Marley Spoon and the War on Waste
agriculture, environment, food, sustainability

Marley Spoon and the War on Waste

Dear Marley

I’ve had three weeks of having your boxes dropped at my doorstep and I can’t even begin to tell you how wonderful the experience has been. Not having to step into a supermarket, scan and bag my groceries or trying to think about what else I could have for dinner around my neighbourhood when I don’t feel like cooking. Not to mention, waiting for the pin to move on my Foodora delivery.

For three weeks, there were smells wafting out of my kitchen that would have made my mother proud. I met new neighbours I never knew who were loitering in the corridor sniffing out the source. I loved the feathery crispiness of your panko crumbed chicken schnitzel that I breaded with my bare hands. Learning I could easily crisp kale in the oven to make a wonderful salad and the moreishness of dukkah in a warm beef salad.

I loved how everything was packed in precise portions and not having to feel guilty that I’ve had to leave bits of herbs or vegetables to wither in the fridge because I couldn’t find another purpose for it. I tried to plate this in the Instagram-worthy manner you laid out in your recipe cards – some days, I conceded the dish looked more like me (a royal mess) than Marley.

I had my moments of doubts like when there was a satchel of chicken stock from the USA that contained MSG and a tin of chickpeas that were imported from Italy. Would these be small blemishes if I were to compare this to the locally sourced meat and use of seasonal produce?

But my biggest concerns has been the amount of plastic, paper and cardboard that comes with each delivery. Yes, you can recycle this but placing it in the bin to recycle isn’t easy when I’m trying to reduce my carbon footprint.

Watching the War on Waste, I could identify with the amount of food waste we experience in Australia but are meal prep services like Marley Spoon or HelloFresh the solution?

Sustainable consumption needs to be addressed from different dimensions. I admit that I feel time poor and overwhelmed when I go food shopping. Combing through nutrition labels, picking fresh produce that is in season, hunting down meat that is organic/grass fed, getting just the right portion and thinking how can I put this altogether? If someone could do all of this, I would have a bit more time to squeeze in a glass of wine.

I’ll probably have to scale down on my Instagram-worthy meal ambitions and lean back on my basics. Or I could scale up on my Keto and solve this problem with a little satchel.

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agriculture, environment, food

Fixing the food system with [better] alternatives

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Eating takes place inescapably in the world, that it is inescapably an agricultural act.

– Wendell Berry, 1990

Recently, I set aside all the messy issues in my head over the state of Australia’s food system and why things were hard to fix. Instead I asked if we…..

If we could change the way consumers ate and bought food, would this would force a change in the way food was sold, produced, processed in our value chains or its ownership.

If we could tackle industrialised agriculture with small-scale production, eat less meat and change our protein preferences; rethink sustainable aquaculture and eat less seafood or reduce food waste through shorter and more direct supply chains.

Instead of telling consumers what they ate was bad or wrong, what if we could create a product that was right in the intersection of solving hunger, is healthy and sustainable? This would certainly solve the challenges we have over implementing a country of origin labelling for food. Or from having to turn to Soylent because we’ve bled our food producers dry. Better yet, to avoid the need to commercialise laboratory-grown meat.

We’re taking small steps and while not all of you would agree with the examples below, I’m using them to represent an intersect product or brands that can feed us in a healthier way and is/can be more sustainable (less food waste, shorter supply chain).

From permaculture to local: When alternative food systems marry local producers, the playground is about to get serious. Milkwood who run great courses on urban and small-scale farming is promoting Ooooby to its members. While you wait for your first harvest, a couple of locally sourced boxes of fruit and veg could inspire you to take food production in-house.

Eat with your neighbours: Not technically but almost. Neighbour Flavour, is touting itself to be the Airbnb of home cooked meals. Cooked a bit too much and not wanting it to go to waste? Put it on the marketplace and out with the hassle of shopping, food prep, washing and cooking. I love the ‘community’ value proposition and it would be amazing to see the birth of a movement of locally prepared meals to reconnect you with your neighbours.

Chia Pots: As Americans and Australians ditch cereal for breakfast, the ready to eat chia pots will likely climb into our time poor diets as a on-the-go option. What’s there not to love about chia pots? It dairy and gluten free and probably requires a smaller carbon footprint to grow and process compared to cereal. Enter The Chia Co. with their refrigerated Chia Pod verses Woolworths with their refrigeration free Macro Chia Pot.

 

 

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agriculture, environment, sustainability

Whole Foods Market, will you please come to Australia?

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Sustainable Agriculture Service Australia

While tourists were forming queues to visit the major attractions in New York, I had unashamedly made three trips to one supermarket to read food labels, photograph displays, feel and eat my way through it and walked away with a sense of astonishment every time.

Whole Foods Market [which now belongs to Amazon] restored my faith in retail supermarkets by abiding to its ethos of selling products that are sustainably sourced and responsibly produced – or what they call, sustainable agriculture.

By this definition, this wouldn’t be a supermarket that has one dollar milk or bread deals. It isn’t a supermarket that has Tim Tams or large bags of chips on sale at every corner. Or a supermarket where you will find food that has been produced with no clear country of origin.

Whole Foods Market is the opposite of everything we have in Australia’s supermarkets – with the exception of About Life which has done an incredible job and have been rewarded with their expansion in Australia. There are many reasons why I am in love with Whole Foods Market but I will talk about my top five:

Healthy eating

Healthy eating is what drives customers to Whole Foods. We’re not talking about the price denominator approach that Australian food retailers take – “ground beef for x dollars, now that’s a bargain”. We don’t need celebrity chefs to recommend what we should make for dinner – although that friendly reminder about what is in season is useful. Whole Foods Market educates shoppers on their food choices – why eating this is good for my body and what you need to get a healthy meal going. I see posters in-store everywhere that talks about the relationship between my body and the food that I eat. It makes me more aware as a consumer about the choices I make and why they are good for me.

Educating me about food

Fruit and veg have a rating system that tells me how it has been responsibly grown. They have a Good, Better or Best rating system that makes me aware if food has been produced with minimal impact on the environment – from farming practices, the use of renewable energy, waste minimisation to welfare.

It has seafood that is Marine Stewardship Certified, wild-caught or farmed to specific standards that does not use antibiotics or has added preservatives. Meat that is antibiotic, growth hormone free and welfare rated.

Every label and standard is clearly displayed and explained simply so I know what I am putting into my body and I can vote with my wallet.

Know where your food comes from locally

Instead of seeing a label on my food where it has been centrally packed and processed, Whole Foods Market shows me where and who has grown my produce.

Beyond rewarding local producers, it extends my relationship with a producer who is a real person/community — not a central processing plant. This makes me more aware about seasons and exposes my tastebuds to unique characteristics for any local produce.

They care about their producers

Whole Foods Market works with producers to meet their sustainability requirements and runs a loans program to help them expand and grow their business. I love how they have recognised their symbiotic relationship within the supply chain and acknowledged how retailers and producers need to work hand-in-hand to feed consumers. I love how they see producers as part of their community.

Quality, not quantity

From fresh to pre-cooked food, every prepared food aisle was laden with beautiful, clean and fresh food I could put a meal together with. I could weigh and buy the exact quantity I needed. Whether it was just one piece of grilled salmon or a small cup of soup or salad, Whole Foods Market wasn’t about bulk — the heavier/bigger it is, the cheaper it becomes. This cuts back on food waste and to me, this is possibly one of the best takeaways.

If there was one thing I could wish for in 2015, it would be for Whole Foods Market to come to Australia because we desperately need you.

Postscript 8 April 2018: With Amazon’s acquisition of Whole Foods Market, we are about to lose the essence of what this business was about. Having to impose promotional and restocking costs will only drive out small scale and niche producers. Taking these niche brands out and prioritising fast moving/large brands suffocates the marketplace and reduces choices for consumers. It also places a burden on startups who can’t afford fees to get their product to markets where they appeal to niche consumers. At the same time, we need to consider the power that grocery retailers like Whole Foods Market have in educating and creating awareness amongst consumers for niche products such as organic wines. While it can be positive, moves to introduce brands that counter the ethos of Whole Foods Market such as Coca-Cola and possibly alienate loyal consumers. It would be interesting to see if Amazon decides to enter the grocery wars in Australia and what lessons it could take from the acquisition of Whole Foods Market to this country.

Sustainable agriculture service australia, digital agriculture australia

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community engagement, environment, NGO

Will the real environmental movement, please stand up?

If we have based our judgement on news coverage that Australians are pouring out on the street to support environmental atrocities, you might be right to think the environmental movement is well and alive. Think about all the photos and the tweets in your stream for campaigns organised by groups like Lock the Gate, 350.org to the Solar Citizens and you would believe the green agenda is back in the black.

Professor Peter Christoff from University of Melbourne shared some excellent observations during The Future of Environmental Movements seminar which highlights that formal membership in mainstream NGOs is collapsing and what remains supporting its membership are passive participants. The reliance on a tax exempt status for charities or state-based or legislative funding is also threatened as freedom evaporates from our political agenda.

What we stand to lose as traditional NGOs are steadily being replaced by smaller social and grassroots organisations who have a razor sharp focus on an issue rather than a multitude that more established NGOs tend to have. The support for these local social movements have also showed Australians are more concerned about what is happening in our country over global environmental issues.

The threat of the RET being axed has also shifted industry associations like the Australian Solar Council into high gear with funding from its members being directed towards community events across Australia to spread the message. What impressed me with what the ASC was able to do was the speed at which it had raised funds to run its campaigns through some generous donations from its members. What might seem as an exercise to protect the interest of members in an industry association, I see as an example of how the broader community enjoys the benefit of speed, funding and agility to take it message to market much quicker.

Perhaps this razor focus for NGOs to have on specific issues rather than a multitude of global and Australian causes is the new mantra of what we would fight for and believe. It may be hard to rally financial support to champion the Great Barrier Reef, Indonesian forests, the overfishing of oceans globally and saving the Arctic under one umbrella because who ultimately determines which cause is much more worth supporting over another?

Should we applaud or discount armchair activists who stand for an issue, sign an online petition but wouldn’t rock up to a protest? Is power truly in numbers where people rally or is it in the invisible force that brings the word out through social media platforms?

Perhaps a future with smaller and less rigid environmental NGOs will return community action to the agility and speed it needs to keep up with change. And a rethink of funding and organisational structures could bring physical bodies back to rallies and events once again.

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environment, politics, sustainability

The end of the world as we know it, is near

If the present growth trends in world population, industrialisation, pollution, food production, and resource depletion continue unchanged, the limits to growth on this planet will be reached sometime within the next one hundred years. The most probable result will be a rather sudden and uncontrollable decline in both population and industrial capacity. – Limits to Growth, DH Meadows, 1972

Elizabeth Kolbert painted a bleak picture on the future the biodiversity in the face of climate change and development at the Festival of Dangerous Ideas. In We Are the Asteroid, Kolbert talks about how we are heading into the Sixth Extinction by the end of the century with biodiversity increasingly being reduced through the impact of carbon emissions on the natural environment, the acidification of oceans and its impact on coral reefs and how the transportation of non-native species through ballast water has impacted on natives in their natural environment.

Supporting Kolbert’s theory, Dr Graham Turner’s recent publication looks at the remodelled data on scenarios such as population growth, food security, resource usage and peak oil constraints identified in the Limits to Growth (a study which is as old as I am). Both Kolbert and Turner coincidentally point to how climate change is accelerating, its impact on the environment and how population growth is rapidly depleting our resources. Turner adds it appear[s] that the global economy and population is on the cusp of collapse.

I’m still sleepless from the raw nerve that Kolbert had struck on the global issues that mirror the issues that are dividing Australia at the moment. Whether its mining to coal seam gas extraction and its impact on native species to the warming and [inevitable] destruction of the Great Barrier Reef through the acidification of the oceans.

There are many debates in Australia that have no win/win solutions: creating jobs in ‘dirty’ industries to support the economy, preserving the natural environment against the expansion of extractive industries to the political dilution that could wind down Australia’s renewables industry.

A lot of emotion goes into these debates around our rights and the environment. In any attempt to ‘rationalise’ things, we need to remember that the environment does not belong to us and when we take away from it, we need to put a price on this so we have the means to leave it for the future generations.

EDIT – A must watch mashup of a video on the Rise and Fall of Humans that is a collective narrative of authoritative voices over the years made by Munir Kotadia.

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environment, sustainability

Will food 3D printers spell the end of grocery shopping?

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Source: Natural Machines

I might have missed the memo on how the 3D printing of food has started to evolve.

Someone I spoke to this week mentioned that the 3D printing of food could help solve world hunger in impoverished countries. Imagine how we would be able to feed large populations an appropriate nutrient with 3D printable food that is transported in bulk, with no spoilage, very little prospect for waste and designed with cultural and religious needs in consideration. Or if communities that no longer had access to arable land and water but needed food independence, had 3D printing stations that were solar powered to create food with any added nutrients to feed themselves.

Companies like Nestle have started research into customised nutritional meals for individuals that are 3D printed. While we might be years away from a commercially available solution, I love the thought of how we could potentially create meals right at our home, from a small 3D printer with only having to reorder a customised nutrition program instead of visiting a supermarket. If we were entertaining, the ability to order an allergen or diet specific meal for vegans, nut allergies etc. for our guests. This would have alleviated the panic attack I experienced cooking an allergen specific dinner for a guest this week and left me with more time for a glass of wine. The 3D printing of food could spell the end of grocery shopping lists, supermarket checkouts and any food waste. Sounds like a win/win for me all around. 3D food printing could be the answer to failed marriages and keeping harmony in families.

A lot has been said about 3D printing and how it supports a circular economy – not having to source and transport materials over long distances, eliminating waste, minimising the supply chain and reducing the carbon footprint from production. If we could apply the same system in food, it may solve the challenges we face in feeding populations in the future.

Here are some links to my favourite 3D printed food projects:

Pizza

Cake

Fruit

Burger

If we could commercially 3D print food now, what would you like for dinner tonight?

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agriculture, environment, sustainability

Resetting Australia’s agricultural industry in the face of climate change

“The end game is that they are pushing Australian farmers off the land. Farmers who have contracts with them become medieval serfs. They stop investing in their businesses. More and more imported produce comes in and eventually prices go up.” – Nick Xenophon

The Monthly has produced a breath-taking piece on Supermarket Monsters which looks at the impact of the supermarket duopolies on producers and suppliers. While it looks at the growing influence of Coles and Woolworths and its domination in Australia’s retail industry, it also highlights how consumers are allowing this to happen by the power of choice.

There’s much to be said on how we vote with our wallets. Roy Morgan estimates put Coles and Woolworths’ market share to be way ahead of competitors like ALDI and IGA. The Monthly gives a sympathetic view on how aggressive pricing hurts smaller players and producers.  Farming incomes are already facing significant pressures having to drop prices down to meet contractual obligations. It is no surprise that rural debt is rising in Australia and the closure of more farms including this example in Queensland is just another example of a crisis that has far reaching implications that needs to be examined.

I think a lot about food security in the face of climate change and how Australia would feed itself as a country, if we lose more producers and have to rely on imports to feed the nation in the future. IPCC modelling has already shown that wheat and maize production will be impacted along with a range of other crops. Our food system is under threat and as a country, we are struggling with the bureaucracy and lack of foresight in addressing what is critical – which we cannot turn back once the producers exit the system.

I wrote a short summary for a thesis I’m planning to write – which was ambitiously too large – as my potential supervisor pointed out. I wanted to share this because its about resetting Australia’s agricultural industry in the face of climate change. My motivations behind the topic are:

  1. To acknowledge that present agricultural practices, consumer demand and the supplier pressures set by major supermarkets will not allow Australia to achieve food security.
  2. To acknowledge that climate change means we have transition from our current ideals of what consumers want and get producers and suppliers to acknowledge that more sustainable crops are needed to feed Australians in the future.
  3. To identify policies and attitudes within government and the industry need to be transitioned to acknowledge that financial assistance is needed to support landowners, producers to support them in the transition towards the production of more sustainable and climate hardy crops.

These questions keep me up at night and if perhaps someone else feels the same way, I would love to hear from you.

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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 farm  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 this 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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environment

Keep calm and carry on

If you’ve followed the policy debates around the direction of Australia’s renewables industry, you would probably have felt a little depressed with the state of uncertainty it has cast.

Perhaps the impact was most notable to me personally when news surfaced that Ingenero, a significant large scale installer has been placed in administration. While this sends a shiver through the industry about the tough times that lie ahead, I am buoyed with confidence from the stories that shone through at last week’s Clean Energy Week policy conference.

Beyond the aspirational comment that Rob Stokes made that NSW is committed towards meeting the 20% target for renewables and that it wanted to be Australia’s answer to California, I found strength in some of the discussions that gave the industry a glimmer of hope in these times of uncertainty.

In a summary I shared with my clients in the renewables space, I wrote:

1. The industry needs to step through the regulatory uncertainty which is holding back investments in renewables. Being strangled by this policy uncertainty impacts on the advancement of the renewables industry as a whole.

2. We need to acknowledge that consumers are deeply unsatisfied with what they are currently getting from their energy providers and they are willing to embrace alternatives. This is where renewables has the chance to step in and claim market and mind share. As Kobad Bhavnagri from BNEF rightly said, “You have a product consumers inherently like, how can you sell it to them by short circuiting the policy circus and going directly to consumers?”

3. Community energy projects such as the Coalition for Community Energy have demonstrated communities are ready and taking the lead in advancing renewables as they see the financial and ownership benefits. Residential group buying for solar is already gaining swift momentum and we will only see this trend growing.

4. Accenture’s study shows that 47% of Australians are interested in products that generate their own energy and 80% would buy services from an alternative energy provider.

5. Ann Burns from Accenture talked about the Energy Trillema = Affordability + Security + Sustainability and how Australia would achieve our energiewende if we could get our balance right.

Perhaps as we wait for policy certainty, we could persevere if we kept calm and carried on.

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environment, politics

Our trees live to tell

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I’m feeling a bit like a sook today so my spirit is lifted when Dan tells me about this project he is working on based on the Hall of North American Forests. A giant sequoia tree that was cut down in 1891 which is more than 1,400 years old that is displayed in the museum with historical events marked on its rings. I love the idea as it recognises the survival of nature and how it prevails over the wars, disasters and feuds between civilisations, countries and people.

Fast forward many years later, we continue to think little about the forests that we have and how many stories these trees have lived to tell. I’m watching closely, with faith that UNESCO will not delist a World Heritage listed forest area in Tasmania. It will spell a sad day for us if we allowed this environmental vandalism happens.

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