Category Archives: sustainable food

The National Sustainable Food Summit, April 2011, Melbourne

Dear Food Citizen (the new more empowering term for ‘consumer‘),
It is with great delight that Saucy Onion reports back from the National Sustainable Food Summit held in Melbourne over the past two days. Why a summit? Well, it sounds more important than calling it a conference doesn’t it? Although that was effectively what it was;
a two-day chin-wag at Melbourne’s Etihad Stadium where we could literally watch the grass grow under unsustainable artificial light grids if proceedings became dull. Not that they ever did.
About 600 delegates from all sectors of Australia’s food industry (farmers, growers, scientists, dieticians, food technologists, health clinicians, politicians)  gathered to throw in their two bobs’ worth about how we can address the ‘coming famine’. May sound alarmist but Coming Famine is the title of the latest book by one of the summit speakers, Australian science and agricultural journalist Julian Cribb.

Mr Cribb is a bespeckled man in his late 60s with striped braces. His appearance does not prepare us for his energetic and
impassioned presentation. His PowerPoint slides are filled with armaggedon-like scenarios.

 – 40% of the world in drought by the end of the century
 –  a world population of 7-8 billion hungry mouths to feed
 –  no fossil fuels to drive industry
 – half the planet’s fresh water gone
 – scarce and costly fertilisers
 – more climate uncertainty
 – and more conflicts and wars causing food refugees to flood into  
   Australia and other wealthy nations

Julian Cribb wasn’t all doom and gloom. He said Australia would lead the new eco-agricultural revolution needed to meet this famine by sharing our technology and innovation with other countries. He said Australian farmers excelled at low-input farming and needed to be supported financially and socially. He wants us to teach our children a new respect for food and how it is produced. We also need to reshape our diets.

  • We only eat 200 of the world’s 23,000 edible plants
  • In Australia we eat 5 of the 6000 edible varieties available

Professor Robin Batterham  –  the chemical engineering whiz – is on the podium now. He’s like a walking brain – all head and hardly any body. His hair is wiry and wild. He is the archetypal professor. He reminds us that ….
         ” even the most educated person after 7 days without food becomes a raging savage”

It’s been a whole two hours since my last meal and I’m finding it hard to concentrate. Professor Batterham wants us to focus on waste. He says we produce enough food for no-one to go hungry but last year 1 in 20 Australians didn’t have enough to eat. He blames distribution systems and our throwaway society.

He quotes an example from the British food industry where 3 billion cartons of unopened yoghurt are thrown away each year because they are past their use-by-date.  He wants to see ‘use by’  replaced with ‘best by’.

He wants Australia to pump more money into agricultural research and development (R&D) which has been steadily declining over the past few decades.
He also wants us to buy land overseas (such as in Mozambique) so we can extend our agricultural pastures! 
Another Day 1 speaker –  Dr Amanda Lee from the Queensland Department of Health  makes some provocative statements about obesity.
She describes the obesity epidemic as a ‘failure of the market economy’. She wants to see a national Food Security Agency to tackle obesity and promote health. She says research shows we are all eating the wrong things…. too much energy-dense, less nutritious foods and not enough vegetables, whole grains and fish. Dr Lee wants vending machines for healthy foods to make nutritious food more convenient.
Our next speaker is also from Queensland Robert Pekin of Food Connect. Food Connect is based on the principles of community supported agriculture (CSA) where produce comes from local farmers.
These local farms return 56% of the profits back to the farmer where the current industrialised farming model only returns 15%. This is because CSAs have a more efficient distribution system which makes them local and nimble. In fact Robert says that during the recent Queensland floods all Brisbane’s fresh food came from local, high land CSAs for two weeks before the roads and railways were cleared for other produce to be trucked in. 
 –  Australian rice farmers are the most water efficient in the world
 –  One google search could produce as much as 6 grams of carbon dioxide (CO2)
 –  One of our keynote speakers Dr Tim Flannery has discovered more new species than Charles Darwin did
 –  There are on average 40,000 items in a supermarket
All this talk of food and of not having food whets our appetites for a sustainable dinner at the Melbourne Aquarium.
Thankfully fish is NOT on the menu – sustainably-grown grassland beef, risotto, organic beetroots and local cheese.
organic radish, beetroot and goats cheese 
apple pie with cinnamon ice-cream
The stingrays keep doing their laps around their tank a little bemused… possibly wondering if these funny bipedal creatures will find the answers to our looming food crisis.