ETHICAL EATING PYRAMID
Follow our ethical shopping pyramid to benefit your health and our environment. Your food will not have travelled as far to reach your plate, it will stay fresher for longer and you will be eating seasonally, which tastes better, is cheaper and better for the environment.
Reducing your eco-footprint is not as hard as you may think. Simply by starting to consider your own consumption patterns and altering the way you shop can make a huge difference. In this section you’ll find some practical and achievable things you can do to reduce your environmental impact.
With between 30% and 60% of our personal eco-footprint embodied in the food that we buy, there has never been a better place to start.
In Australia the two largest retailers, Coles and Woolworths, control around 70% of the market, making Australia one of the most concentrated grocery markets in the world. Relatively new budget players such as Aldi are increasingly placing pressure on all players to push prices down, which has far-reaching impacts on farmer livelihood, animal welfare and environmental stewardship. Aldi now commands a 12.1% share of the supermarket sector and has surpassed IGA as Australia’s third-largest supermarket chain.
Supermarkets have huge buying power and can often source and sell produce at a cheaper rate than independent stores. The downside is that this centralised food system pressures farmers into providing cheaper produce, which is what has seen many farmers turn to factory farming and other intensive farming practices that cause environmental degradation.
Supermarkets also tend to stock only varieties of fruit and vegetables that have a longer shelf life, resulting in a loss of biodiversity, making us vulnerable to shocks in the food system, such as disease and pest outbreaks. They also sell the vast majority of their products in packaging, much of which is soft plastic and cannot go into residential recycling bins (see The Problem with Plastic).
Further, the number of farmers in Australia has been declining for many decades as small farmers sell up to large-scale farming operations and fewer young people take over family farms. There were 19,700 fewer farmers in Australia in 2011 than in 2006, a fall of 11% over five years. Over the 30 years to 2011, the number of farmers declined by 106,200 (40%), More alarmingly, farmers are almost two and a half times more likely to commit suicide than any other profession.
We depend on farmers to put food on the table, so we need to start valuing them and paying them a fair price for what they do.
Despite this, blaming supermarkets for the problems with our food system would be wrong. They are simply responding to consumer demand. Supermarkets will only ever stock what generates a profit, so the power lies with us. Coles, for example, made the decision to phase out the inhumane use of sow stalls on their own brand pork products and the use of cage eggs in their own-brand egg range after consumers and animal welfare groups voiced their concern.
Remember, every dollar you spend is a vote for the type of food system you would like to be a part of, so choose wisely.
COMMUNITY OR INDEPENDENT SUPERMARKETS
These supermarkets are similar to large supermarkets, however they are smaller businesses therefore allow you to support your local economy and often give back to the community through giving programs. They are often able to be more flexible about products they stock so can support smaller producers or brands that their customers show a preference for.
NON-ORGANIC BOX DELIVERY, BUTCHER, GREENGROCER, BAKER, FRUIT AND VEG MARKET
Non-organic box delivery, greengrocers, butchers and local fruit and veg markets such as Queen Victoria and South Melbourne Market are different from a farmers’ market, as most sellers buy their produce from the Wholesale Market. At Wholesale Markets in Australia a middleman on-sells produce to retailers (although some large farmers directly attend the wholesale market as well). Although you support small business when shopping at one of these outlets, the downside is that the wholesaler and retailer take a share of the farmer’s profit. There is also no requirement to buy from local farmers, produce that’s in season or ethical farmed meat and sustainable seafood.
ORGANIC GROCER OR BOX DELIVERY, ORGANIC BUTCHER, BAKER, SUSTAINABLE FISHMONGER
Organic grocers and box delivery services provide consumers with convenience and still provides a way for you to purchase food that is healthier, tastier, and more environmentally sound (see Organic vs. Industrial Farming). Purchasing through a grocer or box system reduces some of the share of the profit that the farmer would otherwise be receiving unless the box service is run by the actual farmer. Additionally there is no requirement to source local produce, so be sure to enquire about this when shopping with them.
Some organic box services that operate in and around Melbourne and are either run by the farmer or are transparent about their sourcing are:
FARM GATE OR FRESH OFF THE BOAT
Next time you get out of town or head down the coast, why not look into farms that operate a farmgate or seafood providers who sell at co-ops near a pier or fresh off the boat. ‘Pick-your-own’ farms, farmgates and cellar doors all offer the unique experience of visiting the source of your produce and meeting the people who grow and make it. This is not just shopping for food, it’s an opportunity to see the process up close in person and gain an insight into the growing environment. Some fishermen also sell direct from their boat or on a pier, such as Bay Sea Farms (Mornington), Sea Bounty (Williamstown) and Port Franklin Fresh Fish (Port Franklin).
Choose your favourite daytrip location and start researching. Visit Local Harvest and type ‘farmgate’ in the map to discover farm gate in your area or a quick Google search may uncover some great places too.
FOOD CO-OPS, FOOD HUBS, BULK FOOD STORES
Food Co-operatives (Co-ops)
If you love the idea of meeting people in your local area, sharing food stories and buying in bulk together to avoid packaging then get on down to your local food co-op.
Food co-ops are owned by their members and usually sell organic, locally and ethically sourced groceries in bulk. Food co-ops can be stores or groups that, because of their collective buying power, can provide these items in a more economical way.
Producers who work with co-ops have the benefit of selling in bulk and can use less packaging.
A food hub is a business or organisation that actively manages the aggregation, distribution, and marketing of source-identified food products primarily from local and regional producers in order to satisfy wholesale, retail, and institutional demand.
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Food Hubs range in scale from volunteer-run buying groups using temporary spaces for receipt and packing of goods (like community or school halls, churches and garages) to permanent and well-established Hubs providing a variety of business, educational and/or food access services.
Unlike traditional distributors, food hubs are committed to maintaining transparency in their supply chain, sourcing products which have been ethically produced, providing fair prices to producers and identifying exactly where the final product came from.
Food Hubs play an important role because they make trading more efficient for the producer and the customer. Producers benefit because they can access a larger customer pool through the Hub than they could maintain alone. The Hub also takes care of tasks such as delivery and collecting payment, so the producer doesn’t have to. The consumer benefits from shopping at the hub because they can access a wide range of products, in one place, with low transaction/time costs.
Food Hubs can be the point from which delivery is coordinated to Buying Groups, Co-ops, Households and other businesses.
Examples of Food Hubs
Bulk Food Stores
Every piece of plastic that has ever been produced is still on the planet today. It takes hundreds of years to break down, and even then it simply breaks into smaller particles and often ends up in our waterways or contaminating our soil, it never actually “goes away”
Bulk Food Stores are shops that offer food in large, unpackaged quantities, which can be purchased in bulk or transferred into smaller containers for purchase.
Bulk food stores specialise in mainly dry-goods including, grains, pulses, flours, pasta, nuts, coffee, chocolate and rice. Many also provide a variety of oils, condiments, personal care products and cleaning products.
These stores encourage customers to bring their own containers and offer glass vessels for sale onsite. They also provide recycled brown paper bags.
The items are often contained in tubs or drums and many community co-ops also adopt a similar approach.
Bulk Food items are usually source identified, with a specific focus on locally sourced goods. By their nature, they promote sustainability goals by reducing landfill waste and conserving natural resources, whilst also encouraging the consumption of wholefoods.
Examples of Bulk Food Stores
ACCREDITED FARMERS’ MARKETS
Farmers’ markets bring many food producers together and offer a wide variety of seasonal regional produce picked fresh, sometimes even on the day of the market. They’re an easy, convenient and fun way to find locally grown food and there are lots of them popping up across the country. The produce travels shorter distances to reach your plate, which means less greenhouse gases and fresher produce. It is often much easier to buy food free from plastic and packaging.
The direct relationship with customers means that farmers’ market stallholders are held accountable for the quality of their produce. They set and receive what they deem to be a fair price for their produce and can explain what is involved in production and what drives their pricing. This also allows shoppers to make more informed choices about organic versus conventional versus biodynamic goods and sample the differences.
Shopping at a farmers’ market is a great way to buy local, seasonal produce straight from the source. Some markets also abide by strict accreditation standards, which gives the customer assurance that all produce is coming from the farm (not a wholesale market) and that meat has been raised in a free range environment.
Shop regularly at an accredited farmers’ market and you will:
- Find out what’s in season and why some crops may be damaged, late to ripen etc
- Meet the farmers who actually grow the food
- Enjoy guilt-free shopping, as everything is local and free range
- Know that the profits go directly to the family farm.
To find a farmers’ market in your local area visit www.farmersmarkets.org.au
COMMUNITY SUPPORTED AGRICULTURE (CSAs)
“Community Supported Agriculture consists of a community of individuals who pledge support to a farm operation so that the farmland becomes, either legally or spiritually, the community’s farm, with the growers and consumers providing mutual support and sharing the risks and benefits of food production.” USDA
CSAs take many forms, the essence is that supporters cover all, or part of a farm’s yearly operating budget by purchasing a portion of the season’s harvest up front. This model is all about sharing the risk and often includes members who have a deep understanding of the risks and challenges of farming and are willing to support this; rain, hail, drought or shine!
A CSA farm may be fully owned by the community and employ a farm manager, or the farmer may own the farm and ‘subscribers/customers’ buy a seasonal or annual share in the produce. This arrangement may also include donating labour to assist with running the operation.
Under a traditional farming model, a farmer may end up with tonnes of damaged tomatoes from a hail storm, which must be dumped because they are deemed unfit for sale in a retail environment. The farmer will be left with the costs of growing these tomatoes, but no income from selling them, thus absorbing 100% of the risk of running a climate-dependent enterprise.
Members of a CSA, however, will learn of the climatic risks involved in farming and will happily take the damaged goods or understand why a crop has failed or is unavailable and understands that their ‘membership’ helps to cover any of these ‘bumps’ in the road. On the other hand, there will be seasons and years where there is an excess of produce and members will reap the rewards.
In essence, the members have committed fully to the ups and downs of what occurs on farm and will be educated and engaged at every step of the way.
This mutually supportive relationship between local farmers and community members helps create an economically stable farm operation in which members are assured the highest quality produce, often at below retail prices. In return, farmers and growers are guaranteed a reliable market for a diverse selection of crops. CSAs will often host farm working bee days to offer their supporters an even closer on-farm experience.
Through the support of their CSA members, farmers are also able to plan for the future based on guaranteed income, and can work with their customers to grow food varieties that may not be as accessible via other markets.
This partnership model often leads to exciting developments, which would not be achieved through traditional models, i.e. on-farm butchering, diversified heirloom crops, restoration of native flora and fauna, alternative pest and weed management strategies etc. The model allows for a level of freedom and creativity on farm that comes from building trust and education with customers, it also often results in less waste as farmers are able to better estimate demand.
Membership fees are often based on the seasons, where you sign up for 12 weeks at a time, with payment options varying depending on the CSA.
Examples of CSAs
For CSAs in your local area visit localharvest.org.au, type in your postcode and the key word ‘CSA’.
GROW YOUR OWN, FOOD SWAPS
Whether you have a huge backyard garden, a tiny balcony, or even just a window sill, just about anyone can grow food.
By producing your own food you can choose what types to grow in the way that you want. Best of all, what you grow will always be in season and will be as locally sourced as possible!
It also helps to build an appreciation of the mere fact that it can be damn hard to grow some food and that it almost NEVER looks perfect. Growing your own makes you a little more sympathetic to imperfect produce at your farmers’ market and grocer and may even change your perception of what things should costs.
If you end up with an abundance of one item, why not swap it with your neighbours and friend or take part in an organised food swap.
An online search, talking to other gardeners or community noticeboards are a great way to get involved with a local swap, alternatively you can always start your own.