In the last three years over intensely analysing and theoretically dissecting the complexities within Australia’s agricultural and food industries, I’ve come to the conclusion we’ve not come really far in solving the challenges we face in feeding a growing global population.
Consumers are only concerned about getting their value for money when it comes to shopping for food. Let’s look at ALDI’s growing market share and the price war between Coles and Woolworths. With Kaufland’s stores opening in Adelaide and Melbourne, interest from Lidl to launch in Australia and the possibility of AmazonFresh entering the market, food retailing will be the new battleground. We are only at the beginning of a cycle where cheaper food is the new battleground at the expense of producers.
The reality is we don’t really think about the challenges producers need to overcome to get food on our tables. We don’t think about where it comes from or how much has gone into producing it.
In response to industry pressures on the extent of imported produce entering Australia’s food value chain, the ACCC introduced a country of origin food labelling system. The progressive introduction of this labelling has created more transparency on the extent of imported ingredients in our supermarket aisles. I hope I’m not the only person reading these labels because I would often look for a locally produced alternative over an item that is predominantly or wholly manufactured using imported ingredients.
But beyond the country of origin, is it possible to create labelling systems that covers a more holistic view such as GMO, organic, nutrient specific, ethical beliefs such as free range to food miles. We have additives, hormones or chemicals in food labels but could we go a step further to ask if it was sustainably farmed, practiced animal welfare or if workers involved in harvesting or producing the food paid a fair wage. PWC’s farm to fork paper on the traceability of food opens an interesting discussion on how we could potentially restore consumers’ faith in food systems. We already have all this technology – QR codes to smartphones – to empower consumers so we can take advantage of this!
I started my postgraduate experience with the lens that the problem was the food system but now that I’ve graduated, I’ve come to realise that the problem lies with us – the consumers.
There are so many considerations but rather than thinking I could change the world [as I thought I would be able to do with my GradCertSustAgric], here are five things we can do as individuals to make a difference today:
Food sovereignty is real: We can’t change global value chains involved in the processing and manufacturing of a final product when it reaches a retailers’ shelf. However, we can support the development of a local food system that is based on sustainable production. My visit to Pocket City Farms in Camperdown inspired me because its possible to reduce our food miles if we could grow locally.
Develop food ethics: Wendell Berry said, “Eating is an agricultural act.” If we were to consider ethical sourcing, animal welfare, the environmental impacts of food production to what is a fair price for food that you buy, this simple act of being aware changes your relationship with food.
Stop food waste: Don’t buy more than you need and don’t let food go to waste. Eat with the seasons. It’s okay to buy ugly fruit and veg – no one died from eating wonky carrots. Food production creates a massive carbon footprint and you can reduce this by not wasting food. A shout out to Harris Farms for taking the lead in this.
Reconnect with producers: Visit a local farmers market, learn about how food is produced and think about what they done to harvest food that we consume and how it is inherently linked to your health and mental wellbeing.
Empower with your dollars: The pressures small scale producers and food grocers face against supermarkets are real. Buy from a local grocer, small independent retailer or head to the markets on a weekend.