agriculture, environment, sustainability

Changing consumer food preferences with climate change

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Quinoa: now since when did Australia produce quinoa? I was intrigued when I watched Adam Liaw’s segment on SBS where he interviewed a WA quinoa grower.

I love quinoa and while it has often been regarded by many as a ‘fad’ food (like goji berries, chia seeds we inner-city types rave about endlessly) which has crept into every conceivable salad we buy these days. But its probably not a crop the early migrants in Australia set to farm when they moved to Australia. Without doing more extensive research, my money is on the fact that quinoa never existed as a commercial crop until recently because its not something Australians are familiar with.

We’ve grown wheat, maize and back in as early as 1914, rice. These have been the staples that have fed this country for generations. If we reflect on the Australian consumer palette over the centuries, we’ve been blessed with the diversification of crops being driven by the wave of immigrant cultures that has brought something different to every plate. I think about fresh pistachios, mangosteens or even lychees. Who would have thought such produce would make it to the markets without the cultural diversity that has driven the desire for someone to farmĀ  these delicious exotics.

I’ve been thinking a lot about the impact of climate change on food security in Australia. We already know that dryer weather conditions means wheat production will be affected. We will need to adapt rice crop varietals to identify varietals and practices that are less water dependent.

I think about dryer weather conditions, less predictable climates and having access to less rainfall and what it means to growers.

How do we start changing consumer food preferences and getting consumers and their palettes aware that what we derive pleasure from eating, our source of nutrients may one day need to change as the cost of a crop/protein may no longer be economically sustainable for production or deliver less yields which – god forbid – means we can longer sustainably feed our population.

Then we have the untested and unknown like quinoa which we predominantly import from South America where it has the potential to expand its production in Australia. If thisĀ ABC article paints quinoa as what it could potentially bring to our table, we could recognise a potential tipping point to support an emerging crop and industry.

I don’t believe quinoa is an unknown variable in the Australian diet. Chances are you would have seen or eaten it in a salad, grazed on a breakfast meal or even cooked this at home. Quinoa is also a superfood which is high in protein and a good source of fibre.

If we think about the obesity challenge we face in Australia, it would probably be a win/win if we could change consumer food preferences to get them liking quinoa as a substitute to wheat, rice… a healthier population + local market demand + sustainable production.

Which brings me back to my current obsession with food security. How can we recognise that one day all the affordable imported food that we’ve been privileged to have and the abundant amount of fresh fruit and vegetables that grace our supermarkets may no longer exist or become unaffordable to many.

How do we bite the bullet now and agitate agricultural reform: recognising what is sustainable or emerging with potential, continuing to provide support to producers through industry assistance and looking at increasing its demand through consumer education. Or how do we recognise crops that are not sustainable in the face of climate change and help producers transition now into growing what would be financially viable that feeds the future generations?

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