Sunday, 15 February 2015

Fair Food, the Documentary

Last Wednesday, I attended a screening of a film called 'Fair Food, the Documentary' which was shown at the National Library.
The film was produced by the Australian Food Sovereignty Alliance. The moderator for the night was Dr Nick Rose, the ASFA National Coordinator.
He was assisted by a panel, which fielded questions after the film. The four panellists were:
David Pocock – Vice Captain of the ACT Brumbies
Michael Croft – outgoing AFSA President
Penny Coffey – of Caroola Farm, and
Kurt Neumann – Chef of Grazing restaurant at Gundaroo

The film
This documentary was a crowd funded venture, with just over 260 people contributing finds for its creation. It has currently been shown at specially organised viewings in a number of cities and is likely to go on sale as a DVD in a few months, when the round of screenings has finished.

What is it about?
Fair Food is a documentary, born from the need to tell the story of how ‘broken’ our current food system is in Australia, and the need for a fairer system that not only compensates farmers and food producers appropriately, but also to give consumers a real choice about the food they buy. The large supermarket chains of Woolworths and Coles have over 70% of the market share in selling food to Australian consumers. The combined pressure these two have directly controls the margins and output required from our food producers. This in turn has greatly affected the quality of our soils, as more and more is demanded in yield from crops, and higher and more potent amounts of fertilizer are used.

More yield means more clearing of land.
More fertilizer means run off into our waterways and rivers.

In years gone by, farmers would receive 90c in every $1 of product they made… these days they are lucky to receive 10c in every $1 they produce. Every week, nearly 7 farmers walk away from their land, and the rates of suicide in rural areas is staggering; nearly twice the national average.

The system seems to have so many ‘middle men’. From buyers, to distributors, to logistics, to warehouses, and finally to supermarkets. It seems that the supermarkets dictate what is made available to the consumer, whether the consumer wants it or not. There seems to be a never ending supply of fruits and vegetables that are not actually in season in Australia. Cherries and navel oranges from the United States. Garlic from China. Asparagus from Peru. Apples which have laid dormant in cold storage for months. The list goes on….  Costa Georgiadis from Gardening Australia appears in the film and talks about the loss of seasonality. The availability of produce doesn’t fall in line with the seasons anymore, when, thanks to the global market you can buy virtually anything, all year round. People have lost the passion and anticipation for the next seasons crops.  

How do we change the system?
There are so many ways people can change the system.  Vote with your wallets, your feet and your choices.

Purchase from non-supermarket channels – there are plenty of farmers markets, local and independent grocers, fruit and veg stores, spice stores, ethnic and specialty stores.

Grow your own – whether you have a large yard, or a balcony there are always things you can grow. A question was asked of the audience; “How many of you grow food at home?” about less than 5 people stayed seated! The moderator advised when the same question was asked of random strangers, about 50% said they grew food at home.  Do you grow food at home?

Ask questions – Ask where the meat in the produce section comes from, ask at a restaurant where the food is sourced. You may be surprised by the answers.  

This film was very well done and was very thought provoking. There were interviews and discussions with a number of producers and others involved in food production. Plenty of statistics were presented, which really made you think.   

A very interesting topic that cropped up from the audience discussion after the film was about food miles. Many people are conscious about the many miles, and cost of transport and burning of fossil fuels involved with transporting food. Many of us seek to buy food that is grown nearby to where we live, but have you ever stopped to think about abattoirs? It was very interesting to hear that there are very few remaining abattoirs in New South Wales, as many have closed over the years. Penny Coffey of Caroola Farms told how she trucks her poultry 3 hours from her farm to an abattoir in Bega > assists in the 6 hours it takes to process her animals > then trucks the produce for 3 hours (in a refrigerated truck) back to her farm.  A 12 hour round trip, just for her produce to be in ready state for sale. 

I’ve leave you with some thought provoking questions raised from the film….
What percentage of your income do you spend on food?  Are you solely driven by the cost of food? Do you always go for the cheapest to feed your family? Drop me a line in the comments section below. I’d love to hear your answers…   

Lastly some handy twitter handles, and URLs for future reference:

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