Republic of Moreland

March 24, 2010

Practising what we preach

I’m conflicted about vege2go in Lygon Street, Brunswick. The food is okay, the prices are somewhat okay, the place is clean and pleasant. And the folk are very nice and they’re kiddy-friendly and all. But while they preach saving the earth, with Peter Singer sermons plastered over their walls, the place whifs of petrochemical excess. Not only are the chairs and tables plastic, but their smoothies and juices — even ‘eat-in’ versions — are served in plastic cups with plastic lids. Half the cutlery is disposable plastic, too. You may as well be eating at McDonald’s. And much of their produce is out of season, and so would’ve accrued lots of fossil-fuelled food miles. I’ve seen melon & berries in their winter fruit salad, for example. And the pantry stuff on their shelves is all imported.

And when the vege2go folk preach good nutrition, perhaps they might reconsider zapping their food in the microwave. Several studies show significant nutrient loss from food subject to microwaving. And perhaps they should reconsider selling the coloured lolly-water posing as health tonic.

Compare and contrast with Each Peach, just a few shops up. The folk there source local produce, would not at gunpoint even consider microwaving their food, and they sell home-made pantry goods. Their furniture and adornments are reused and recycled stuff. And their walls don’t preach saving the planet. They’re just doing it, in their own delicious way.

Perhaps vege2go just has more mainstream appeal, which is good. Different strokes, I suppose.

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April 29, 2009

Thrift and the single foodie

Filed under: environment,food,health,urban farming — Kath @ 6:54 pm

The Avenue has been blessed with a gorgeous little squdgey 3-month-old lassie who’s keeping me sleepless, lactating and honest. (But criminally neglectful of my poor chickens.) Having split with The Father Formerly Known As Bloke On The Av, I’m venturing into the dark depths of single parenthood (though TFFKABOTA still visits daily).

Life is good, but with property settlement, mortgages and all those other adventures, the prospect of losing my beautiful home has forced me to ruminate on ways to be thrifty.

But when it comes to food, price is WAY down my scale of priorities. Buggered if I’m going to start buying cardboard-flavoured mandarins from the US just cos they’re two bucks a kilo. So I’ve been considering how to get more crunch for my apple. (Sorry.)

I’m looking for thrifty ways with produce. Here are a few of my own:

  • My grandma used to save pineapple skins and boil them up. She’d simmer them for a couple of hours, strain them through cheesecloth, and make cordial or jelly with the syrup.
  • A friend once told me off for discarding the bottom bits of broccoli. I’ve now devised a recipe with them: toss them in a hot wok with macadamia oil, crushed macadamias, white pepper, sumac and lemon. You can throw in shredded nori and serve on soba noodles. YUM.
  • I HATE the seedless variety of watermelon — and not only because it tastes rank. It’s because the fat black seeds of the old variety are YUMMY, high in protein and vitamin E, and should be a delicacy. In fact they ARE a delicacy in Singapore, where they are the key ingredient* in the celebrated Mooncake.
  • And watermelon skins! LOVE ‘EM! Yep, the green bits. Crispy, juicy, full of vitamin A and gorgeous when sliced thinly and tossed into salads. I’ve done this a couple of times and no-one has noticed. I suppose they thought twas cucumber, unless they were being polite. Watermelon rinds can also be pickled, of course.

Anyhoo, I’m too goddam sleep-deprived to think of more, but would be SO thankful if I could find a use for green apple peels. See, I’ve been making a lot of Stephanie Alexander’s quick apple cake of late (but to make it really special, add lemon rind, sultanas and walnut), and the curly peel is now taking up acreage. It makes good compost and chook scraps, but it seems a shame not to make it into sumthin’.

__________________________

* though Wiki lists the paste from watermelon seeds as one of many optional ingredients: (五仁, wǔ rén): A filling consisting of 5 types of nuts and seeds, coarsely chopped and held together with maltosewalnuts, pumpkin seeds, watermelon seeds, peanuts, sesame, or almonds. syrup.

February 29, 2008

Smear of scientists

Filed under: food,health,politics — Kath @ 9:22 pm

I think that’s a good collective noun, isn’t it? “There was a smear of scientists at the convention”. If you can think of a better collective noun for them, let me know. Anyhoo, the following smear was published in Crikey yesterday:

______________

Tomorrow ends Victoria’s ban on genetically manipulated (GM) food crops — and following widespread media exposure of the putative health and environmental hazards of GM food, chief scientist Gustav Nossal will be joined by three scientists for a media conference to brief journalists on “Which concerns [about GM food crops] are the most justified? Which risks can be managed and which can’t?”

Yet tomorrow’s briefing is “vested interests masquerading as public interest science” claims Greenpeace spokesperson Louise Sales. Comprising scientists who campaigned in support of lifting the bans, it was organised by the Australian Science Media Centre (AusSMC), which claims itself “free of bias”.

But absent are independent scientists who warn of dangers of GM food: biochemist and nutritionist Dr Rosemary Stanton OAM; or medical scientist Professor Stephen Leeder; or epidemiologist Dr Judy Carman; or crop research scientist Dr Maartan Stapper. There are many.

Media Manager Lyndal Gully told Crikey in an email:

“There was no attempt to line up a panel with a particular GM viewpoint… [but] if scientists on the panel are more likely to end up arguing with each other rather than answering journalists’ questions, then there is a good chance that the science (that either side is trying to communicate) will be lost in the story.”

Gene Ethics director Bob Phelps said the selected scientists “are speaking way outside their area of scientific expertise.” But AusSMC CEO Susannah Eliot said the panel was chosen because “they have done the research and have the knowledge-base, and they are happy to be grilled by the media.”

One panellist, Dr TJ Higgins, is CSIRO’s co-inventor of the ill-fated GM field pea, abandoned because it caused lung-damage when fed to mice. His published claims that “there isn’t a single piece of evidence that [GM food is] any less safe than conventional food” reportedly prompted the ire of environmental scientist Dr Brian John, who branded these claims “a lie.” Experimental biologist Dr Arpad Puzstai also saidMost of Dr Higgins’ comments are factually incorrect… the final refuge of the incompetent.”

Critics of second panelist Dr Chris Preston claim his published reviews ignore negative studies. Professor Rainer Mosenthin reportedly said Preston’s methods should be disregarded as they “have limited scientific value.”

And third panelist Professor Rick Roush reportedly failed to disclose his research funding by GM companies. Allegedly as a result, Science journal revised its disclosure policy, as it is recognised that industry-funded research tends to be much more industry-favourable than independent research.

Accusations don’t amount to guilt — and many anti-GM-food scientists also face public mud-slinging (including from some on this panel). This is the problem, says AusSMC’s CEO Susannah Eliot. “The issue is so polarised it gets tricky to select a panel. Many scientists are happy to discuss the issues privately but aren’t willing to speak publicly because they don’t want to be labelled as pro- or anti-GM.”

_________

Postscript:

Professor Rick Roush said today:

“We know that eggs and nuts can be harmful to people — there is no evidence GM foods can be.”

Obviously Professor Roush missed this. And this.

January 6, 2008

The vegetable-industrial complex

Filed under: environment,food,health,politics — Kath @ 6:13 pm

A superb article by Michael Pollan.

November 28, 2007

Moreland objects to Brumby’s GM decision

Filed under: environment,food,health,politics — Kath @ 7:49 pm

Moreland State MP Carlo Carli supported Victoria’s ban on GM food crops. So did The Greens, of course, and so did Moreland City Council. And so did between 70-90 per cent of Australia’s polled population, including farmers. But John Brumby, learning nothing from Howard’s spectacular defeat, made the secretive and undemocratic decision to overturn the ban yesterday. Sigh. From today’s Crikey:

Coinciding with Jeffrey Smith’s Australian tour to promote Genetic Roulette: the documented health risks of genetically engineered foods, yesterday Victorian Premier John Brumby bowed to pressure from big agribusiness and announced, without consulting caucus, that Victoria would overturn bans on GM food crops.

Gene contamination knows no borders, and New South Wales has also lifted its bans, to the rancour of other states.

But, even facing the threat of revolt among up to 40 of his own MPs, Brumby refused to release Victorian Chief Scientist Sir Gustav Nossal’s review of the impact of lifting the ban before his announcement. Sir Gustav was appointed to lend scientific credibility to a review whose terms of reference were strictly and solely economic: not scientific. As the review itself states: “It is not the purpose of this panel to judge… health and environment assessments.”

Overturning the bans was widely regarded as a done deal at least a year ago, prompting an un-named MP to tell The Age Brumby was “treating caucus like idiots”.

So why was Brumby secretive? Perhaps he feared market revolt. Last Tuesday, Coles government relations advisor Chris Mara told a Parliamentary forum that “Coles listens to our customers and over 90% do not want GM ingredients in their food.” Goodman Fielder, Australia’s largest food company, also backs the bans. Tatiara Meats, Australia’s largest lamb exporter, and 250 other food companies also want the bans kept.

Why? Because the public does. In polls taken by AC Nielsen, Roy Morgan, Millward Brown, The Age, and Swinburne University and Choice magazine, a whopping majority of Australians (between 70 and 90 per cent) don’t want GM foods. In this morning’s Sydney Morning Herald poll, 84 per cent of respondents don’t want it.

Despite agribusiness bodies giving the nod to GM food crops, 80% of farmers surveyed in a 2002 poll taken by the SA Farmers Federation supported a ban. In an August 2003 Biotechnology Australia poll 74% of farmers surveyed were not considering using GM crops. A Biotechnology Australia 2006 study found that “The Australian public see great risks from GM foods and crops and concerns are continuing to rise.” This followed an ABC report that there was “no market” for GM canola in Australia.

As big UK, Japanese and US chains remove GM food from their shelves, the EU is discussing the withdrawal of five GM crops. “Consumers are rejecting GM foods. Markets in Europe, Japan, and elsewhere are closing and domestic markets are likewise threatened. This is driving prices down,” Canada’s National Farmers Union reported.

This also comes at a time when scientists and farmers internationally are warning about the economic and health perils of GM food, some of which is unwittingly eaten because of inadequate labelling laws. Whether or not Brumby believes these warnings is irrelevant. He has forgotten that in a democracy and a marketplace, the customer is always right.

November 22, 2007

More on the safety risks of WiFi

Filed under: environment,health — Kath @ 11:55 am

Further to my earlier rantings, here’s an extract of a Crikey article on WiFi technology:

Around the world, government organisations, including schools, are facing a backlash for imposing wireless internet signals on citizens.

In the US, a class action lawsuit filed by parents at an Illinois school claims prolonged exposure to low intensity microwaves emitted by WiFi networks “can break down DNA strands, cause chromosome aberrations.” Lawyers acting for the class action claimed to have collected “more than 400 scientific articles, summaries and references outlining health risks… most of which have been researched and written after 1995.”

In the UK, the Teachers Union is calling for a ban on WiFi in schools, and universities are also starting to ban WiFi from campus. Canada’s Lakehead University president Fred Gilbert said that “microwave radiation in the frequency range of wi-fi has been shown to increase permeability of the blood-brain barrier, cause behavioural changes, alter cognitive functions, activate a stress response, interfere with brain waves, cell growth, cell communication, calcium ion balance…” and so on.

And last month, an international working group of senior scientists and public health policy academics, The BioInitiative Working Group, released a report listing serious health risks and urging tightening of international standards, particularly around children. The report gives a meta-analysis of more than 2000 studies and concludes that “existing public safety limits are inadequate to protect public health.” It recommends no WiFi in schools.

Another appeal, reportedly signed by 36,990 doctors, also claims existing standards are set too low, because they’re based on the erroneous assumption that only thermal heating of cells cause health effects. Yet as EMR Australia has reported, many studies suggest serious health impacts from non-thermal effects of low intensity radio-freqency signals like WiFi. The Freiburger Appeal signatories believe wireless devices, including portable home phones, have triggered “a dramatic rise in severe and chronic diseases”. Following this appeal, a reported 50,000 more doctors’ signatures were gathered on the Lichtenfelser Appeal, the Bamberger Appeal, the Hofer Appeal and the Helsinki Appeal.

Then there’s the Benevoto Resolution and the Catania Resolution both of which cite health risks and recommend wireless zones in cities. There are citizen groups like the San Francisco Neighbourhoods Antenna-Free Union and Australian groups like Tower Sanity Alliance.

August 25, 2007

Told you so

Filed under: health — Kath @ 8:54 am

I’ve calmed down, now. But these are my concerns. I’m still in the dark about it. I’ll keep you posted.

June 25, 2007

Outing Moreland’s filthy kitchens

Filed under: cafes & pubs,Coburg,crime,food,health,Pascoe Vale — Kath @ 12:42 am

2006 was the year of renovating, and consequently the year of takeaway dinners, many home-delivered. One morning, it occured to me that I always get the runs (sorry) after eating a meal from a particular Coburg Indian restaurant. Not an especially good — or even moderately good — Indian restaurant (are there any around here?), but a cheap one. At beer o’clock after renovating, almost anything will go down.

I thought little of it. But one evening, sitting down to orders from said restaurant, Bloke on The Avenue and I noticed a hair in our dinner. Deal with it, you might say. But this wasn’t any old hair. About 7cm long, it was exceptionally thick and coarse. It could only belong to an animal like a goat, or a camel. Or a llama, or mule, or wild pig. Then we noticed a second, and a third, and then dozens. We could only imagine what was going on in that kitchen.

We complained to Moreland Council, and played a little phone tennis before we gave up on the matter.

I’d had a very different Council experience not long beforehand. On a sweltering day, Little One and I went to the Queen’s Park Pool in Moonee Ponds. The pool was closed. Now, any parent of a preschooler knows disappointment on outings is to be avoided if you want to keep things nice. So I hastily offered to buy Little One a gelato at Queen’s Park’s ice-cream van. Something I’d never done before, because we’re principled about the kind of treats we encourage. Until that day, Little One knew ice-cream vans only as ‘music trucks’. (And don’t get me started on the crap listed on “kids’ menus” — as if kids are incapable of selecting the real food they’ve enjoyed for centuries. And don’t get me started about the thoughtless parents who succumb to this poisonous marketing.)

Anyway, as the man was scooping pink gelati into the cones with no serviette wrapped around them, I noticed his hands were covered in scabby sores, some weepy, and his fingernails were FILTHY. It was sickening, but I had one of those moments where it would seem embarrassing to make a fuss. And nor did I want to disappoint Little One yet again, no Sir.

On the other hand, I didn’t want to poison my child, either. So I paid for the cones, noticing that the van’s interior, too, was grimy, and I swiftly suggested a game of throw-gelati-at-the-seagulls. Thank heavens Little One thought that was much bigger fun than eating them. We came home unsullied and I called Moonee Valley City Council, which promptly undertook an inspection, and the next week told me they’d suspended the poor man’s license.

I have so many Moreland food stories, including the one where Sydney Road’s Three Stooges Café (now under new management) served a scone carpeted in mould. So it was interesting to read the article in yesterday’s Age about the limitation to Councils’ power to publish results of health inspections. Lord knows there are many that wouldn’t pass the test in Moreland. What was more interesting was the push to give:

councils the power to name premises that have been successfully prosecuted.

Overseas studies have demonstrated the health benefits of naming foul premises. After Los Angeles introduced a public grading system for restaurants in 1998, the number of food-borne hospitalisations decreased by 13 per cent.

Surely, then, there’s a public interest argument here?

May 17, 2007

When ‘science’ is bought and sold

Filed under: Brunswick,food,health,politics — Kath @ 2:31 pm

Brunswick Labornet reports a science and maths boost for public schools around here. A good thing. And timely, considering Australia’s Chief Scientist Jim Peacock has just come out and said that our brightest students are avoiding science.

But considering some other wild things Jim Peacock claimed this week, and considering the Bracks’ governments’ apparent closed shop and done deals on important science issues, I’m wondering what sort of science will be encouraged in our schools. Will it be evidence-based science? Will it be science that serves the needs of people? Or will it be the sort of science endorsed by our Chief Scientist? His website doesn’t, as you might expect, endorse “Empirical, disinterested science that meets the needs of society”, but “An independent perspective, based in industry and science”. A big difference when you think about it. And note that industry comes before science.

(Also, don’t you love that euphemism “independent”? As in “independent schools”, aka “commercial learning shops on the corporate welfare gravy train”?)

Here’s how the Bracks government decides on GM food issues. It doesn’t consult the 80 per cent of farmers who support a ban on GM food crops; nor does it consult the majority of shoppers who don’t want it. In all polls taken by industry and AC Neilson, and all media polls, the majority of Australians reject GM food. (This majority, according to our Chief Scientist Jim Peacock, are in fact “self-serving” “unprincipled minorities”. So much for empirical science advice. And a bit rich, coming from someone who probably stands to gain from his current lobbying to overturn GM bans.) Nor does the Bracks government consult with our overseas markets that reject GM produce; nor with those independent scientists who oppose GM foods.

gm-for-vic.jpgInstead, it holds closed-shop meetings at Parliament with the industry lobbyists, the Institute of Public Affairs (IPA). Now, from its history, it would appear to me the IPA doesn’t endorse empirical science. The IPA has a history of lobbying for the tobacco industry, and I’ve got a nice little collection of climate-change denying and GM-promoting literature from them. They’re famously secretive about their funding sources, but they’re reportedy sponsored by Monsanto and other multinational giants.

Now, with the ban on GM food crops up for review, since members of the Victorian government are happy to hold meetings at Parliament with whacko industry lobbyists, will it hold meetings with those whacko citizen-supported groups like, say, the Public Health Association of Australia, the Conservation Foundation, the Network of Concerned Farmers, the Union of Concerned Scientists, Greenpeace and GeneEthics? After all, these independent (of industry funding) groups, unlike the IPA, have widespread electoral support. In a democracy, you’d think that counts.

But somehow I don’t think so. I had a word with a couple of these groups this morning. They tried to RSVP to go to this closed-shop meeting, but they were told they couldn’t.

So come on, guys at Labornet, defend this one.

May 3, 2007

Another reason the State should support home vegie patches

Oh, Bettina, Bettina. In your plagiarised article, syndicated in newspapers Australia-wide, you claimed that organic food was more dangerous than factory-farmed food. There are too many outright lies in this copied-and-pasted industry spin article to unpack here, but they have been adequately discredited elsewhere.

But you got me thinking about the ongoing lobbying efforts to discredit organic food — even in our suburban vegie patches. Recently, our own Melbourne Times printed some typesetting claiming the answer for home vegie gardeners could be genetically modified crops.

“Efforts to grow drought-resistant crops,” typed Kirsten Alexander, “could extend to the garden… Once crops have been created to cope with drought there’s surely an opportunity to offer genetically modified, drought-tolerant plants to the gardening public.”

This is WAY unlikely, Kirsten. For a start, no such GM commercial crops exist, or have been field-trialled. And repeatedly, industry and independent polling shows that the overwhelming majority of Australians don’t want GM. And a poll by the South Australian Farmers’ Federation revealed 80 per cent of farmers didn’t want it, either, and supported a moratorium on it. There’s no reason to suppose we urban farmers will feel any differently.

And the rhetoric of drought-tolerance coming from industry isn’t matched by peer-review studies. The promises of (patented, monopoly-owned) GM crops — lower yields, drought tolerance, pesticide tolerance, save the third world — look good, but are simply not backed by evidence.

Back to sexologist-turned-industry-lobbyist Bettina’s campaign. I’m reading Michael Pollan’s magnificent book, The Omnivore’s Dilemma. Did I mention that this book is stupendous? Part history, part gastronomy, part biology and politics and philosophy and intrigue, it’s so elegantly researched and written that even those not interested in food production would love it, I swear. It reads as a giant literary essay, and as Penelope Hobhouse said, it’s “as compelling as a detective thriller.” Buy this book: it’s peerless. Really. (If you want examples of Michael Pollan’s writings, they’re here.)

Something I’m learning about from this book is how the by-products of war became integral in industrialised agriculture. In particular, the introduction of petroleum-nitrogen fertilisers meant farmers no longer had to rotate their crops (for example, with legumes, which fix nitrogen in the soil, or livestock, whose poo also adds nitrogen). Using nitrogen fertilizers derived from fossil-fuels, farmers could now plant monocrops repeatedly in the one space:

Liberated from the old biological constraints, the farm could now be managed on industrial principles, as a factory transforming inputs of raw material–chemical fertilizer–into outputs of corn. Since the farm no longer needs to generate and conserve its own fertility by maintaining a diversity of species, synthetic fertilizer opens the way to monoculture, allowing the farmer to bring the factory’s economics of scale and the mechanical efficiency to nature.

… From the standpoint of industrial efficiency, it’s too bad we can’t simply drink petroleum directly, because there’s a lot less energy in a bushel of corn (measured in calories) than there is in the half-gallon of oil required to produce it. Ecologically, this is a fabulously expensive way to produce food…

Put another way, he writes, “it takes more than a calorie of fossil fuel energy to produce a calorie of food.” The traditional farm, on the other hand, “produced more than two calories of food energy for every calorie of energy invested.”

More than this. Nitrogen fertilizers decrease our food’s nutrient content. Graham Harvey has documented the ways nitrogen fertilisers don’t stimulate nutrient density, but they do cause excess growth of sappy tissue within plant cell walls. Repeated studies show animals and plants fed chemical fertilisers are lower in the essential vitamins and minerals than organically-fed animals and organically-grown food. Although Bettina’s plagiarised article reckons the opposite.

We home gardeners, even those who buy our fertilizer from Bunnings, tend not to pullute river systems with petroleum fertilizer run-off. And we use far less water and energy to make our food.

Even if you do believe Bettina’s claims that organic food isn’t tastier (it is), and isn’t more nutritious (empirical studies show it is), for these reasons alone we should be encouraged by the state to grow the stuff. If the State is really interested in sustainability and public health, that is. And there’s no better place to grow it than in our fertile, intensive backyards, where we can use much less water and energy than broadacre farmers.

March 15, 2007

Coburg lanes get a pasting

Filed under: Brunswick,Coburg,food,gardening,health,neighbours,recipes — Kath @ 9:50 am

Having moved house this year, we don’t have a quince tree. But we harvested far more quinces from Coburg’s laneways than we ever managed to grow on our bug-infested Brunswick tree. This is just part of our harvest from an afternoon walk, during which we collected apples, pears and quinces. There were also grapes, lemons and figs overhanging the lane, and remnants of hundreds of plums gone to waste. Coburg lanes are like Victory gardens.

I was determined this year to avoid quince paste recipes. Most are so goddamn convoluted. Aside from the tedious peeling and coring and processing and straining, there’s the relentless stirring. All that for a lump of paste from two dozen quinces. No wonder the stuff costs forty to sixty bucks per kg, depending on whether you go to the Vic Market or DJ’s food hall. (As an aside, I’m boycotting DJ’s because of their corporate thuggery towards the Australia Institute. Arseholes.)

I like the recipes that tell you to chuck in pips, cores ‘n’ all. And instead of stirring for hours, after stirring for about half an hour, I let the paste thing happen over a couple of days. You spread it onto trays and put it first in the oven on low heat, during which time you repeatedly mesh the crust that forms into the rest of the sludge. Then, when it starts resembling soft paste, you put it in the hot sun under a tea-towel and do same. Stephanie Alexander writes of one chef who puts the sludge on a tray in the back window of the car until it goes lovely and leathery.

After that, it’s divine quince paste with soft white cheese. Mmm… paste.

February 18, 2007

mmm… cakes.

Filed under: Brunswick,cafes & pubs,food,health,recipes — Kath @ 9:20 pm

Bloke on The Avenue is one of these geezers who doesn’t believe in healthy treats. Try as I might to put as much fruit, fibre and unprocessed sweetners into baked goodies, he reckons if you’re going to have a treat, go hard core industrial grade. (more…)

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