Smart Food Mama

I’m a mother, I’m an academic and I’m a food writer – am I smart enough to call myself “smartfoodmama”? You be the judge of that. What I want is to share what I learn with you. Yes I teach food studies, but it seems I learn much more than I can ever teach. Food is so ordinary, so mundane so everyday that it is something we had taken for granted. Then that all changed.

Two important things happened and they happened during my childhood.  Feminism happened and women gradually began to undo those apron strings and get themselves a life. This happened at the same time as industrial food arrived: convenience food, fast food.

I’m not going to waste time crying over this – I’m not calling for a return to the fifties. However cooking was the loser as so many women struggled to work and to provide good meals for their families. Should the burden fall on women alone? No prizes for guessing my answer to that. I’m simply observing what has taken place.

Now that global fast food has all but eradicated the coffee lounges and burger bars of my youth; we are nostalgic for what we have lost. Hence the return of the “gourmet burger” and the fish and chip shop. The cupcake rage was an example of this. Friands, macarons… thesedays many of us cook to entertain ourselves.

I live in a world of food and not surprisingly my friends and family eat well, too well. And yet we are living in an age of increasing levels of obesity and its consequences. Some of us are eating very well and some of us are eating calorie dense, nutrition-light meals. What are we going to do about it?

Farmers’ Markets or a Warm Bed?

Though the mornings are getting warmer, Sunday mornings offer something of a quandary for this foodie. How should slow weekend days begin? A sleep-in followed by a leisurely breakfast in bed, perusing the papers? Or will culinary considerations rule? Early though it may be, a trip to my nearest farmers’ market is sure to at least provide good fair-trade coffee and an organic egg and bacon roll. Yes the bacon is free-range; the roll is made from organic ingredients, as are the blanched spinach and array of sauces. I must weigh up my need for the luxury of a late start against the need to express my eco-friendly, slow identity. Joking aside, should a trip to the FM be a compulsory element of a slow weekend?

We need to consider what is at stake, not steak, though no doubt that will also be free-range. Artisanal foods – boutique foods made on a small scale – are the antidote to the mass consumption offered by supermarkets and fast food outlets. They are more expensive, reflecting the smaller scale of production and increased cost of high quality ingredients. If we want to continue to see these products on sale; those of us who can afford them should support these local producers.

Surely the most important consideration is of ”food miles.” Those of us concerned with reducing food miles are becoming known as “locavores”, add that to your wardrobe of identity formulations. Locavores recognize that the further food travels the greater its carbon footprint. Importing foods from afar is wasteful from the point of view of fuel costs in transport and also the extra packaging that may be involved. However, there are some products which are clearly associated with a particular country or region. If we forgo these luxuries what happens to the struggling farmers in that area?

If we buy locally from food producers we meet we can be assured of fair trade, we can assume no child exploitation has been involved. Young Bluey helping on the farm is not experiencing the life of African children sold into slavery for the hazardous job of picking cocoa beans.

Then there’s the experience. If speed is your thing the supermarket makes sense, while the Farmer’s Market offers a community experience during which you forage for hidden gems all the while expressing your eco-consciousness as you stuff organic goodies in your sustainable shopping bags.

Farmer’s markets are spreading, no doubt aided by the messages delivered by the likes of Maggie Beer, the ever effusive Costa and of course Stephanie Alexander whose Kitchen Garden Project continues to spread and to inspire, showing children how to grow fruit and vegetables and encouraging their pleasure and wonder in that process. Those who take in the message will face the weekend challenge in years to come. Let’s hope the egg and bacon sandwiches continue to thrill.

Dr Felicity Newman is a member of the Centre for Everyday Life at Murdoch University