Making food decisions

06 May 2018
I haven't always been as conscious of my food buying choices as I am now. As a poor uni student my choices were definitely dictated by my budget. As a young professional there was a budget and time balance - I mostly needed things I could make with little time so I could fit it around my lifestyle. As I moved towards a more value driven, simple living lifestyle things shifted again.

When it comes to making food choices there is no easy 'how to' or one size fits all. I believe (but you don't have to) that firstly it's important to be clear on your values. What are the things that you think are important when it comes to food and the bigger picture. For me I'm aiming to balance the following overarching factors:

  • Nourishing meals for my family and friends (and me of course)
  • Reducing environmental impact
  • Supporting local and alternative food systems

Also in this mix is the fact that we are a single income family in a high cost of living city. So, while budget isn't the driver it has been in the past it definitely still plays a part.

Local food system - my Adelaide food garden.

So what does this look like when it comes to making food choices? I generally use a series of questions to help me make choices that fit within my values. I say generally because I'm not perfect (shocking, no?). I make the best choices with the resources and information available to me at any one time. And sometimes I knowingly make a compromise choice because of, you know, life.

I do want to emphasise that this is what works for me, we are all different and therefore how we make choices will reflect that. I offer this up out of interest and maybe a way to spark a conversation and I'm in no way implying that this is the way things should be done.

Ok, now that little disclaimer is out of the way. Here are the questions.

Can I grow or make this myself?

This is a big one for me. I find that a lot of the conflict I feel around making food choices to balance values is greatly reduced when I grow or make it myself. It also ticks all of my value boxes - it's nourishing, reduces environmental impact and supports an alternative food system - mine! So, I try to grow and make as much as I can. Of course this varies due to resources, particularly time. When I've been in the trenches of new motherhood or recently when we moved interstate I definitely cut myself some slack in this area. If I can't grow or make it then I consider....

Neighbourhood foraged peaches from the summer.

Can I source it from someone who is making or growing it locally?

This may be as simple as a friend or neighbour's garden or even a local food swap. When I lived in Adelaide I attended a great monthly produce swap. It was so lovely to connect with people growing their own and a great way to swap my glut for someone else's. More recently I've been the recipient of some excess produce at my community garden plot - hopefully I'll be able to return the favour when I manage to get some things growing. Local farmers or growers market can be a good option too - although I know in some areas these can be a little on the style over substance side of things. Since moving to Canberra I've embraced the farmer's market again and am lucky that there are some great down to earth growers there to connect with. If there is nothing locally....

Is there an option grown or made in Australia?

I think it's really important to support our Australian food systems. If the proverbial really hits the fan when it comes to the environment and food supply then it feels reasonable to infer that a strong local food system will be useful. Despite the fact that food miles may only be a tiny piece of the picture when it comes to sustainability it just seems logical to me to source my food from Australia where I can.

Loquat sauce - BBQ sauce substitute made with foraged loquats.

Is there an alternative I can use?

If I get all the way here then I like to consider if there is an alternative. Could I substitute something else? Sometimes no - coconut cream/milk is an example that comes to mind as well as many spices. But a lot of the times I can. Fruit and veg are easy to substitute - I just use what's in season. I can swap fancy grains with cous cous, cracked wheat, or barley. Sometimes, I just go without that thing.

And sometimes, I buy what I need. If I've gone through this process then I'm happy that I'm making a conscious choice either way. For me, I think that a lot of it comes down to not being a mindless consumer. In particular not complaining about the big supermarket duopoly and the state of our food system on one hand while making choices on autopilot with the other. As I said above, I'm not perfect and I don't claim to be. I just try and make choices with my eyes wide open.

How about you - is this an area you are working on?
Do you use any kind of decision making system/lists/questions around your food choices?


8 comments

  1. I ask myself pretty much the same questions you do, Laura. It's lovely to find locally grown produce where possible. I bought a punnet of delicious locally grown strawberries at the farmers' market today, picked yesterday, and took them to friends along with other things I'd made for morning tea. They were fragrant and sweet. Beautiful food!

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    1. The flavour and fragrance of fresh, non supermarket strawberries is quite a treat. Glad you enjoyed them.
      Cheers,
      Laura

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  2. Hi Laura,
    my food buying choices are based on factors very similar to yours. We are also a single income family so have to try and make food buying choices that are possible within our budget but also reflect our values.
    We live on a quarter acre block in suburban Adelaide and try and grow as much of our own food as possible. Over the last ten years we have planted as many fruit trees as possible in the front and back garden. We have planted them in the ground and in half wine barrels. Currently we have 36 fruit trees. Our vegetables are grown in raised beds and normal garden beds. We try and grow a variety of vegetables all year round suited to each season. At times we have a glut of fruit and vegetables which we share with family and friends. Some of the excess produce is listed on "Ripe Near Me" a food sharing website.
    Seven years ago we decided to add a flock of hens to our home food production. We started with three hens and now have a lovely group of seven girls who lay more eggs than we can use. These eggs taste better than any of the free range eggs that I used to buy.
    We try and buy local or Australian grown as much as possible.
    Some of our food buying choices are based on no or little packaging. Where packaging is unavoidable we buy items in recyclable packaging.
    Minimising waste is also an important factor. We are shopping more mindfully now and don't buy more than we need. In order to do this I plan our weekly menu based on what is ready to be harvested in the garden and what is already in the fridge,.freezer and pantry. I then stick to the shopping list and only buy what is necessary.
    Thank you for the thought provoking post on Food Waste Laura. The information you provided really emphasised just how big this problem is. It makes me very sad to think that in a world where so many people don't have enough to eat and many are starving, mind boggling amounts of perfectly good food are being thrown out. My very wise mother always said that only people who have never experienced real hunger can throw away food.
    Regards, Maria from Adelaide SA.

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    1. Wow Maria, sounds like you guys have a veritable food forest going on. The Adelaide climate is so great for growing food all year round (except for the lack of rain of course!). Thanks for mentioning packaging - that is something to be mindful of too. Another reason why growing and making your own keeps things simple.
      Ripe near me is such a great resource - I must check it out for Canberra. I used it regularly in Adelaide.
      Sounds like your mum passed on a lot of good stuff to you - words, memories and a strong connection to food.
      Cheers,
      Laura

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  3. Laura, I grow some veggies and buy some from our local farmers as we live near the Lockyer Valley...'The Salad Bowl of Australia' as they say. No lack of quality produce here. I take my own bags to the supermarket. Single use plastic bags will soon be banned in Queensland but it will be interesting to see how that works out. I agree that Ripe Near Me is a great project. I heard about it a few years ago but haven't had enough excess of anything to take part.

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    1. Hi Chel, you can use the Ripe Near Me website even if you don't have excess produce. You don't need to have produce to swap as some people list produce that is free or is avaiable for a gold coin donation. Other produce is really well priced compared to the supermarket or greengrocer. At times I have been lucky enough to buy fruit that isn't readily available eg quince, mulberries, feijoas and figs. We are happy to give away some of our excess fruit, vegetables and herbs on RNM rather than it going into the compost. It may be worth having a look at the website to see what is avaiable in your local area. Cheers, Maria.

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  4. Hi! Your garden pictures are so nice and the garden you left was amazing. I can't grow anything where I am due to the deer eating everything in sight. But in the summer, farmer's stands pop up in town, in parking lots, and even at a near-by gas station. So that makes me happy! Andrea

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    1. Hey Andrea, sounds like the deer are tough to compete with. Glad you can still access some local tasty goods via the farmer's stands.
      Thanks for stopping by,
      Laura

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