Monday, 9 April 2018

Food for Thought - Or walking on egg shells

Like many of my generation who were born, raised, schooled and have worked a full working life in a large City, we have a naivety about Country Life.

We know it’s there, we know it is necessary and we consume the products of the daily farm labour 3 times a day with barely a thought, if ever a thought of where our food comes from.

We may make ourselves feel good by seeking out fresh food that is a product of our own country and feel even better when we select free range or barn laid eggs from the extraordinary choice before us.

I am half way through fulfilling a secondment to a relatively small property in Queensland’s Granite Belt region. I have horses, cattle, sheep, 2 dogs and countless hens to care for. I also have some fruit and vegetables to tender.

In reality, the sheep and cattle look after themselves. The horses are largely self sufficient as they enjoy their break from mustering duties and the dogs are incredibly well trained and behaved, except for when there is a rabbit to catch.

The hens are secured overnight however on morning release have free access to the entire property. Although they never seem to go more than about 500 metres from “home”.

I am never quite sure if all hens are home each evening but have been assured the 2 pure white chooks will always be last to enter the enclosure and if they are in, all are in.

Egg collecting is a daily ritual followed by sorting and storing ready for weekly deliveries to local customers.

Which brings me to my point.

Like most, I buy my eggs at the supermarket. A few years ago, I made a conscious decision to change to free range eggs and have even resorted to looking at the carton labels to see if there is reference to how much space each hen has. *

The eggs I buy come in identical shape and size and are almost identical in shell texture and colour.

The eggs I collect and sort each day are anything but. Colours range from a deep dark brown through to an almost “Paris Light” white. Some are almost round while others are long and thin. The majority are much larger than the extra large on sale in our shops and shell textures vary from perfectly smooth to quite abrasive. For example:
I know the eggs I am collecting are absolutely free range. I am now wondering just “how” free range the eggs I buy are.

It doesn’t make sense that commercial free-range eggs are all identical in shape, colour and texture.

Or is it “us” who demand everything is the same and it all looks perfect?

We go to the supermarket and select the shiniest apples while ignoring or being oblivious to the fact they are “waxed” to appear that way.

We leave behind the carrots that are not perfectly formed and turn our nose up if the watermelon skin has a blemish.

I wonder how much food is produced and subsequently wasted because it does not look perfect? How many eggs are rejected because they are less than the perfect shape or colour?

We hear about the challenge ahead of us to produce sufficient food from decreasing land. We hear about the rising cost of living and in particular the financial strain of the household food trolley.

We hear arguments that the solution comes in the form of genetic engineering.

We choose to ignore that much of what we consume is produced with the aid of chemicals and fertilizers and I suspect this all contributes to the “perfectness” of what we purchase in our supermarkets.

I am rushing to complete this post before by next daily task.

I have a drip watering system to run for two hours for the citrus trees and then will hand water the egg plants. I am not sure why they have to be watered by hand but they do, every day too. The citrus trees are watered every second day.

None of this produce is intended for the shelves of Woolworths, Coles, Aldi or IGA. It will be sold or traded locally.

Like the eggs, all produce is grown naturally and organically, is full of flavour and will not be waxed or shined.

However, none of it conforms to our requirement for it to look perfect on the outside.

In our era of social media and pressures to portray ourselves as living that perfect life, I wonder if what we eat and how we shop for food is a metaphor for this century (so far)?

*By my calculation, the hens in my care have about a quarter hectare each

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