CHALLENGE: Connect with your food

sustainable swaps, weekly challenge

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My latest challenge has been to re-connect with my food. I think a lot of people blindly shop for their food these days. We simply don’t ask enough questions (where did this come from? Who grew this? What are these ingredients? What does this food do to my body? Are these ingredients harmful? etc). By connecting with your food, you connect with your body and health and happiness.

My “re-connection” with food was sparked by a recent dietary challenge* after trying veganism (FYI I was inspired to go vegan after watching the documentary Cowspiracy). However my body reacted so badly (terribly, painfully) to this new seemingly healthy diet that I had to keep a food diary and really, truly, think about everything I ate.

If you’ve watched a documentary like Cowspiracy, Food Inc, or even Jamie Oliver’s Fowl Dinners (I was vegetarian for years after watching that one!), you’ll start to question what (or more importantly WHO) you are eating.

Here are some simple challenges you can set yourself to reconnect with your food:

BUY LOCAL

There really is not comparison to buying your fresh food (fruit, vegetables, meats, dairy + more) from the farmer’s markets. You are buying direct from the grower. You can ask questions and get answers. It’s also a great way to buy food in season (i.e. not buying vegetables flown in from the other side of the world). It’s also a great way to spend a Saturday or Sunday morning!

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EATING MEAT

Spending a good portion of my life as a vegetarian (and that small time as a vegan!), I have had to learn the hard (and emotional) way that I need meat in my diet. Some people make this choice because they simply like the taste. But hey, let’s at least give a shit about how this animal came to be yeah?

Some easy ways to keep meat in the diet in a sustainable and ethical way:

  • Get your portions right. The Australian Department of Health suggests a maximum of around seven serves of protein a week. A serve of meat is around 90-100g raw meat (that’s about the size of a burger patty!). So that means only one meal a day should be meat, or if you have a large portion of meat in one meal then skip the meat the next day. Don’t forget two eggs are considered a portion of protein, so you could forgo the meat all together if you had eggs for breakfast! Some quick and easy solutions: Cut your steak portions in half. Roast a whole chook at the start of the week and you’ll be set for days (you can even freeze the leftovers).
  • Choose ethically sourced meat. Livestock kept in natural habitats (i.e. pasture fed cows and free range chickens) are a better choice. Organic and bio-dynamic is even better. Their livestock are generally given a much better life and the farms they come from don’t use pesticides, herbicides, growth promotors or hormones – and they don’t eat genetically modified food.

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GROW YOUR OWN

I know, easier said than done – and nothing is more demotivating than being a plant killer. I’d suggest starting small; herbs are generally pretty easy and move on to leafy greens from there. Check on your plants regularly to check they’re happy and healthy and look out for pests. More on this later!

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REFUSE PLASTIC

This goes beyond remembering to bring your ‘green bags’ (which by the way, are an environmental nightmare in themselves – the fabric is made out of plastic!). But extending your bag collection to produce bags (some are made from mesh, or you can make your own hessian ones), and bringing plastic tubs with you (for bulk buying fine things like flours or liquids etc).

If you buy through a bulk buy store (who openly welcome you BYO container) or local farmer’s markets it will be a lot easier to avoid this conundrum. I fear that refusing plastic containers at conventional supermarkets will just have them thrown in the bin.

When I went to the farmer’s markets however, it was super easy. I asked the organic farmer if I placed my cherry tomatoes into my own bag would they take the plastic tubs back to reuse them? They were more than happy to accommodate me and even commented that the plastic tubs are quite expensive. I also managed to visit a banana stand just as the lady was about to bag up a kilo of bananas, I told her to not bother bagging them up and to simply had them over. No problem.

So here are some initial challenges to get you reconnected with your food. What will you choose first? What will be your biggest challenge?

 

* by dietary challenge I mean the doctors can’t seem to diagnose why I react to certain foods. I’ve spent the last 10 years eating a self-diagnosed gluten intolerant diet but am now finding myself intolerant of other foods too. The GP has simply handed over a FODMAP diet information sheet and wished me luck.

Meat Free Monday : Garlic Mushroom Pasta

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This is a staple favourite in my house – because it’s easy and quick to make (roughly the time it will take to boil the pasta) and because it’s so simply delicious!

This is the kind of meal where you want to use good mushrooms. I buy mine from a mushroom vendor at my local farmers markets which comes in an assortment pack. If you’re going to buy supermarket mushrooms go for the meatier field mushrooms over your basic button mushrooms.

Garlic Mushroom Pasta

(Serves Two)

What you need

  • Packet of fresh or packet pasta (my gluten free pasta only comes in hard form)
  • Mushrooms (enough to fill a dinner plate)
  • Garlic (I use two heaped tablespoons – but I really love garlic!)
  • Greens (either spinach, green beans or broccoli – enough to fill half a dinner plate)
  • Fresh Parmesan cheese (at least half a cup full)
  • Olive Oil (locally sourced!)
  • Large frypan

Instructions

Before you do anything, put the kettle on to boil the water. While that’s boiling get our your frypan, frypan lid, the food, etc etc.

Start boiling the pasta. *Note* If you are using fresh pasta you will need to keep an eye on it as it cooks much faster than packet pasta.

In a frypan, on low heat, heat up a few splashes of olive oil and garlic and keep a lid on the pan.

Wash and chop your mushrooms and greens.

If you are using a hard green (broccoli or green beans) add them to the frypan now  and stir into the oil and garlic, then replace the lid.

After you can see the hard greens start to go soft, place mushrooms in frypan and stir (ensuring the oil and garlic are mixing in well) add more olive oil if necessary. If you are using spinach instead of hard greens, add your spinach now, only placing on top of the mushrooms (the leaves don’t want to touch the actual frypan).

By now your pasta should be ready, place in a colander to drain.

Turn off the frypan heat and keep the lid on.

Get the drained pasta and place it into the frypan, adding a bit more oil for lubrication. Stir it all together. Place the lid back on.  *Note* if your frypan isn’t big enough, place it all into a large bowl and cover with a dinner plate to keep the heat in.

Now grate your Parmesan cheese. Place it on top of the pasta and mix.

It’s now ready to serve!

NOTE:  Keeping the lid on your frypan or cookware ensures you retain heat in the pan, which lessens the cooking time and saves energy.

Meat Free Monday is campaign started by ex-Beatles star Paul McCartney: “By giving up meat for one day each week you can save money, reduce your environmental impact and live a healthier life”

Find your local farmers market

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In the last year or so I’ve gone from doing all my shopping at the large chain supermarkets to then shopping at the local independently owned markets and now I’ve discovered the local farmers markets. Supporting local businesses means so much more to me than supporting a large corporation with shareholders – and farmers markets are a great way to buy straight from the source in one location.

What is a farmers market?

The Australia’s Farmers Market Association defines farmers markets as:

“a predominantly fresh food market that operates regularly within a community, at a focal public location that provides a suitable environment for farmers and food producers to sell farm-origin and associated value-added processed food products directly to customers.”

Basically, farmers markets promote fresh, local and sustainable food systems. It’s also a great place to find local small businesses and artisans (think preserves, natural body products, arts and crafts).

My local farmers market

My local farmers market is the Farmers Market on Manning located at the Clontarf Aboriginal College grounds in Waterford open on Saturdays from 7.30am to 12.30pm.

There are fruit and vegetable growers (including a few organic and biodynamic ones), a few bakers (including an organic baker), a dairy stall (selling fresh milk and yogurt in glass bottles!), butchers (including an organic one), flowers, gelato, free range eggs, fresh juice stand (who have a great recycling bottle program), organic olives, raw honey…. just to name a few. There is also a bunch of freshly made food options – my favourite being an organic gluten-free crepes stand!

I’ve found everyone is so friendly and approachable, which is great if you want to know more about what you’re buying – you’ll actually be asking the growers/makers themselves. I’ve also noticed everybody brings their own reusable shopping bags. There are two big eating areas and we’ve made a tradition of getting breakfast there before we buy all our food. Even our dog Zeppelin loves the markets – yep that’s right, dogs allowed!

How to find YOUR local farmers market

The Australian Farmers’ Market Association lists association-recognised markets, or a simple Google search will probably put you in the right direction! Give it a go!