By Kel Fox
Last week I suggested a way of thinking about food: a triad, where content, cooking and culture are the three components of our food relationship.
Content sounds simple – ingredients, quality – but it has far-reaching consequences. It is the choice between fresh and frozen, local and imported, organic and conventional, packaged or loose, pre-prepared or made from scratch, whether you eat meat or dairy or eggs or honey, and where you buy it all from. Obviously all these factors have an impact on the food production industry, and this is where we vote with our wallets.
Will we buy garlic imported from Mexico and oranges from California, or wait until they are back in season in Australia? It’s not just a yes-or-no question either. Generally, I buy local, but if I’m making a cake for a friend’s birthday and their absolute favourite requires an ingredient only available from another country, I may put fulfilling their once-a-year request ahead of my own preference for local produce. Some people may disagree with my approach, and that’s fine. I also buy things that have to be imported. Some spices and specialty items are only available internationally. Countries rely on successfully exporting coffee or cacao or tea to support their economy. That’s when we start looking at fair trade practices, but even that is not clear-cut: there is debate over the efficacy of such programs, and whether they are worth the cost to the farmers and suppliers.
Will we insist on organic and spend the extra money, or settle for thoroughly washing fruit and veg when we get home? In some cases, it won’t be a choice: organic will be too expensive, or not even available. Or we’ll have to choose between conventional bananas from Carnarvon or organic from Queensland. Loose conventional broccoli or organic broccoli on a foam tray and wrapped in plastic. It is often a matter of compromise and balancing the budget. Other people will simply not be bothered by it, and it is important to respect that some are not fussed about what they eat, or more importantly, the other elements of the Curation Triad outweigh content for them.
That’s all just about farming and supply. Then there’s the health factor of different items; I long ago decided to cut refined white sugar and flour out of my pantry. It was wholemeal, spelt, rapadura and rye until I went gluten free; now it’s teff, besan, buckwheat, sorghum, coconut sugar, rice malt syrup – there are so many! That is one of the joys of considering the ‘content’ side of your food: what might you be missing out on, or able to discover if you look for alternatives? Much of this can be based on painstaking research, but there is another way to re-evaluate your content: trial and error, and listening to your body. For sure, if you are making sweeping changes and cutting out whole food groups, seeking professional advice is ideal. But to simply mix things up and introduce more variety into your diet is only going to be good…except when the recipe flops and you end up with an inedible mess!
Ingredients and quality are not that interesting by themselves, but it is important to know what you value. The Swan Valley Café values local, organic and fresh, and those values will trump cheap and available. That’s why eggplant isn’t always on the menu. That’s why the food at Swan Valley Café is always among the best, but not necessarily the cheapest. Swan Valley Café also cares deeply about what is good for your body. If you were to look through our kitchen, you won’t find canola oil or refined sugar or even white rice, because we value the healthfulness of our content.
None of that is to say that cheap or available or tastiness-over-healthfulness are bad values. It’s just that you can’t value, say, ‘cheap’ and ‘biodynamic’ without running into some internal conflict. One is going to have to come over the other at some point, even if the top value changes on a regular basis. So with that in mind, what do you value about your food content? Why do you choose the ingredients you do? Let us know in the comments!