(Just Food by James E. McWilliams, Little, Brown 2010.)
Being in the middle of flood conditions makes you far more aware of where your food comes from. This afternoon, just hours after the Brisbane River began to chomp upon its banks and claw its way up them, many people went shopping for food, with the understanding that perhaps they would be housebound and requiring non-perishables in the next few days. Pictures were posted on twitter of empty shelves (mostly in the baked goods areas...NO BREAD!), and on my own sojourn into a Woolworths (yes, I shop at Woolworths when I can’t make it to a farmer’s market), there was a general air of dash and grab.
This has made me think long and hard about the locavore movement, and about sustainable food for the future. Currently I’m reading a book called ‘Just Food’ by sociologist James. E. McWilliams which argues that the locavore movement, though very well intentioned and workable in some ways, is not the way to sustainable living and carbon lowering. He argues in the chapter entitled ‘Food Miles of Friendly Miles’ that studies have shown that trucking food around the countryside is a very, very miniscule part of the costs and processes (and carbon emissions) of food production.  He examines the buying habits of locavores vs shoppers who get everything in one hit at a chain store, and their petrol uses, and looks hard at the issue of food waste – a significant factor of consumption. 

“In short,” McWilliams says, “if we were really paying attention to the numbers yielded by life-cycle assessments, we’d be better off focusing on what happens to our food after we buy it than on its place of origin. But of course it’s hard to turn a variety of small, energy-saving domestic tactics into a token symbol of an eco-correct food philosophy. ‘Cook efficiently’ just doesn’t have the same rousing ring as ‘eat local’. Plus it’s more work and involves that word too many environmentalists are afraid to mention: sacrifice.”  (pp 29, Just Food, Little, Brown, 2009).
I’m not sure that concerned people aren’t prepared to sacrifice – I think many are willing to go out of their way to buy local food, so cutting back on cooking times, eating more raw foods, eating less, composting (or feeding scrap wastes to chickens or guinea pigs) would in fact be widely accepted. But of course, how is one to eat local food when one's local farmers are being blasted by floods, disease, fires, or in other regions, wars? What with poor old Bundaberg being hit, banana supply will be limited, and apparently ethanol producers are struggling during the flooding too. So, it's not always possible to eat as a 'locavore' and this is a truth McWilliams accepts and suggests solutions for in his book.

I’m sure McWilliams has many more points to make, and I’m enjoying the clarity and openness with which the book is written. Other chapter topics include Genetically Modified food (in relation to there being a case for it), Organic farming and whether the current methods are sustainable, Vegetarianism and how it reduces carbon emissions, the future of Aquaculture, and the relationship between ecology and economy.  The book covers many really interesting and important aspects of food, and certainly gives a different, balanced and very well argued perspective on the locavore movement, agriculture, consumption, food politics & economics.

I hope all our readers and all Queenslanders are able to stay safe, and that you all have enough food. Rest assured that when I found no bread, I bought bread mix instead. Bam. Problem solving at work.

Note: For emergency help call the SES on 132100
Click here for a list of Brisbane streets expected to be affected
You can donate to the flood appeal here