The Minister for Competition Policy and Consumer Affairs, Chris Bowen, announced today that he’d formally received the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC’s) report on grocery prices. It’ll be public next week, but it’s already apparent that it will recommend unit pricing. At least that will save those poor blokes you see in the “baby aisle” doing mobile phone calculations to work out which size package has the cheapest unit price on nappies – hint, fellas: it’s always the smallest packet.
I don’t hold out much hope for the ACCC review. There will be Strong Measures to Increase Competition amongst supermarkets, of course. Zoning laws to stop capitalist bullies. And even a “GroceryWatch”. I shit you not. Why bother when “Coles and Woolworths together control 78 per cent of Australia’s packaged grocery sales worth $59 billion a year.”
The issue of food security and how we should eat is getting a lot of coverage on Radio National, in part connected to the delivery and release of the report. Life Matters today featured a great discussion about how pricing and availability affects people on lower incomes (you can hear the segment here for the next week, after that this site will give you the idea) and Encounter looks to be covering it from a more global perspective. (Sunday am/Weds night or podcast).
So with all this earnest concern I’ve been pondering t h e – g o b b l e r ‘ s question of whether a “War on Foodies!” is coming:
‘Aren’t they just pushing a very sophisticated & elite point of view?’ was the point I gleaned from tonight’s Counter-point on ABC’s radio national.
This implication combined with the very real emerging divide between the realities of nourishing your family within your economic actuality & the constant barrage of cooking celebs insisting that unless you are buying free-trade, seasonally, locally, SOLE [sustainable, organic, local and ethical] etc somehow you are not doing the right thing & you have a compelling recipe for disenfranchisement. This is what is pounced upon by those who are keen to get traction with this cultural-divide argument.
I agree that celebrity chefs can be annoying, but anyone that driven in their life is usually a bit painful. And while equitable access to food concerns me, truth be told I’m not that worried about ending up in a food culture war, for I shall beat their puny warriors over the head with slabs of my frozen homemade veal stock and their inadequately nourished bodies will crumble before my righteous wrath. Ha!
Cooking at home is a joy for me, but it isn’t for many people. Apparently some of them get pissed off finding out what they’re missing out on. More fool them.
If you’re attempting to make a convert, you could do worse than Mochachocolata-Rita’s list of reasons in favour of home cooking, which boils down to it’s fun, cheap and gets you the sexies. (Usage note: that final term being the one currently employed by my kindergartener son and his best mate; the correct construction is that you “do the sexies” on someone.)
While I’ve always been interested in food and cooking it wasn’t until my first stretch of stay-at-home mothering that I began making almost all the food we ate each day. It’s what made me a good cook, rather than a just a bourgie girl with a lot of cookbooks and a well stocked pantry.
Because we were living on one income, and not a huge one at that, I needed to wise up. I started shopping at the Fyshwick and Belconnen produce markets, and for a while when we were really skint I would buy a week’s worth of fruit and veg in the last hour of sales on Sunday before the Fyshwick markets closed until the following Thursday. We never ate badly, but I’m glad that I don’t have to fight my way through all the diplomatic plated cars for a park at Fyshwick on Sundays anymore.
For a long while, I became a serious fan of the Canberra Farmer’s Market. I don’t remember hearing about it starting up, but it wasn’t long after it was begun in early 2004 by the Rotary Club in nearby Hall.
My joy came partly because I could buy Infinity sourdough there. One of the biggest (and saddest) adjustments following moving to Canberra in 2002 was the lack of proper bread, particularly since I’d been living in Enmore in inner Sydney and was accustomed to being able to buy La Tartine bread at the Alfalfa House Co-op at end of my street. *sigh* But then I found Silo, which makes better bread than Infinity.
Still, many of the good things at the Market are very, very good. Like the warm spiced apple cider you can see my shadow clutching over there ⇐
Despite being generally very happy with the produce, I stopped being a fan of the whole “Farmers’ Market” experience. It was a combination of little things. There was an element of the Free Range Children Market For Inner City Pretentious Wankers, to borrow a term from Purple Goddess – I’m looking at you, posh lady with the $9 jars of “breakfast prunes” – but it wasn’t just that.
The punters began coming earlier and earlier, and some stall holders were so busy serving customers two hours before the markets were advertised as beginning that they didn’t have time to set out their produce properly. Part of the whole relaxed and friendly vibe of the markets was lost in the crowds of pushy people. And until they put up signs forbidding it, people took dogs into the food selling areas. Alright, you’re in a building that says “Sheep Pavilion”, but you wouldn’t dream of taking your stupid fluffy white dog to the supermarket, would you?
I became annoyed that some stalls were obviously reselling purchased items – the variety and seasonality of the produce ostensibly from one origin gave it away. And some smaller stallholders whose produce was really out of this world – like Tallabung heritage breeds pork, the best pork that I have ever eaten – sold their business and while the brand is sold there, it’s lost the artisanal flavour that made it so astonishing. And it’s a lot more expensive. So I was pleased to see the markets separated into a “direct producer” and “not” sheds last year, as it meant I had to do less wandering to find the stalls I was after.
But even despite the consistently excellent quality of the best stallholders – my favourites are the fresh South Coast seafood, the Amore cakes, Li Shen exotic mushrooms, Yulin Shanghai tofu and street snacks and Glean Na Meala spuds and greens – I found myself going to the Farmers’ Markets less and less. Since Glenn Na Meala opened Choku Bai Jo, I’ve been to the markets on one exploratory trip, for this post.
I might have gone more often if their website wasn’t so difficult to use – it’s a great example of how to stuff up using the web.
The site is set up as an internal administrative tool rather than a communication tool; I want to know what people are going to be selling this week, not where to download a form to sell my produce. Fair enough that there be a admin area for stallholders, but how about a simple site that is useful for customers too? Even an email newsletter that says what’s on this week? What to make with it? Their PR people seem fixated on mainstream press coverage rather than making their clients’ goods accessible to lots of different types of consumers. In summer, there are fantastic peaches and nectaries straight from the growers in Araluen – but how do you know when they are arriving? (When peaches are in season, I know, but you get my drift.)
In discussions at playgroups and waiting to pick up kids from school I hear other food loving parents complain that going to the markets has become another chore, rather than a pleasurable way to buy your food. I’ve also heard complaints that it’s not always cheaper than the supermarket. To my mind it needn’t be, because the quality and freshness are so much better, but to many people Farmers’ Market = super cheap. Something else for the PR peeps.
The site’s photo galleries are terrible – it’s a popup and the images still bear their camera sequence names. But it’s surprising to see the difference between April 2004 and now; maybe twenty stall holders and a couple of dozen milling food lovers then and two big sheds plus two separate outdoor areas and hundreds of regular customers now. The rest of the set from my trip to the markets is up at my flickr.
I will still go to the markets occasionally, and probably more in spring and summer. But for now, it’s just not worth the bother, when $45 at Choko Bai Jo buys you this (including the bowl of local hazelnuts), most of it organically produced but not certified organic, and sorry about the photo:
The Capital Region Farmers’ Market is held Saturdays at Exhibition Park (EPIC), from 8-11 am