A variety of organic food hampers available from the Green Road Initiative at the Stellenbosch Waldo
Do you know where the food that you eat comes from? Are you aware of how
it is produced? How far is it transported before it actually gets into
your kitchen and onto your dining room table or the restaurant table for
that matter? Do you care? Should you care?
Okay, that’s one helluva lot of questions about something that most of us take for granted, but there are answers to each of them, and they will differ from individual to individual, but the answer to the last question ought to be an unqualified “Yes”.
Tied up in these questions are two strands of thought: eating ethically and eating eco-friendly.
Eating ethically means being aware of how your food is produced, be it fruit, vegetables, meat, chicken or fish, and most important of all, making ethical choices.
A number of books have been written over the years dealing with this very topic. One of the first and most influential is “Fast Food Nation” by Eric Schlosser, in which he exposes the impact of the fast food industry on food production in the US and the rest of the world. Factory farming, particularly of beef and chicken, became standard practice not because of the number of hungry mouths to feed, but because of the voracious appetite for junk food. Schlosser’s book takes you on an emotional roller coaster ride through the factory farms of the US, a veritable Dante’s Inferno, a Hell, of the life a battery chicken and a feed lot cow. It didn’t make me become a vegetarian, but it sure made me rethink the whole business of where my food comes from, and how it is produced. I’m not going to stop eating animal protein in general, but there are some classes of protein that I now eschew on principle: I’ll never eat veal or foie gras again. Okay, it’s a matter of personal choice, but I cannot square my conscience with the notion of eating the flesh of something that’s only been alive for a few days or weeks, which is kept under cruel conditions while it is briefly alive. Likewise, I cannot reconcile eating what amounts to the diseased liver of a duck, which became so because the duck was force fed for its entire life, using a tube. The suggestion that foie gras can be humanely produced is utter nonsense: force feeding is cruel and unnecessary. If you’re prepared to foreswear foie gras for evermore, browse to the No Foie Gras South Africa and take the pledge!
So, if you’re not going to eat veal or foie gras (and as I pointed out, that is a matter of personal choice), what can you eat with a clear conscience. Actually, quite a lot if you do your homework. There are a surprising number of options in the Winelands that offer us the opportunity to eat ethically, and possibly one of the best known, is Spier Biodynamic Farm in Stellenbosch.
Under the stewardship of Angus McIntosh, the farm produces genuine free range chickens and eggs, which are available in some stores or from “Eight to go”, the delicatessen on the estate. Price-wise they’re less expensive than you’d expect, and you can eat them with a clear conscience. They are reared humanely, pasture fed with a daily grain supplement, have constant access to the outdoors and are not cooped up in a tiny space. The birds are humanely slaughtered in a certified humane slaughtering facility on the farm.
The same goes for the egg layers. They live out in the open, foraging on open pasture with a daily grain supplement. At night, they climb into the “egg-mobile” homes of their own accord, and are protected from nocturnal predators.
If you live in the vicinity of the R44, you’ll know of Sweetwell Farm, where the Cronje family produce a range of pork products. While not free range, the farm rears pigs according to the highest international standards. All products sold in the butchery come off the farm, and prices are very reasonable. I buy all my pork products from Sweetwell Farm.
These are but two local producers, from whom you can buy with a clear conscience, not only because they produce ethically, but because they’re local, which means you’re not hammering your carbon footprint by eating food products that have been transported over great distances. It is possible for instance, to buy mange tout at a green grocer store in Somerset West Main Road, but they come all the way from Kenya! Talk about carbon footprint!
I’d rather buy from an organic producer who can verify provenance, and you’ll find them for instance at the Saturday Organic Market at the Stellenbosch Waldorf School on the back end of Spier Estate, off the Lyndoch Road. The market taps into a number of local farmers, who produce a range of organic foodstuffs, including some meat. All of the products sold are ethically locally produced. You can also sign up for the Green Road Initiative (please contact Riaan van Zyl on firstname.lastname@example.org), which links food producers directly with consumers. You’ll be committing to taking a weekly food hamper – there is a range to choose from – of locally produced organic foodstuffs. The initiative is intended to make local organic food production sustainable for farmers in the area, and it cuts out many of the middle men that add to the price of already expensive food.
Turning to what ends up on your plate in the restaurant, it is easy to forget ones principles when eating out, but should you? If you plan to eat ethically, it’s rather hypocritical to put those principles on hold when eating out, isn’t it?
There are some restaurants in the Winelands that adhere to ethical principles in food acquisition. Spier’s Eight Restaurant is supplied largely by Spier Biodynamic Farm, and Waterkloof Restaurant high up on the Schapenberg estate has its own chickens, who feed in the vineyards, helping to keep the bugs at bay. The chickens live in “egg mobiles” that are moved through the vineyards, and the eggs they lay are used in the restaurant. A number of sheep are also reared on the farm, and besides serving a specific purpose in the biodynamic processes used in the vineyards, are also slaughtered for consumption in the restaurant.
But not all restaurants are as up front about where they get their produce, or how it is grown or reared, so it’s up to you to ask. The next time you’re about to order that piece of seared tuna loin, ask the question: “What type of tuna is this, where and how was it caught?” You’ll probably get a tentative answer along the lines of “From the ocean?”, but at least it is a start.
Many restaurants profess to use fresh local seasonal produce, which is entirely laudable if it’s true, but perhaps we ought to start making sure that it is in fact so, by asking a few questions before we order.
And since it is Fairtrade Coffee Week, we ought to at least support coffee retailers who supply Fairtrade coffee products. Those that spring to mind, are Bean There Coffee in Johannesburg and Cape Town, CIRO which is launching its Fairtrade coffee range this week, Fabino Coffee, Puro Coffee and Woolworths Cafes where all coffee served in future will be Fairtrade. In the wine lands, we have The Coffee Roasting Company on Lourensford Estate which retails a number of Fairtrade coffee varieties.
Happy ethical and eco-friendly eating!