I recently read a great article in the Virgin Magazine (I wish I could credit the author, but I forgot to note it down) which highlighted the irony that a product with the innocent and endearing name “Nan’s” would prompt everyday Australians to stop and think about where there food actually comes from. I know my nana had no need to question where her food came from or whether it was in season the way I do.
If there’s a positive from the case of hepatitis-contaminated frozen berries, it is that more people are questioning the origins of their food. But does food labelling paint a true picture? Surprisingly, a product with a ‘Made in Australia’ logo may not actually contain any Australian ingredients. According to the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission, if a minimum of 50 percent of the cost of production is incurred in Australia, then the logo is allowed. This cost can also include packaging. Shocking huh?
Fresh but from how far?
Even with fresh produce, food can now be transported across the world and eaten out of season. However fruit, vegetables, meat and fish that has to travel, is routinely treated with a variety of chemicals to extend their shelf-life and to make them look fresher and more appealing. So this ‘convenience’ is not without a cost to its level of nourishment or your health.
Throw into the mix the chemical contamination and genetic modification of our food (and absence of labelling required here also); then it’s little surprise that we are not only becoming sicker but are none the wiser to understanding why.
Another labelling irony that often perplexes me is that food has to be labeled ‘certified organic’ (and the certification costs to be able to use this label are huge) to let us know that dangerous chemicals haven’t been used in it’s growing/production. Imagine if chemically laden food had to include a disclaimer like cigarettes. For example, these ingredients are found in a popular breakfast drink marketed to kids and this is the type of disclaimer I believe this product should contain… “460 is generally regarded as safe though it is banned in baby food in the UK. 466 is a suspected carcinogen and may cause intestinal discomfort. 407 is a suspected carcinogen, linked to ulcerative colitis, damaging to the immune system and there is some concern it may cause birth defects. Although more research is required, many authorities recommend it not be given to infants and children.” I’ve heard so many parents take the stance that these breakfast drinks are ‘better than nothing’ – I wonder if this information was made clear to them, that they would still feel this was the case.
Tips to ensure your safety
There are many things wrong with our food chain and I understand it is tough for the average consumer to make safe food choices. So here a few tips to ensure that the food you are consuming is safe, nutritious and Australian…
- Shop at your local farmers market – many of the growers even if not ‘certified organic’ are growing produce using the least chemicals. The food there is also most likely to be ‘in season.’ If a farmers market is not an option, perhaps investigate sourcing local farmers boxes, or in the supermarket or local store make sure the produce label states that it is a “Product of Australia” or “Grown in Australia.” You can gain more clarity on labelling requirements here.
- Most of us can’t afford or source a totally organic diet. This is where the ‘Dirty dozen and clean fifteen‘ list is worth a look. The Dirty Dozen (it’s actually now grown to 18 items) lists the produce with the highest pesticide levels and the Clean Fifteen lists the produce produced with the lowest levels of pesticides. If you have to buy non-organic, try to avoid the ‘Dirty Dozen’ and pick from the ‘Clean Fifteen’ list. Remember, if you’re buying imported produce, remember the country of origin may have a completely different pesticide regime plus this produce will be treated to enter Australia, so once again I urge you to try to buy local!
- If you stick with whole foods and fresh produce – then labelling laws, additive and preservatives will be of no real concern. Also, in Australia, this guarantees it will not contain any genetically modified ingredients (only processed foods contain GM ingredients, no GM of fresh produce as yet).
In the words of the very wise and learned Michael Pollan, we need to choose to eat food our great-grandmothers would have recognised as food. Purchasing SLOW (seasonal, local, organic, whole) does not only benefit your health but protects the environment, defends food biodiversity, promotes sustainable agriculture and supports small-scale food producers (keeping your money within your own community).