Saturday, 15 October 2011

Blog Action Day:Food and Diversity #bad11

This is my contribution to the Blog Action Day 2011 where the topic this year is Food.

Food is such an important part of all our lives. In Australia we are lucky enough to view food as something enjoyable, and in many ways taken for granted. It is not the desperate necessity for life that is is in so many places, such as in Africa, where millions are in very dire straits.

Unfortunately, due to this abundance,  The Australia Institute research shows that Australians waste more than $5 billion of food each year. There is a major cost to the environment when the endpoint of production is wasted as well as the cost to the individual families.

There is also the 'waste' that occurs because we decide we have to use what we have and overeat. Both of these topics are well covered throughout the media so I am going to diverge to another aspect of food which is of concern to me.

This is of diversity of food, particularly food plants. When I was a child (many moons ago) most people I knew had a vegetable garden. This was used for the family and extras were swapped around the neighbourhood. There were many hours spent in the garden with my Grandmother setting out new lettuce plants each week so we had a constant supply and also in the kitchen where we bottled fruit and put up vegetables so we would have a supply all year around. my Grandmother was from England  and had lived through WW2. Living in Brisbane we didn't really ever have the winters she had seen in England or even the ones in Goulburn New South Wales which is where she and my Father lived from 1949 after emigrating.

As the vegetables and fruit were grown in close proximity to where they were being used, there was no problem with transport or with the vegetables having softer skins.There also used to be variety in the vegetables with many different types of beans, tomatoes, strawberries etc.

Since the disappearance of the home vegetable gardener the diversity of tomatoes particularly has decreased with the commercially produced fruit having thicker skins. This mean they survive the distances travelled between farm to market to table but are nothing like the soft skinned tomatoes i remember from my childhood. They also have decreased flavour.


There are a number of problems with decreasing the variety of plants. Firstly there is the risk of disease and having the majority of one type of plant being decimated, issues such as the potato famine in Ireland come to mind.

The Irish used potatoes as the staple to feed the growing population. Specifically, they planted the "lumper" potato variety. As potatoes don't grow from seed but from eyes off a potato all the potatoes were genetically identical to one another. As there was no genetic variation they were less able to adapt to changing environmental conditions and were particularly susceptible to the Potato Blight. 


Back to our tomatoes, there are places such as Eden Seeds where you can buy different varieties for your garden. They seed bank and collect heritage seeds. They have 168 varieties of tomato seeds from around the world. Types such as the Eva Purple Ball. The description from their website is " heirloom of the Black Forest region of Germany. Fine texture, does well in hot humid areas, resistance to diseases, from late 1800's" At A$3.20 for 40 seeds the best money you will spend for flavour. Or there is the Green Zebra, Earl of Edgecombe and Purple Calabash varieties to name just a few for you to try.

Eva Purple Ball
Seed banking for future diversity is important on a global scale and while there is some progress in this field, it may be too little too late. Projects such as the  Millennium Seed Bank Project  Millennium Seed Bank Project. This United Kingdom initiative aims to collect the seeds of 10 per cent of the world's flora (24,000 species) by 2010, and 25 per cent by 2020. This aim is to try and save 25% of plants endangered with extinction by 2020. How many plants have already been lost?


In these troubled economic times it makes sense to go back even if just in a small way to the vegetable gardens we knew as as children. There are numerous advantages which include teaching the children of today how food is grown (it also has a side benefit in that the children are more likely to eat something they have grown themselves!), it decreases waste, it decreases the carbon footprint because you are not transporting the vegetables long distance.

It also can increase community spirit. this has been particularly true in England where there has been a resurgence in  Alotment gardens . Or at the very least you can share your excess vegetables amongst your neighbours.

It is perhaps time to bring back the slogan that was seen in World War 2. It is as true today as it was then.