our voices together and help spread the word!

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Three things we can all do to make a difference

The feedback has been overwhelming. Many people want to buy local. Many people want to support local farmers. They just don’t always know how and the choices aren’t always easy for them. Wearing my consumer hat, I am one of those people.

Recently I discovered a documentary today called “Broken Limbs”, highlighting the plight of apple growers in Washington State and how a change in thinking and farming styles provided a glimmer of hope. During the making of this film, the filmmakers Guy Evans and Jamie Howell  discovered that their own purchasing and eating habits were transformed. They discovered that shopping habits formed over a lifetime are not changed overnight, but one small purchase, one meal at a time.

They put out a challenge……….. this challenge was that “During the course of your normal shopping in the next week, try to buy three products of local or regional origin.”

So I am going to take up that challenge, and taking their advice, turn it into three simple tasks when I go shopping.

1. Buy at least three local items each time I go shopping.

I will check the labels on at least three products each time I go shopping and make sure they are Australian Made from Australian produce and if possible something local.IMG_2966

Sometimes the labels aren’t as obvious as this pear etched with the South Australian map! Understanding labels is a challenge. So I am going to make the effort to really look hard on 3 items each shop. If I can’t be sure, I will pick another product.

I will make the effort that each time I shop I pick three different items to check out. If I do this every time I shop, it won’t be long before my complete shopping selection will be effortlessly filled with local produce.

2. If I can’t find a local choice or am not sure about something, I will ask for it.

A produce manager or shop keeper will listen to what the consumers want, but they need to know what we are thinking. If enough of us ask the same question, change will happen.

3. Support, share and remember the local labels I get to know and love.

When I find a local product that I enjoy, I will make sure I remember the brand and look for it the next time I shop. Once I have made that first choice, the next time should be easy. But more than that, I will spread the word about that brand. I will let them know what it is about their product that I enjoy, I will share my experience with my friends and networks and help others make that choice.

That is my challenge that I am taking up and I will share my ride with you as I go.

Only 3 simple tasks! I’d love it if you would join me.