11th August, 2020 —
In a pandemic it is perhaps rare to relate good news. Nevertheless, what I share here is the result of the current situation. Our family, finding ourselves in Stage 3 and now Stage 4 Lockdown in Melbourne, has been deprived of certain systems we neither admired or happily adhered to anyway in easier times. As the old scaffolding dismantled we discovered space to reconsider the direction of our lives and a desire to take more intentional control. One result has been what we call our ‘Milk Shop’.
Ecopact, in Footscray, Melbourne, is an unassuming space where folk quietly fill their own home- jars and containers with nuts, rice, tamari, vinegar, dishwashing liquid, hand sanitiser, honey… to name just a few items. Behind the front counter in large cool draws are beautiful white bladders of non-homogenised organic milk. We drop off our three or four 750ml glass bottles to the store each week and Ecopact staff fill them with milk. Such milk!
By the time we open the last bottle from our fridge we discover that this marvellous substance, left to do its humble ruminations without the interference of homogenisation, has blocked the mouth of the bottle with thick cream. We scoop the cream up gratefully, even a little hysterically, and plop it generously into cups of sweet hot coffee. “Make no mistake,” says the Australian Food Sovereignty Alliance,“a large percentage of supermarket shoppers are looking for exits…Every day more consumers yearn for something unavailable at the mega supermarket: real food.” (Farming Democracy: Radically Transforming the Food System from the Ground Up, AFSA, 2019, p.8).
That word, yearn, truly captures something of our family’s experience. We acknowledge the pandemic as playing a role in this. The deprivation of our current restrictions, the shadow of enforced isolation on both children and adults, and our own unstable income, is requiring a digging deeper if we are to thrive both physically and spiritually. And I use that metaphor, as it relates to the goodness of the soil and what it sustains, deliberately.
Why is Ecopact such good news for our family? One obvious answer is the reducing of packaging in our shopping. By using our own bottles, jars and containers we are participating a little less in a consumption and waste system which has such problematic results for the earth and all her creatures. Another reason is it helps fulfil our desire for local transparent food processes and our hope to support small-scale sustainable producers to thrive independent of the grip of the supermarket chains. Ecopact’s milk, for example, comes from Schulz Organic Dairy in South Western Victoria. Schulz make it a point in their practice to follow sustainable chemical-free farming and actively reduce packaging.
Our 10 year old daughter knows by heart Henry David Thoreau’s 1854 words, “I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately….I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life, ” because we have told them to her. Yet how much better that she can really live these words, especially during this time.
As further clarity around our deeper yearnings has come in recent months, we now source fruit and vegetables from an ethical local greengrocer, meat from a local European butcher, wine from an Italian deli, bread from a local artisan bakery, and any extras from our monthly local slow food farmer’s market. From our own hens and garden we receive eggs, some vegetables, herbs and, when in season, fruit. The items remaining for the supermarket each week are just 4 or 5 things. Probably this also can be reduced.
There is an abruptness in this pandemic that has cut people off from old ways of living and old systems. In our case, at least, this has partly worked for our good, by clarifying our connection to the earth and some small ethical steps we can take to move deeper in that direction. Despite the pressures of this current season, the cream swimming in our coffee tastes like very good news.
Sally Nansen is a writer and designer-illustrator. Her work often focuses on social and ecological histories and the universal idea of what it is to be human.