Red Alert

Food for Thought

Posted by on April 8th, 2010

Over Easter I had a chance to get into our vegetable garden.  Harvested the last of the tomatoes, some chillies and got things tidied up for planting more cauliflower, broccoli and broad beans.   Most of my life I have had a vegetable garden and have been able to grow some of the food I eat, an enormously satisfying experience I worry is increasingly less common.

Fruit and vegetables have come up quite often in recent conversations.  I hear about (and see) the good work happening in a number of our schools where vegetables are grown and compost bins tended.  A budget adviser told me that in England there is a requirement for schools to have fruit trees to give students access to fresh fruit.  I’m not sure how this works but it didn’t seem to be a bad idea.  Both of these approaches provide fresh healthy food to young people (for some, from families struggling to make ends meet and where food is scarce, this is a practical help)  and show young people that food is something you can grow (not just buy in the supermarket). 

In fact in a country like New Zealand with a natural advantage in producing food we should maximise opportunities to encourage people to grow food.  Even those with limited space can grow produce like tomatoes and salad greens in containers.

It is scandalous that fresh healthy food which we can grow easily is as expensive as it is.  It is not the producers who are making huge profits from fruit and vegetables but supermarkets are a different story.   I was interested in a feature in the Sunday Star Times particularly the comments about industrialised (processed) foods, the food industry, natural foods and about the importance of cooking (another skill that is not as widespread as it once was it seems).  

Food is one of our fundamental needs.  Despite this as a result of poverty too many people globally including some in New Zealand do not have  an adequate and regular supply of the food they need.   Food is something that is huge business.  If you look at the worlds largest companies food producers and retailers are right up there – huge, profitable global corporates with enormous purchasing and marketing power.

For all of these reasons (and for our health) lets ensure we hold on to the skills of growing and cooking  food.

On the local and immediate, one final request following a conversation with a local food bank – if you have surplus fruit or vegetables give it to the food bank.  They are generally unable to provide fresh food and some of the food that goes to waste (think ahead to the forthcoming feijoa season) can make a difference.


28 Responses to “Food for Thought”

  1. Spud says:

    That’s a great idea donating fruit to the food bank! :-D

  2. StephenR says:

    That IS a good idea with the food bank. Hopefully they don’t end up with half a ton of feijoas though!

  3. Linda says:

    I’m very concerned with what people percieve as poverty in this country. It seems there are a percentage that either don’t know how or feel is is beneath them to do things like gardening and collecting waste fruit from public sources. I know many people who like to whinge about lack of money but it seems to me that they actually don’t know how lucky they are and need to see real poverty of slums overseas (and some bad situations in NZ). The sense of ‘entitlement’ is unbelievable here.
    Skills that got people through the depression of 30′s are definately on the decline. Sad but true.

  4. Linda says:

    @StephenR – it’s easy to stew and freeze feijoas or make jam. Better that you have the option than no fruit at all. (I do get that you were joking)

  5. Rebecca says:

    Linda I agree in part.

    However, comparing our poverty with the slums of India or Africa or South America is a little unfair as when families are making the choice between rent/mortgage/power over food their hardship is no doubt very real.

    Also, while yes, the skills of old are lacking so is the space. Many people don’t have the 1/4 acre section where you can have a huge vege garden, loads of fruit trees & grow your own cow, chickens or sheep. And then there is of course the council restrictions.

    So the reality is most of us are reliant on what we get from the supermarket.

    Yes we could all do more to at least grow something….provided of course the weather plays its part. My capsicums and tomatoes were non existent this year. Tomatoes never ripened and the capsicums bitter due to the lack of sun.

    But unless we have loads of space and/or planter boxes galore (if renting some landlords don’t want you digging up their garden) then we are reliant on the supermarkets and is increasingly the case, food banks.

    In terms of the surplus of amateur gardeners – brilliant idea. I often find things like broccauli all come up at once so will be sure to pass on any extras.

  6. Spud says:

    “grow your own cow, chickens or sheep.” :-D Wow science has come along. :P

  7. Spud says:

    No offense, BTW great that you’re donating food. :-D

  8. Ruth says:

    I enjoy growing a lot of my family’s food, but IMO education is the main thing here. You have to know what to do with fruit and veges in the kitchen before you should think about growing them. Once you have a few basic cooking skills you can make inexpensive, healthy meals.

    The Ministry of Food in WWII in the UK had some good ideas – volunteers held cookery demos in shops and community centres and showed those who needed to know how to make a few basic recipes. Perhaps food banks could have a similar initiative here?

  9. Rebecca says:

    None taking Spud – I was being facetious anyway!

    Ruth what a fabulous idea. I am the master at making cheap, quick food as I love eating and hate cooking. I am amazed how some people genuinely have no idea what to do with a bit of potatoe, broccauli, capsicum, mushroom, carrot and mince…cottage pie anyone! :)

  10. Sweetd says:

    Carol

    “It is scandalous that fresh healthy food which we can grow easily is as expensive as it is. It is not the producers who are making huge profits from fruit and vegetables but supermarkets are a different story. I was interested in a feature in the Sunday Star Times particularly the comments about industrialised (processed) foods, the food industry, natural foods and about the importance of cooking (another skill that is not as widespread as it once was it seems). ”

    There is nothing stopping you, or anybody else from growing and selling your own food if you think such a price gap exists in the market. Th fact that prices are where they are suggests that this price gouging is not as great as you might imagine, else competitors would be exploiting the gap in the market, and as basic supply and demand techniques show, the market prices would lower to a new price equilibrium

  11. BLiP says:

    Waaaay off topic, I know, but for a fun thing to do after the gardening, try this. Sheds some new light on the sock puppets slowly infesting Red Alert.

  12. Spud says:

    @BLiP – That is both cool and frightening. :-D :-(
    Some of us would prefer not to have our dialects analysed because we want to be anonymous.

  13. StephenR says:

    There is nothing stopping you, or anybody else from growing and selling your own food if you think such a price gap exists in the market.

    Plenty of smaller retailers around, but their prices don’t tend to be much different either. Could be they don’t get bulk discounts like supermarkets do…

  14. BLiP says:

    There’s some great organic food co-ops around and so long as you’re not too fussy about exactly what you get and don’t mind putting in a couple of hours work once a month (or so) the prices are great.

  15. elgoodall says:

    One of our Christchurch food banks finds that many of the ‘raw ingredient’ type foods are deposited in the nearest rubbish tins to the food bank and don’t even make it into homes. I personally have seen kids eating dog food out of a can here in Christchurch. Poverty is relative but how to survive even relative poverty is a skill. People need to know how to cook and be able to afford the power to do so, and to be shown that it can be cheaper and yummy to cook healthy food and eat fruit and veg. But this needs to include where to shop, how to know if things are ripe/bad, how to prepare and cook. The enviroschools system was great, but there is less (if any) funding for that this year, and the adults are the ones who need the skills.

  16. Rebecca says:

    BLip yes they are fantastic solution for those of us who don’t have the space or ability to have our own massive vege garden. I think one would be perfect where I live but not sure where/how/who in terms of setting one up.

    Aside from the poverty side of things I also think it is a huge worry that there are some kids who think broccauli grows in Pak n Save. In saying that though, a lot of child care centres and kindergarten have vege gardens and can o worm compost etc.

  17. Spud says:

    I like school vege gardens, but object to the ones that laden their gardens with herbicide. :-(

  18. BLiP says:

    You gotta wonder what National Ltd™ is up to with putting pies’n'coke back on the menu and then trashing the EnviroSchools programme. Apart from the many, many lessons that can be gained from a garden – especially for those kids who’s parents can’t afford a decent section or suffer under a draconian landlord – EnviroSchools often produced a surplus of good food that was distributed into the community.

    How’s that change feeling coming along, folks? Are you lovin’ it?

  19. Dorothy says:

    sadly not true about fruit trees in English schools, many of which have not a scrap of greenery in the tarmac plyground. The priority is balancing the budget, with many schools selling off playing fields to do this. There may be local initiatives to have vege patches but that will be down to the commitment of individual teahchers or heads.

  20. rainman says:

    Good on you for growing food Carol.

    So is Labour going to adopt any policies to facilitate food gardening education, small scale food production/small-farming, or better yet, address the seemingly endless property subdivision that leaves most houses with gardens the size of postage stamps? Perhaps address urban sprawl?

    Industrial agriculture is not long-term sustainable, it would be nice to see a major party recognise this.

  21. paul says:

    @D.raco – I did not get the whole scrapping of enivro schools either – I can tell you now it is a VERY successful programme – fantastic learning curve for kids – they always love it and are always engaged. ITs real learning. I know most schools will struggle on with it – but the govt are so short sighted that I am stuffed if I can see what good scrapping it will do (none in fact imo) and as for putting pies and coke back – stupid. For those schools that were already water only, and had healthy options, the reversal of the healthy food initiative was just plain pathetic. Tolley and Key sent a clear message by squashing it – get fat, we dont care – not our problem. Well, news for them – the costs of this on our health system are massive – and while it may have only been at school time, it would have made a difference over time. ANd to hear her (Tolley) scream it out to Trev in the house that that was a good thing they did – well, it just defies logic.

    THe future is about being sustainable and living better lives – scraping enviro schools and the healthy food options just show that this govt could not care two hoots about the future.

  22. Ruth says:

    Rebecca said ” I am the master at making cheap, quick food as I love eating and hate cooking. I am amazed how some people genuinely have no idea what to do with a bit of potatoe, broccauli, capsicum, mushroom, carrot and mince…cottage pie anyone!

    Indeed :-) The solution to the problem is not “enviro-schools” or government. All we need is a few dedicated folk willing to share their knowledge with other adults.

    It can’t be that difficult to set up a few demos in malls etc.

    Fruit and veges are cheap compared to ready meals and takeaways and always have been.

  23. Linda says:

    ‘Super grans’ in Manawatu were doing exactly that for groups or individuals.

  24. BLiP says:

    The solution to the problem is not “enviro-schools” or government. All we need is a few dedicated folk willing to share their knowledge with other adults.

    There was a time people could have gone to evening classes but, guess what, National Ltd™ cancelled them as well.

  25. Jeremy says:

    Not only schools carol, but I plant fruit trees of some type at all my properties, some like it, others would rather have a low maintenance concrete pad.

    How about Housing NZ has a plan for planting and window boxes or raised gardens at all of their homes. At least it gives the option, and perhaps a tap on the shoulder for home grown.

  26. Rebecca says:

    Blip the emphasis was on donating – I’d donate my (albeit very average/limited & non fancy) cooking skills if it meant people could learn how to do things like whip up a stirfry, pad spaghetti bolognese out with some veges & lentils etc

    Jeremy: great idea. It seems we all have lots of ideas….just hope the powers that be are reading them :)

  27. John W says:

    That is lovely Carol. Surplus apples were given out to schools in NZ in the 40s, school milk was a feature until it was stopped for political reasons ( that is another story )
    Your heartening lack of mean spiritedness is uplifting.
    Community gardens also are working in some parts of NZ.

    The comment from rainman about long term sustainability is relevant to the home/ community garden topic.
    Transporting food to cities will become a grave issue in the years ahead. Space within cities to grow vegetables is the way of protecting food supply. I don’t see any Council or govt attention to this.
    Kids get a lot of enjoyment and gain life skills from gardening. A lot more productive than putting them in from of a TV or play station.

    The key issue of space is right but also time to develop a garden is a luxury for many with both parents working to try and cover debts. The kids miss out on having parent time let alone a chance to see how great growing food is.

  28. Trev says:

    it’s not easy at all for those families struggling, while you’ve got politicians & corporate business cohorts sitting back in their wealth of luxuries. my vegie gardens work on the principle of one square metre plots that i rotate each season. yes, i’m one of the lucky ones that can do this because i’ve got the room to do so, while i’m also unemployed. The big advantage in growing my own veggies is that the crops are GE/GM (Genetically engineered/modified)free, so that upsets the likes of Monsanto, (& several other multinational biotech companies), in the fact that i’m just one less under their thumb in buying bad product from a company that wants to overtake the global food industry with unsafe & insufficient testing of their products. if i had to choose in buying ge or other food, i’d much rather pay happily for organically grown produce. i understand that not every family can afford to buy, nor has the room to grow fresh produce, but if our government stopped worrying about themselves & woke up to the truth that’s out there, then the families in difficulty with everyday living would be far better off & a lot happier. c’mon keys, cut out your political incompetencies, get you & your cronies to sort yourselves out & start getting the needy families back on their feet, by cutting back on the cost of living so families can afford to eat healthier & better. my regards to all those struggling families out there, you do have rights, & you’re not alone.