Beyond Food Miles by Chris Ennis

Tuesday, November 30th, 2010 at 10:39 am

In the late 90’s and early 00’s after the release of a couple well publicised UK and US studies, food miles, the distance food travels from farm to shop, became the standard for measuring our food related footprint. And although food miles drew our attention to the environmental impact of our food choices the problem with using food miles is that it is only one piece of the food system puzzle. Unfortunately more holistic but also more complex ways to measure food system sustainability such as Life-Cycle Analysis (LCA) that could give us a much better picture of our food footprint haven’t received the same kind of publicity as food miles (apart from a much quoted Lincoln University study that concluded imported New Zealand lamb had a carbon footprint ¼ of its local British counterpart. For a little debunking of this study see ).

Adding to the food miles picture is recent thinking suggesting that all of our driving to and from the supermarket is an even larger energy user than transporting food from the farm. Which tells us that to really reduce our food miles as well as buying local, we should be walking, riding & taking public transport to the shops. We can also get home delivery, join food co-ops or carpool and shop by car less frequently rather than multiple times per week. But this is still just focussing on food miles, below are some suggestions for ways to lower the overall energy foodprint of our food choices:

  • Eat less meat & dairy and eat it free range and grass fed. Meat and dairy farming produces the most agricultural green house gas emissions not only from methane but also because feeding animals on grains consumes significantly more land, water, fuel and chemicals. (for more see › Hunger )
  • Know your farmers and buy from low input farms that protect biodiversity and build soils – these tend to be organic and biodynamic but more and more farmers of all stripes are rediscovering the importance of rebuilding soil life to lock up carbon, hold water and minerals. (Read more from Australia’s own Dr Christine Jones
  • Eat local: not only because it reduces transport but because it supports resilient local economies and builds local food security, important as we pass peak oil and the world demand for food grows. (For great reading on building local economies see Michael Shuman’s Smallmart Revolution )
  • Eat seasonally: in season, local food is more likely to have been ripened naturally, have retained more nutrients and needed less packaging and cool storage.
  • Reduce food waste and compost scraps – every year Australian’s throw out $5 billion worth of food– simply buying what we need has a huge impact on the amount of food that needs to be grown, transported, stored and dumped into landfill.
  • Buy food with no or the least amount of packaging and buy unprocessed or minimally processed: simply buying less of both significantly reduces the energy footprint of our food.
  • Grow your own food – it connects us to the land and the seasons, even if it’s just a pot on a balcony it’s a start and when times get tough having a home garden could be the difference between eating or going without. (If you haven’t seen it already check out The Power of Community: How Cuba Survived Peak Oil DVD 2006)

An ode to Asparagus by Ruth Friedlander

Wednesday, November 24th, 2010 at 11:47 pm

Asparagus is one of my all time top 5 favorite vegetables (in case you’re wondering the others are, in no particular order, spinach, tomatoes, mushrooms and eggplant, and they’ll all hopefully get their own blog post sooner or later). There’s nothing quite like the first few bunches of spindly asparagus spears appearing at the markets (or in your fruit and vegetable box) to welcome spring and all the amazing seasonal eating that comes with it. I invariably get quite excited by the prospect of hot weather salads, asparagus omelets and bright green spears lined up along the barbecue. By the time the season reaches it’s end however, and the asparagus spears have grown plump and sweet, the novelty tends to wear off slightly, the beauty of this being that after the long wait in between seasons all off that excitement of spring and asparagus returns the following year, and I’m like a kid on christmas again. It’s a beautiful cycle really, and one of the reasons seasonal eating is so rewarding.

Along with being the bearer of the good news that Spring has finally sprung, asparagus is a wonderful vegetable in so many other ways. It contains a whole range of nutrients to help prevent nasty things such as  heart disease, stroke, cancer, infertility and birth defects (so it is great for pregnant women and couples trying to conceive). It has anti-fungal and anti-inflammatory properties as well as boosting kidney performance and improving the removal of waste and excess fluid from the body.

In case you’re looking for more reasons to start making the most of Asparagus season, it’s also a joy to cook with, can be partnered with a whole host of delicious-in-their-own-right foods and takes the smallest amount of time to prepare.

The first step in dealing with Asparagus is to snap off the woody ends. Do this by bending the stalk near the bottom, it should snap off where it needs to. If it takes a bit of encouragement and doesn’t snap straight away your Asparagus is probably not as fresh as it should be. Once the ends are gone you can proceed to steam, simmer, grill, or roast your Asparagus, and after a next to nothing cooking time (look for bright green tender spears) all you need is a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil, or a knob of good quality butter and a light season, and you’re good to go.

Of course that’s just the beginning of the culinary adventures you and your Asparagus can embark on together. Wether in a salad, soup, frittata, risotto or creamy pasta dish Asparagus will sing. It perfectly complements poached or boiled eggs, a whole host of cheeses (shaved parmesan being a standout), lemon, rich creamy sauces, peas, potato, white fish, seafood and herbs such as mint, parsley, basil, oregano and tarragon. Try using roasted spears as soldiers to dip into the runny yolk of a soft boiled egg, or in a spring fresh quiche or frittata with new potatoes, mint and fresh picked peas. Smother delicate steamed Asparagus spears in a Hollandaise or Béarnaise sauce, or pair them with goats cheese and cherry tomatoes on a pizza. Asparagus works amazingly well in a risotto with plenty of lemon zest and fresh baby spinach leaves stirred through, or in a stir-fry with seasonal vegetables and a good dose of chilli and garlic. The list is seemingly endless, and I’m sure I could go on, but instead i’ll leave you with an easy recipe for a middle eastern take on Asparagus, perfect served as a side dish, or add a few salad leaves and make it a light meal instead.

Steamed asparagus with dukkah and crumbled feta

For the dukkah

1/4 cup blanched almonds

1/4 cup hazelnuts

2 tbsp coriander seeds

1 tbsp cumin seeds

1/4 cup sesame seeds

1 tsp freshly ground black pepper corns

2 tsp salt flakes

NOTE: This makes about 1 cup of dukkah, much more then is needed for this recipe, however it’s great to have on hand to serve with olive oil and crusty bread as an appetizer. It stores well in an air tight jar and is best kept at room temperature. If you’re pushed for time you can purchase a ready made dukkah instead.

For the Asparagus

1 bunch of asparagus (about 6-8 fat spears, or 12 thin spears)

1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

1/2 tbsp lemon juice

1 tbsp chopped fresh mint leaves

1 tbsp crumbly feta

To make the dukkah roughly chop or process the hazelnuts and almonds and dry roast in a skillet over a medium heat till just starting to brown. Transfer to a bowl and leave aside to cool. Next dry roast the coriander and cumin till they become fragrant and have just started to darken, and leave aside to cool. Finally dry roast the sesame seeds until just starting to brown and set aside. Using either a mortar and pestle or a food processor pound or chop the nuts until they are finely crushed and are a consistent size. Add the ground pepper and salt and mix through.

Bring a pot of water to the boil and place a steaming basket over the top. Snap woody ends from asparagus and place spears in the basket with a lid on top. Steam for 3-5 minutes depending on the size of the spears until bright green and tender. Transfer to a mixing bowl and pour over olive oil and lemon juice. Add mint leaves and 1 tablespoon of dukkah and mix through to coat. Arrange asparagus onto a serving plate and top with an extra sprinkle of dukkah and the crumbled feta.

Hold on, summer fruit’s a coming!!

Monday, November 22nd, 2010 at 4:16 pm

I was walking home from the shop the other day and I was really excited to spy the first ripe loquats on a tree hanging over a front fence.  I grabbed a few and shared them with my son who got through a half a one before he used it for target practice on an old pc monitor lying on the nature strip.   Now loquats are nicely tart and have lots of juice, they even have one of the most beautiful looking pips going around but they ain’t no white peach.  What I was really excited about was seeing the first of the summer fruit and loquats are always the first , which means, soon we’ll be eating apricots, plums, peaches, nectarines and cherries not to mention new seasons apples and pears!  Last week at the Footscray market I saw the first organic peaches of the year; they’d been brought down from an orchard in Swan Hill hoping to get a good price at the start of the season – they were hard, pale and not much bigger than golf balls but they were definitely peaches.  So hold on Fair Fooders, we know our boxes are showing the gaps in the season with apples and kiwi finishing up but over the next few weeks it’ll all be forgotten with the first bite into that sweet stone fruit.  Oh, and in the meantime pass the time with some local strawberries; there’s lots around at the moment, perhaps there’s a punnet in your box this week.

Chris Ennis

The rewards of eating in season – or how a weekly vegetable box gave me a whole new appreciation of cauliflower.

Wednesday, November 10th, 2010 at 4:14 pm

By Ruth Friedlander and Armeda Hammonds.

In these days of easy convenience and twenty four hour supermarkets the sheer options of produce available can be at times overwhelming. Seasonal fruit and vegetables can be difficult to decipher in the produce section of your local Safeway, where in the middle of winter you can find a perfectly round and bright red, yet tasteless tomato that has been in cold storage since it was picked (unripe) from the vine. Not to mention fruit and vegetables that have spent hours in transit traveling from far away shores just to satisfy our need for constantly available produce.

In light of all these options eating seasonally may seem like a difficult and restrictive task, but the reward of enjoying the first of the seasons vine ripened tomatoes far outweighs any challenges, and there are a range of easy options, such as seasonal fruit and veggie boxes, which take away the drama of navigating the lacquered aisles of the supermarket produce section.

In fact, being limited by variety and season makes a weekly vegetable box a fabulous excuse to delve into some new recipes or create seasonal varieties of old favorites. Having the internet at your finger tips will provide you with a wealth of information on any unknown arrivals, from nutritional analysis to cooking tips. It also can be a chance to rediscover vegetables previously overlooked due to childhood aversions or bad dinner party experiences. For me the dreaded boiled cauliflower (or dolli bowler, as I apparently called it) from my own childhood was enough to have me sworn off for life. Little did I know its delicate earthy flavor can be a revelation in a velvety smooth soup or Moroccan spiced couscous salad. If not for its inclusion in a weekly winter veggie box, along with the ever growing guilt of having it languish at the back of the fridge each week, only to end up soft and limp in the compost, cauliflowers would still be on my list of things to avoid. Its these rekindled food relationships that keeps the joy of cooking fresh, along with the knowledge that the quality of in season, local produce will almost always make for a better tasting meal.

So why not celebrate the last few lingering pumpkins of the season with this lightly spiced pumpkin soup, jazzed up a bit with the inclusion of a pumpkin seed and coriander pesto. It’s perfect for a quick and tasty meal on one of these few remaining, unseasonably cool spring evenings.

Pumpkin Soup with Coriander Pesto

1 tbsp oil

1 onion, diced

2 garlic cloves, minced

pinch dried chilli flakes

1/2 tsp ground coriander seed

1/2 tsp ground cumin seed

3 C chopped pumpkin

2 medium potatoes, peeled and chopped

4 C vegetable stock

Coriander pesto (see recipe below) and unsweetened natural yoghurt, to serve.

Heat oil in a large pot over a medium heat. Add onion and garlic and cook until onion is translucent. Add spices and cook for a further 2 minutes. Add pumpkin, potato and stock and bring to a boil. Lower heat and simmer, covered, for 20 minutes. Remove from heat and using a stick blender or by transferring in batches to a food processor, blend until smooth. Return to heat season well with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste.

Divide among serving bowls and drizzle over pesto and yoghurt.

Coriander Pesto

1 C fresh coriander leaves

1/4 C pumpkin seeds

1 garlic clove, sliced

2 tbsp lemon juice

1 tbsp grated

1/4 C olive oil

Place all ingredients except for olive oil into a food processor and blend until a thick chunky paste is formed. With the motor running pour in a thin stream of olive oil and blend until just combined. Season to taste with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper. If pesto is too thick to drizzle, loosen it up with a bit of extra lemon juice, water or olive oil.

Chris Ennis talking at Community Tuesday, Melbourne, November 2010

Wednesday, November 10th, 2010 at 12:13 pm

Recently our very own Chris Ennis gave a talk about the global food crisis, sustainable agriculture, locavorism and reconnecting with growing grub..
Part 3 of 5 – Community Tuesday, Global Food Crisis