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Food choices audit – What do your know about your food?

There’s lots we don’t know, so it’s important to start by asking what we do know and what we can find out easily.

Check each items on your pantry shelf and in your fridge and inventory what you know about them – how far have they travelled to come to be with you.

You can use the spreadsheet, which also has an example of our household inventory. We suggest you look at each item, but if this seems like a big task, you might wish to select your top 10 items – those you either buy most frequently, or those you ‘like best’.

See if you can answer the following questions:

  1. Where have they come from? Or likely to have come from? Where were they grown or manufactured?
  2. Is there Country of origin information? What does this tell you about the product and ingredients?
  3. What is the item with the greatest transparency as to where it’s from?
  4. If you were eating from within 160kim radius from your home (100 mile diet) which of your products would you no longer eat?

 

Things to know

You’ll find there’s not much information on the product label of most processed foods.

The place of manufacture – where the ingredients are put together – or where the actual ingredients are grown or sourced from is not shown. In most cases the address information on the label refers to where the brand owner has its primary offices (ie. Dairy Farmers Pty Ltd, 737 Bourke St, Docklands VIC 3008).
With fresh food, you’ll find some is labeled but for specifics you’ll often need to have a conversation with the retailer. This won’t be hard as they love talking about their produce!

Here’s some important things that will help you gather the information you need to know:

  1. What’s Country of origin labeling?
  2. What’s in Season?
  3. What’s grown in your area?

 

Next Step: Preparation

This can be as simple or as comprehensive as you want it to be and depends on the Challenge you decide to take up for the week.

  • Ask ‘what do you want to eat for the week of the trial?’. Do up a menu. Try to make it seasonally appropriate.
  • Identify the things that are ‘definitely not’ within your chosen radius, those that are ‘likely to be’ within, and those that ‘could possibly be’ within.
  • Ask your the local grocer about their produce. What is local?
  • Check the Local Harvest map. Use the keyword search.
  • Make phone-calls where necessary to suppliers to find out where produce is from.
  • Remember to ‘add listings’ on the Local Harvest website for new discoveries that you may make.

 

Learning from others – The 100 Mile Trial

In December 2008, a group of 8 households in Melbourne took on the 100 Mile Trial – eating for a week from only food grown within an 160 kilometre radius of their homes. They found that this experiment, starting as a challenge to reduce the travel miles and carbon footprint of our food, became the opening up of a whole world of discoveries about their food, the people who produce it and of course themselves.

Read about their experiences on the 100 Mile Trial. Also, see Kim’s reflection on the food audit process and the 100 mile trial.

 

You can do the week at any time

 

Country of origin labeling

Though inadequate, Country of origin labels are often the only indicators as to where ingredients are from. Under Country of Origin labelling inAustralia:

  •  ‘Product of Australia‘ means each significant ingredient must come from Australia, and all or almost all of the processing must happen here too.
  • Made in Australia‘ means The product has been substantially transformed in Australia and at least 50% of the production costs have been incurred in Australia. (So a meat pie can be labeled “made in”Australia’ and yet have ingredients -meat- from elsewhere).
  • Made in Australia from local and imported ingredients‘. Whichever comes first, local or imported, is in the greatest proportion.

Country of Origin labelling is compulsory for all processed foods, and outlined in the Food Standards Code and Trade Practices Act. This is consistent with other countries labelling. (ie. generally a similar code with similar labels exist for other countries). There are significant criticisms with present COOL (see vid below), which have lead to some changes which will be introduced in 2016. See more at Choice article (from July 2015), and Choice recommendations (from Jan 2016).

So regarding sourcing products that have majority ingredients sourced from Australia, look for ‘Product of Australia’ and ‘Made in Australia from local (or local and imported) ingredients’.

 

What’s in Season?

As a general rule, fruit and vegetables grown out of season travel a long distance to come to you, or if they’re grown close by in greenhouses, often take energy for this. You can find out what’s in season at different time of the year here (guide for all Australia).

More on ‘Eating seasonally‘.

Note, some guides refer to ‘seasonal availability’ – this means what items you can get, it includes items kept in cold storage.

Also see Gardening Australia’s fact sheet & video ‘Grow Local, Eat Fresh‘.

 

What’s grown in your area?

Australia produces a large variety of crops and food products for both export and domestic consumption. The top ten agricultural products by value are cattle and calves, wheat, milk, fruit and nuts, vegetables, wool, barley, poultry, lambs, and sugar cane.

Different produce and crops are grown in different areas of Australia. The tables and information below give a general idea of what is grown in each state.

Vegetables & Fruit

  NSW VIC QLD SA WA TAS
Potatoes 12% 24% 13% 19% 11% 20%
Pumpkins 45%   43% 2% 7%  
Green peas 15% 33% 6%   7% 39%
Beans 1% 56% 19%   4% 21%
Tomatoes 15% 52% 31%   2%  
Onions   7% 27% 21% 11% 34%
Carrots     7% 39% 38% 16%
Cauliflowers 29% 23% 28% 2% 5% 12%
Lettuce 12% 23% 44% 3% 18%  
Broccoli 13% 69%     11% 7%
Cabbage 19% 15% 60% 1% 5%  
Other vegetables 11% 30% 41% 6% 9% 1%

From Australian vegetable growing farms – an economic survey, 2006-07, abare.gov.au

See information for fruit grown in each state at different times of the year here.

Consumers frequently assume all fresh vegetables and fruit must be Australian, however this is not the case as much produce is imported. For example, in 2005 McDonald’s Australia Ltd announced it would no longer source all its potatoes for fries from Tasmanian producers and announced a new deal with New Zealand suppliers.

Crops

  NSW VIC QLD SA WA TAS
Wheat 33% 11% 6% 16% 34%  
Barley 18% 20% 3% 33% 25%  
Sorghum 39%   60%      
Cottonseed 37%   63%      
Canola 37% 18%   13% 31%  
Oats 24% 28%   9% 39% 1%
Lupins 11% 2%   8% 79%  
Field peas 5% 39%   45% 11%  
Maize 51% 2% 46%   2%  
Chickpeas 44% 10% 29% 3% 15%  
Lentils 2% 53%   44% 2%  
Broad beans 34% 54% 1% 11%    
Sunflower seed 41%   58%     1%

From Agriculture in Australia, Wkipedia.

Dairy

Although dairy farms can be found all over Australia, milk is produced mainly in the traditionally higher rainfall areas in the south-eastern corner of Australia (80% in the three states ofVictoria, South Australia and Tasmania). This is where most of the cheese, ice cream and other dairy products are produced. (Source)

 

Many items although grown or produced locally, are processed with crops/produce from further away. Often it was not possible to know that the produce eaten was in fact local. Sometimes however you can narrow this down with the right information. For example, we discovered that the True Organic coop in Victoria provide the milk for Parmalat’s ‘Pure organic’ brand. The majority of these farms are located within 200kms of Melbourne.