How many sleeps? Part II

Yes, I am continuing to post on that dreaded date that is looming over all of our heads.

This time I want to talk about Christmas food.

Our day before we had kids would entail dragging our backsides out of bed at around 6:30, hauling over to Heidelberg where my parents live (a 40 minute drive around the city) and trying to be there in time for breakfast at 8 before hauling off to church at 9:30. We tried to keep up with that with the kids but it was hard enough to do without kids so we soon gave it up as a bad idea. In recent years we’ve aimed to arrive around 11ish after having opened gifts from Santa in the morning so we can meet up with my brother and sister-in-law who have a chaotic time fitting in seeing her extended family. We’d lunch to bursting and then after snacking throughout the afternoon on food we neither really wanted nor need and then inevitably stay and eat dinner with my parents before heading home with a car so overloaded with toys and gifts that we can barely see out the rear window and bellies several inches larger than they had been. Gluttony to the max.

They each came home with a bag like this FULL of toys last year

In our societies, we are very blessed to have access to food so readily and Christmas is a time that proves the point in fine style. Christmas dinner is usually enough to make the belt buckles need loosening, the shirt buttons pop and the mouth to salivate at the thought of all the delectables reserved especially for this time of year… And that is just thinking about it! The meal itself often includes greater excess than imagined. Roast turkey, pork and glazed ham or some tiger prawns for the less traditional. Apple sauce, cranberry sauce and gravy or seafood sauce. Broccoli, cauliflower, peas, beans, corn, roast potatoes and pumpkin, carrots and parsnip, coleslaw, green salads and of course potato salad. And then there is dessert… Pavlova, trifle (loaded with grog of course), ice-cream plum pudding, plum pudding, brandy butter, brandy cream, custard, cream and ice-cream. Then there are the fruit trays. Being Summer here we have an amazing array of divine fruits. Blackberries, blueberries, raspberries, strawberries, peaches, nectarines, plums, apples, oranges, kiwi fruits, mangoes, pineapples, apricots, cherries and I know I have forgotten a heap. Have I forgotten anything else? Oh yes, the nibbles. Pretzels, nuts, dried fruit, chocolates, lollies (sweeties or candy), a ring of prawns as well as cheeses and meats, cocktail onions and other such pickles. *groan* I think I’ve just gained 5kgs simply typing it all out!

But here is something to think about. When are the fruits and vegetables actually in season which means they are then grown locally and not shipped from interstate or international locations.
Apples – in season from February
Nashi pears – in season from January
Nuts – mostly in season from March, if not April
Grapes – in season from January
Figs – in season from February
Kiwi Fruit – in season from March

And the veggies:
Broccoli and cauliflower – in season from July to November
Pumpkin – in season from March
Carrot and Parsnip – in season from April
Onions – in season from February
Celery – in season from January
Mushrooms – in season from March to November

Now, these are just Victorian peak seasons taken from here and I’m sure there is room for variation depending on growing seasons but it goes to show that many of the fruit and veggies we source for our Christmas dinner may well not be fresh or local. And as much as I would prefer to buy something shipped from Queensland rather than overseas, there are still carbon miles that need to be considered.

PicturePrawns were to me growing up, a real delicacy. You had a few baby shrimp or prawns in your Chinese Fried Rice take out and they were divided equally and to be squabbled over. I still remember my first ever taste of king prawns in a strawberry sauce when I was in my early teens – my grandmothers 70th birthday I think (she’s nearly 90 now). It was a special food allowed only for a special occasion. I was also allowed to try some barramundi then too. However, prawns and many other fish are over fished or farmed in a way that is damaging to the environment. Others are very slow-growing which means they take a long time to replace those we catch and eat. Check here, here and best of all here for more information on fishing practices and good seafood choices.

What about the meat we eat. Turkey, ham, pork, chicken, beef or any other meat is, at least in our recent history, usually factory farmed. I cannot recommend enough watching this video about factory farming. Factory farms traditionally raise limited breeds which have been bred selectively for fast growth and may have been pumped with hormones to increase that rate of growth. They’re fed corn and soy instead of their natural foods of grass, insects and other free-range available foods, and both soy and corn can be GMO. They are raised en masse and slaughtered en masse too. And due to their crowded conditions, any diseases or infections will spread en masse too so they’re often routinely fed antibiotics to prevent this. The cycle continues when antibiotic resistant strains of bacteria arise and I know in the USA there have been outbreaks that have caused people to die from eating meat products infected from these antibiotic resistant strains. Kevin’s story is one that is more well-known due to being shared through the movie Food Inc. So, how can we enjoy our Christmas meats but not eat foods that are treated with cruelty and disdain? Well, there are options like not eating meat and having a vegetarian or vegan Christmas but this is not for everyone. Restricting your meat intake can go a long way too. Do we really need 6 different meats on our plates? If you do still want the variety and traditional Christmas meats then buy organic and free-range. Certified organic foods will contain neither hormones nor antibiotics. However, this does not necessarily mean it’s slaughtered in a way that is different to the usual processing plants but from the research I have done I’m not coming up with much good news. If you can source direct from the farm itself where the processing has all happened on site it may be different. The best option I can think of if you do choose to eat meat is to raise and harvest it yourself.

Our Christmas meal plans will be for 1 meat only – home raised duck and it will have free-ranging access either in the chicken run which we plan to be of a goodly size, or indeed truly free ranging around our garden. When we do slaughter it we plan to do so as humanely as possible (yes I understand the oxymoron of ‘humane slaughter’) and we plan to not gorge ourselves to excess either so 1 duck will sufficiently feed the 5, or possibly 7 of us and I suspect we will have leftovers for dinner too. I’m planting carrots this weekend but I’m not sure they will be of a size to harvest, even as baby carrots and the peas will go in too along with the rest of our seedlings. Hopefully we get some perfect weather for an early harvest of just a few items. Whatever we haven’t grown in time will be purchased from the Ballan Farmers Market or possibly the Trentham Farmers Market in the 2 weeks before Christmas. At least then it will be locally sourced, keeping the carbon miles low.

Well, that’s enough from me today. Just some food for thought if you can excuse the terrible pun.

A glorious winters day in the garden

Today has been a very pleasant one. Seeing the glorious sunshine outside I just HAD to get out and enjoy it. Having a lot of washing to hang out meant I didn’t feel frivolous just soaking up the rays. Washing hung and more still being done. By the way, what is it with small children and washing? I swear they can get themselves dirty just by breathing. Well, today they did a lot more than just breathe, and boy were they dirty! And gloriously happy and probably a little cold too. Whilst they painted things with muddy water and paint brushes, drew with green crayon on the hot water heater, dropped pebbles all over the lawn and then picked them all up again after getting in trouble for it, jumped on the trampoline, swung on the swings, dug up worms, fed the chooks and found a crysalis, I started dismantling the trampoline and fed all my seeds and pot plants with some Seasol. Stoked to see it is 100% organic too. I also planted my sage seedlings in various pots too so my thumbs got a little more greening today as well. Yay.

Anyway, once the “work”was done I just lay on the trampoline on my tummy and did some reading online. It was bliss! And informative too. Thoughts of Peak Oil got me thinking and I got to wondering what life was like before the industrial and agricultural revolution. Before petrol and diesel. Way back in the “olden days”. Well, before modern machinery was steam power. Before steam was horse power. Before horse power was donkey, ass and oxen power and before that was shanks pony. Most people had a veggie garden and chooks and most farmers raised their own pigs too. Land often was worked until there was no nutritional value left as crop rotation wasn’t understood and soil nutrition undiscovered. Unless you planted legumes as well your soil would cease to produce the crop you normally grew. Manure, wood ash, and other substances were used with varying degrees of success to re-energise the soil but the science behind it wasn’t understood.

A farmer using a hand plow

Food transport was probably not much farther than the nearest town so food shortages could be quite localised if there had been a local disaster, and at the end of winter like around now you were most probably on some kind of food rationing. Keeping animals was expensive as far as food went too so only wealthier farmers could afford to raise them. Wool was a big money crop and most people only owned a few sets of clothes their entire lifetime as it was just too expensive to buy or make more. Labour intensive too.

Another thing to think of too is foods we consider to be such staples like pasta, rice, potatoes and such weren’t even around or available. Spuds were only brought back from the America’s in 1600 or so! Staples were a grain mush instead. And here’s a statistic that stunned me. 80% of people were in agriculture in the 1300’s compared to less than 2% in the developed world today! We have moved so far away from our food.

It all got me thinking, bringing together a whole lot of aspects and thoughts from A Crude Awakening, The Power of Community and Food Inc. We need to get ourselves back to the land and back to at least having our own veggie gardens and a fruit tree or 2 as most people had back in those “olden days”. If you have the room, keep a few chooks too for eggs. If you own your home and get on well with your neighbours you could even work out who grows what and then divide your crop evenly between you all. When we move I will be moving a lot closer to my dear friend Corrie-Lyn whom I am hoping to be able to play crop swapsies with. We already swap jars of preserves and information and we both bought our canners together. She is one of my greatest inspirations! I am hoping to find other like minded people in Ballan too and I won’t be too far from Gavin either, whom I one day very much hope to meet. He is another huge inspiration and it was his blog that got me started watching the films that have changed my life. And another friend Penny who also has veggies, fruit trees and chooks will be nearly a neighbour too. Both Penny and Corrie-Lyn are Thermomix owners too.

So, I consider that an incredibly profitable day in the garden. Vitamin D, great play time for the children, fresh air, chores done AND some education too.

Before it is too late…

I’ve been trying to educate myself somewhat of late. It’s been a scary process and some films I have really had to work myself up to watching. Food Inc was my starting point. Food Inc takes you along a journey, showing you each step of the process in food production. From the piglet to the pork roast, chick to the roast chicken and cow to the burger pattie. It also shows grain growth as this is what is used to feed the animals as well as ourselves. It is eye-opening to say the least.

For me, it has strengthened my resolve to try and feed my family on organic or, at the very least, locally grown and small farm raised meats. We have plans to raise our own chickens for both meat and eggs and Have been working out how many birds we need. As much as the idea of being that close to the slaughter is not an appealing thought, it is much more appealing that production chain slaughter. For those that are vegetarian or vegan, although it is not the right choice for me or my family, watching Food Inc makes me understand and respect that choice a lot more.

Watching Food Inc has also made me far more keen to grow heirloom vegetables. Purple carrots and potatoes, yellow or black tomatoes, blue or red corn or any other of the wide variety of other different coloured and old fashioned vegetables. Apart from helping keep the diversity alive, the taste of these different foods is wonderful and the colours are so much more appealing to toddlers. Who could say no to a plate with red corn, violent violet mashed potatoes, yellow beans and purple and yellow carrots?

I’ve also just watched An Inconvenient Truth. This is the film that started Gavin from http://www.greeningofgavin.com/ on his journey to self sustainability and environmentally friendly lifestyle. His blog is an amazing read and incredibly inspiring. Well, I finally watched it on Friday night. It hurt my heart. It frightened me and after some sleep it has also strengthened my resolve. Al Gore, the runner up in the American presidential election a few years back has put together this documentary explaining and showing what global warming is doing to our planet. He busts common myths, corrects misinformation and lays it out on the line EXACTLY where we are today, what we are doing about it and most of all what we CAN do about it. It isn’t easy to watch and see with what apathy we are treating this wonderful planet, but I believe that this would be a fantastic film to be showing to kids in schools. We all need to wake up and smell the coffee before it is too late.

I have other films on my watch list too. The Power of Community; How Cuba survived Peak oil is probably to be my next. I am hoping it can give me some insight into what is to come and more importantly, what we can do about it.

If you know of any other films I should tack onto my educational watch list, please share with me. As much as they share things that are more than just inconvenient truths, the time for apathy has passed and drastic action really is needed from us all. Before it really is too late.