Sunday, March 29, 2009

The problem with packaging

It's been a bit easy for most of us growing up.

We've come to know food in cities as packages on the supermarket shelves. We've lost touch with the earth under our feet.

I thank my lucky stars that I spent some time on family farms seeing, feeling, touching, smelling the produce growing, and eating it fresh from the soil on the day it was picked. This is what taught me to appreciate freshness and flavour as well as gain an understanding of the seasons of food.

My first food memories are of a large walk in pantry on Aunty Dossie's farm. The shelves were lined with vacola (preserving) jars taking the excess of each season and stored for later use. I still remember the taste of icecream that came fresh from the cream of her cows. The icecream was lovingly beaten by hand every 20 minutes (no churn no icecream machine) throughout freezing to stop crystals forming.

The chickens produce eggs that were gathered warm each day and used in the kitchen on the same day they were laid. They had bright yellow yolks from the corn they were fed. The corn itself was fresh from the farm and I rubbed my knuckles close to raw rubbing the kernels from the cobs to feed the chickens.

We all thought it was a blessing when the first processed foods arrived on the shelves. Well, the women of that era did, and thought that freedom was bought with time saving. Has the cost been more than the gain?

Have you ever thought about the amount of energy that goes into the processed food in the supermarket? Its not just the from farm to shop transport cost, but also the energy in processing and packaging, the cost of energy to wholesale and stock the supermarket shelves, and the cost of the waste (and unused food that we use). Household food waste alone is estimated to be 5% of our energy consumption (sobering thought).

I am reminded of this all year, as one who has held fast to cooking with fresh seasonal food. I'm driven mostly by a need to retain optimum flavour and freshness. And, the cook's need to use everything, the onion skins, tomato peelings, and celery tops are kept for the stock pot, has driven me to think about rotating food and utilising everything in my pantry. I even learnt a new tasty dish to use every part of the tomato. Previously I had discarded skins now I know to dry the tomato skins slowly in the retained heat of the oven (in dry conditions they can just be dried over a few days in the kitchen): very tasty.

I am particularly reminded of this today as we have just turned out the lights for an hour to demonstrate our stance against climate change.

Our ancestors used everything that they hunted gathered and cultivated. It would be good practice if we went back to basics and tried to do the same.

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