Finally I’ve had a chance to sit down and contemplate the week that's been. Life is so busy. It's true I have a lot going on. Writing for the Ballarat Courier, scheming exciting events on the Ballarat Food front, orchestrating connections and assisting to get great local jobs for our top chefs. Yes there is more.
I have a payed job as well, one that I love and requires extra time here and there. I doubt there’s many people that can leave their work hat at work and not wear it home. I’m a Mum and I take that very seriously. I pick up and drop of my kids every day, take them to their commitments and we do fun things as well, we make play dough and giant pompoms and tend to the veggie garden on the weekends.
I do not cut corners if I can help it. This is possibly what gets me through a busy week with energy to spare. We buy our food at farmers markets and I cook at home at least five nights a week. Real food, not just boiling a packet of pasta and opening a tin or cardboard box and press three on the microwave. I love my life. I am doing all the things that are important to me. Occasionally I will read the latest novel (I love you Belinda Alexander), I'll catch a movie or two with the kids and watch some reruns of Boston Legal (yes I love you too Danny Krane and Alan Sheppard). When Sonia Smith asked me to be a part of last weeks panel at M.A.D.E. to talk about food issues that concern our region I was honoured to take part.
The upshot of the event was that it raised more questions than it answered. The few articles I have read about the event so far have taken my personal message out of context. I opened the panel discussion by stating that yes I believe we are a food destination, however as a food destination we are in our infancy. It is paramount in this ground breaking stage that we receive support from our community, local customers must give patronage to our best eateries. We must use our media platforms to educate our regional taste buds. Eating out needs to be about trying the variety of seasonal quality produce being prepared by our talented chefs not ordering gigantic steaks and bloody Parmagianas. We need to give our chefs the chance to prove that we believe in them and we are going to support the dishes they are creating.
Our restaurant owners need to trust in their staff to do the jobs they are trained to do and not let the demand for cheap, fast, outdated and mass produced mediocre food dominate the menu and destroy the higher standards we are trying to attain. It about educating the community to make better choices in both nutrition and taste and not let the fact that we are 'time poor' dictate our food decisions. It takes just as much time to stop at the local take away store, put in an order, wait for it and then drive home as it does to cook a nice little piece of salmon, mash a potato or two and squeeze some lemon and olive oil on a little rustic salad.
In closing I fumbled through my list of the best eatery’s in town, I mentioned the members of The Ballarat Food produce group who are leading the way in setting the scene of Ballarat as a switched on food destination; Catfish Thai, Kambei, Craig's Royal Hotel, The Unicorn, Red Peppa on Sturt, The Main Bar, The Open Pantry, The George Laneway project, L'espresso, Meigas Spanish café, The Bunch of Grapes. Thanks to the producers Charisma Coffee, Country Style Smallgoods, Basillio Sourdough, Grounded Pleasures Chocolate, Saltbush Kitchen, Inglenook Dairy, Goldfields Cheese and Spring Hill Creek Farm.
Luckily I was quick to finish as my new idol Riccardo Mossimo took the microphone and brought some home truths to the table that we could all take on board. I think the Minister may have been getting a little nervous. Riccardo was banging the table with every point, with the true passion of his home town Calabria. He posed some basic questions. Why can't we kill our own lamb and sell it to the local restaurants? Why can we not get fish from the boats as they come to shore? Why does our fish have to travel one hundred plus kilometres to the market and then another one hundred plus kilometres back to us. Why do we eat food that is out of season? Why do we not question where something has come from and how it arrived to our table?
The Minister talked about all the great incentives the government have put in place for export trade and the training they are giving producers in order to up-sell their produce to the overseas market. He talked about the Chinese companies that love our food and just can't get enough. Do you know we actually produce more food than we can eat in Australia and that we must export the excess? This leaves us wondering why we find so much produce grown and produced overseas in our supermarkets. Why we do not have more regularly held local farmers markets offering our own freshest seasonal products, as an alternative to the long term storage produce from overseas on offer everyday at the supermarkets?
Sonia Smith is leading the charge to support our food businesses she says,
We need to a have a much fairer playing field for our food producers, and to help out our producers more, whether that be reciprocal tariffs, access to cheap finance, subsidies, etc. I am also a strong believer in the need for clearer labelling practices. A further issue is that while I believe in foreign investment, I am of the view that we should not be selling off our land. We must invest in our own producers, for future generations.
We may currently have more questions than answers, but we are talking about these issues and opportunities, this can only increase awareness about what we eat and how this impacts the health and wellbeing of our families and community. This is a conversation we need to continue to have and the Ballarat Food network is just the place to have it. What do you see as the biggest issues or opportunities for food in our region?