December 28, 2009 | Ronda Jambe

Tis the season to conspire

Breathe in, take a deep breath, slowly breathe out, and feel yourself sinking deeper. Another breath, and you are even deeper into that hole of personal debt that so many of us share….opps! that was the spiel for a different story. While Australians now, we are told, owe more than the national GDP, few are meditating on that. Just keep buying, enjoy life, that is the national cricket approach, as opposed to a more ant-like thrift.
But that is not the deep, collaborative breathing I had in mind to tell you about. To breathe together is what con-spirare means, and it needn’t be the Al Queda sort that has landed a misguided Nigerian in prison recently. We can conspire in life-affirming and fun ways, as we are creatures of the pack, the tribe, the troop and the class.
We will be breathing together as we dig, weed and grunt out new paths to food supplies and security. In the past I hadn’t read enough of Paul Sheridan in the Sydney Morning Herald to form an opinion, but today he writes like one of my kin. Welcome aboard, Paul, let us take a deep breath together and exhale in unision while uttering the phrase: declining food security.
For that’s what he has discovered, and I’m delighted to see food security and population mentioned in the same breath (or at least column).
Because while we happily eat more than we should (there is probably a word that means burping together) the fundamentals for our fair land are being challenged on several fronts. Broken record that I am, I’ll mention climate change first, to get that out of the way. While climate change will have impacts on our soils, irrigation, plant pests, etc, it is far from the only factor that is starting to influence our food security. I think about these things partly because my own efforts at growing food show me how hard it is, although I have my moments:
Defined as availability, accessibility, quality and affordability, food security involves the total value chain, and of course also includes sustainability. Food miles and the cost of oil are relevant, as is the potential for a revitalised Ord River scheme to become our breadbasket. I’d throw in food variety, too, for good measure.
In another direction, the fact that we now export about 70% of the food produced in Australia sends foreboding messages: should push come to shove, who will farmers sell to, the few hundred million rich customers in Asia, or their own countrymen?
Sheridan points out that we also import a lot of food, and the labelling laws allow very generous impressions of what is ‘Australian’, creating distortions in how we think about food.
Over processing and packaging also have negative externalities, such as contributing to inefficiency and obesity. (I supposed you could think of obesity as energy and food inefficiency, it sure ain’t useful.)
Sheridan even points to the coming urban farm for Sydney, maybe he’s a born again hippy. But the reality is chooks and veggies, fruit and home made meals, even if they are delivered via sophisticated catering systems to different homes, are all part of what will become a greener and healthier food economy. I have long yearned for e-meals, with a data-base of local caterers that deliver to me. Better than take-aways, more humble and more affordable.
When the word about local food and food security hits the mainstream columnists, that is good news. So thank you, Mr Sheridan, for being alert. And top of the holidays to all.
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Posted by Ronda Jambe at 2:40 pm | Comments (4) |
Filed under: Australian Politics


  1. “the few hundred million rich customers in Asia”
    What a bizarrely xenophobic turn of phrase.

    Comment by Patrickb — December 29, 2009 @ 10:42 am

  2. “In another direction, the fact that we now export about 70% of the food produced in Australia sends foreboding messages: should push come to shove, who will farmers sell to, the few hundred million rich customers in Asia, or their own countrymen?”
    I’m sure why it is “foreboding”? It shows Australia can currently produce far more feed than we need to feed ourselves, which shows that food security is not currently an issue. If production shrank rapidly, or overseas demand increased rapidly, I’d imagine most farmers (and those further down the food chain – pun intended) would generally sell the produce to whoever paid them the most money.
    If we had to pay all the externalities that occur from producing, manufacturing and delivering food, (e.g. pricing of carbon dioxide and equivalents) it would cost a lot more than it currently does, which would probably help reduce pollution, excess packaging and improve local food security.

    Comment by Andrew Bartlett — December 29, 2009 @ 1:26 pm

  3. Patrick, what’s xenophobic about saying there are many more rich people in Asia than in all of Oz?
    And Andrew, you correctly point out the double edge of Australia’s food wealth: we could do it so much better if we paid more like the full environmental cost of production, but then perhaps we couldn’t afford it for ourselves. But these scenarios are mere possibilities, we have lots of chances to tilt the table (excuse the pun) towards self sufficiency and export largess.

    Comment by ronda jambe — December 29, 2009 @ 8:11 pm

  4. Great idea, but will this work over the long run?

    Comment by systemy ruletki — January 22, 2010 @ 7:57 am

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