To round out the year I didn’t want to write a "listicle" (yes, that's actually a thing) and I certainly didn’t want to talk trends. And so, when I began to tackle "the year that was" last week, I panicked and decided to leave it for this week. Taking a deep breath (and my Dad's advice - “if you can’t win them with the first three arguments, you will never get them with your fourth or fifth”), I have mined the soapbox to bring you three key themes from 2016, cobbled together from articles around the globe.
If you are looking for something a little more chilled, you may want to go back to last week's TWTW and find the year's best reads. If you are looking for current (albeit sad news) Pino's in Kogarah was involved in a fire on Christmas night, it looks like much stock was lost. I can't find much more on the news, but my thoughts are with them. Devastating.
(1) Is regenerative the new sustainable?
- Earlier this year, a farmer donned an Akubra and rode his horse across the Sydney Harbour Bridge in a plea for awareness regarding NSW's land clearing laws (TWTW 30 June). The ramifications of a similar change to the laws in Queensland had been devastating to the native flora and fauna. Restoring Earth, a documentary featuring that same farmer, explained the regenerative role of tree roots in the soil and of the decaying trees (humus) in carbon consumption and on our waterways; essentially they were arguing for more synergy between the farm ecosystem and Australia’s natural ecosystem (using our terroir, rather than a cookie cutter British/global model). He argued for bridging the gap between farmers and ecologists (there is an agroecology revolution taking place around the world, read more here or look at the example of Via Campesina), but also between ag and education, and ag and health. Why is it we all know our doctor, but very few of us know our farmer?
- There was the Annabel Walsh (TWTW 8 Sep) and her incredible story of single-handedly regenerating their remote family property (with the help of native weeds) after her husband was nearly killed. Widely travelled, Annabel studied rotational grazing in Africa, shepherding traditions in Mongolia as well as how these traditions play out in continental Europe. Working with the premise our food is only as good as the soil it grows in, Annabel argues for the removal of mono-cropping systems and the regeneration of the soil with native perennial grasses and putting animals back into the cycle of the land. While I had long understood the role of different stomachs over the soil, I had not considered the role of hooves. For more on the impact of herding on our environment and agriculture I loved Allan Savory's TedX speech (TWTW 22 Sep). It is so excellent.
- In the states, the story of Marty Travis via the doco Sustainable (TWTW 14 July), further unpacked some of those issues – looking at the role of trees and livestock on carbon sequestration and the impact of tilling on water retention in soils. He, too, talked about the need to change the language from “sustainability” to “regeneration”.
- Finally, a newie that has been stranded on the cutting room floor, this excellent story of Daniel Zetah and his diet as it changed through vegetarianism, veganism (even freeganism - don’t ask, do keep reading): “… while there is no hard rule for what a human being should eat, or what the perfect diet is, in terms of minimizing suffering of other beings, there is an ideal diet for each region and each situation ... I can’t eat grass, I can’t break down cellulose, but I can eat meat. And the fact is that every time we plant some kind of annual crop, in a mono-cultural setting, we have to effectively destroy an intact ecosystem to do that …” It’s so fascinating, particularly his arguments around the values we hold to different lifeforms - why are whales important while those small farm animals displaced by monocultures are not??
It may be time to shift the language. There is no point being sustainable unless we have something to sustain.
(2) The business of being sustainable
And so, perhaps we should move the idea of sustainability from our farms into our kitchens. The restaurant industry is notoriously difficult, both financially and physically, and yet we tend to place the most demands on ourselves both in regards to using produce we are proud to sell and making it affordable for people to buy. The industry is very good at nurturing others but perhaps needs to get better at nurturing itself.
- In Denmark, there was Christian Puglisi’s Sustainability Report, looking at ways in which we can tighten our belts in the kitchen (TWTW 28 July) “Everything from how we differentiate our waste to what we invest in as a business needs to be focused on the long run and that all types of resources should be treated with intelligence and respect. Whether that involves using backsides of printed menus to take notes or re-fermenting wasted wine to vinegar ...”
- In the UK, Jay Rainer talked about the cost of food and how it’s fueling a culture of underpaid restaurant staff (TWTW 17 Nov). While in the US, Pollan threw in his 2 cents (TWTW 20 July): “… a significant slice of the consuming public is getting used to the idea that food produced in alignment with their values costs more and is worth more. But of course, there remain people who won’t be able to afford the higher prices of sustainable food, and that’s where the difficulty arises. How do we make this food available to them? That, I think, is the big challenge of the food movement: to democratize sustainably and ethically produced food." Dave Chang also weighed in from the US, noting “food” should be more expensive (he put “food” in inverted commas because “every tiny part of a restaurant is in the cost of that dish, from dripping faucets to broken plates.”)
- Meanwhile, in Oz, we argued about the price of bread and prematurely sounded the death knell for fine dining while simultaneously questioning the cost of "simple" food, often without context. Food with incredible provenance, cooked with incredible care, is valuable. It should cost. I believe it's the journalist's role to explain that, instead of sensationalising it for an opinion they think their readers have. We need to start talking up to people.
It is, without question, an interesting time for journalists around the world. Social media has changed the way people consume, just as the radio did in '30s, television in the '60s, the internet in the naughties, to social media now; I recently read that we can best understand this power, and the success of those who harnessed it, by looking at the American Presidents who adopted the new: FDR with radio, JFK with tv, Barrack with the interwebs and now Trump - the difficulties are not to be sneezed at.
That said, I believe the role of the journalist is even more important now than ever before. They need to disseminate information and play a part in educating. It's not about getting up on your high horse, but it is about being the expert, being professional and thoughtful. Take your time - enough with the early reviews (TWTW 21 April) - tell the story properly. It's quite possible the sustainability of our restaurant industry, and the regeneration of our agricultural industry, depend on it.
(3) Addressing the penis in the room
And on to women in the kitchen. It’s still a problem. The pay gap is deplorable, the patronising “chick” awards equally so, although, a significant improvement on simply leaving them out altogether.
There have been some incredible groups created to shine the spotlight in the other direction: The Parabere Forum (TWTW 10 March) - next year they will poignantly be talking about “Redefining Sustainability” on 5 – 6 March in Barcelona. While locally we have Sharlee’s Fully Booked in Melbs, WoHoin Syd.
Personally I would like to see more men on the invite list and in the room. Feminism is not a woman’s domain.