An environmental view on the Xmas season
Have you ever considered the consequences of your choice in the foods you eat? Beef production is a sequence of land clearing, water harvesting, fencing, weed and erosion control, chemical drenches, waterway pollution and oil dependent animal husbandry and meat production.
Compare this to the far more passive utilization of kangaroos for meat. The animals live as they always have. They eat the wild medicines to keep them healthy if the environment is sufficiently biologically diverse to allow these wild plants to survive. They can’t be herded and are free to follow the best feeding grounds and to find their preferred shelter. Their slaughter is quick, professional and humane before they enter the same distribution chain as our domesticated meats. I know I prefer to eat an animal which at least has had a natural life free of chemicals and which does not need such an input of water and other resources, chemicals and negative impact on the land.
But on to agricultured products.
We throw away about a third of what we produce as wastage. This can be reduced if we were to implement better food management systems but more easily by using smart products. One such product, for example, is a mix of Australian herbal extracts called Herbal-Active® and which is strongly anti-microbial. Mixed with acidified water or ethanol and sprayed over fruits which are particularly susceptible to fungal attack (strawberries and other berry fruits, zucchinis and cucumbers etc), this natural preservative can double their effective shelf life and increase the probability of consumption. It also happens to reduce our reliance on chemical products such as benzoate and sorbate in our food or parabens in cosmetics, all of which have a large carbon footprint and are rarely good for our health. Additionally, the plants in Herbal-Active® are now grown commercially in areas where they were once local; some are also wild harvested; and all replace or maintain forests threatened through clearing or inappropriate use.
Looking at specific food species, we might consider the mountain pepper. It comes from the Tasmanian forests about to be clear-felled by the Gunn’s Forestry operations (after all the animals are killed as a pre-logging procedure). The pittance earned from the wood chip pales into insignificance compared to possible returns if we really were a smart country and invested in this useful species (and other wild Tasmanian foods). Not only could it reduce or replace imports of black and Szechuan pepper but it contains compounds which are anti-arthritic, boost circulation and obviously, make a versatile culinary spice. The pepperberry fruits have recently been shown to contain record levels of anthocyanin antioxidants and a spice marketed as Alpine pepper is just sublime over fruits such as strawberries and pineapple or anywhere you would add black pepper or in dishes such as salt and pepper squid or Alpine pepper roo fillet.
Does it make sense to obliterate the environment where this national resource grows and replace much of this highly biologically diverse country with introduced softwood species? It doesn’t seem smart to me.
Let’s head out to the deserts of Central Australia where Acacias grow in abundance. Many wattles fix nitrogen and are hardy, drought tolerant shrubs, some with edible seeds, gums and moth larvae for the connoisseurs. Most dryland farming at the edges of our deserts has only been possible because of the legacy from the nitrogen fixing micro-organisms attached to the roots of plants like wattles. Once they are cleared and grasses proliferate, farming is on borrowed time. An accidental discovery of mine in the 1980s produced a flavouring made from one species of Wattleseed as I toasted the seeds to make the traditional heat-parched seed cake of the Pitjantjatjara, Yunkantjara, Alyawarra and many other desert people. By over-roasting the seeds I turned what should have been stone-milled into a nutty flour into a dark grind with chocolate, coffee and hazelnut notes. One was sustenance for hunter-gatherers for 6000 years. The other now sells off-shore to ice creameries and chocolatiers across America or flour blenders in Europe for Wattleseed bread mixes.
One feature of the Australian authentic food industry is the involvement of Aboriginal communities. They are suppliers, value adders and even customers for some products. Wattleseed, quandong and bush tomatoes still come from communities although harvests are augmented by non-Aboriginal pickers and growers. These products are sold as roasted Wattleseed and in extract form; Quandong are sugar-cured into a confit perfect for desserts or savoury sauces; and bush tomatoes are popular as a chutney or in the spice described by its language name of Yakajirri.
All in all, there are over three dozen Australian foods made from the fruits, seeds, herbs, spices and extracts of indigenous plants. As we create demand and foster a new industry, land once cleared for exotics can be replanted with local species. Rainforests, albeit simplified, are returned to their rightful places. ‘Improved pastures’ infested with weeds give way to productive shrubland and plantations of small trees harvested for their fruits and seeds.
Our majestic forests can be managed under responsible stewardship plans and also provide employment for anyone wishing to forage for wild berries, mushrooms, herbs, spices or produce essential oils and other native plant extracts.
Why not support the Australian native food industry and get your Xmas gifts on-line as you give your family and friends a taste of Australia and help us move towards an ecologically sustainable, bio-diverse and healthy future.