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Food security – right or privilage?

As the images of empty supermarket shelves flooded our news feeds the past few weeks – eliciting a mild to medium level of panic amongst shoppers, I found myself back wondering just exactly why we are so reliant on food products from the east in the first place. Not to mention pondering the not-quite-so-unreal scenario in which our lacksidaisical approach to our future food security here in the west leaves us high and dry if we don’t invest in our own supply chains now – before it’s too late.

It’s been a niggling worry since I first jumped on the Locavore bandwagon and, newly moved to the country, became an instant advocate for all things locally grown. Like so many issues, this problem has bubbled to the surface during  the pandemic, and now, ironically, flood damage to our trans-continental rail link has tipped the apple cart – creating shortages of pasta, potato chips, bacon and pork products as well as dairy products like cream and mozzarella cheese. It makes me more determined to see how well we can shape our food future here in Western Australia simply by supporting our local producers, growers and foodie entrepreneurs.

Food security is defined by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) as: when all people, at all times, have physical, social and economic access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food that meets their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life.

Of course, we have plenty of fresh, healthy food here in Perth – thanks to the variety of growers around us – yet we panic at the lack of choice available to us when the trains stop rolling. Perhaps it’s really our definition of ‘food’ which is in question.

Western Australia is a cornucopia of raw produce –  grains, meats, potatoes, you name it – most of it originated here in the fertile lands of the Wheatbelt. Yet for some reason we require it to be sent east – or even overseas –  to be chopped, chipped, baked and wrapped in the comforting plastic packages we know and love, before we want to add it to our supermarket trolleys. And I’m not for a minute pretending I’m not a victim of the temptations myself – some of our family staples, like the ones to the right, have incurred a disconcerting number of food miles – even with the best intentions.

While WA’s wheatbelt produces about 14 million tonnes of grain each year – primarily wheat, which amasses over seven million tonnes alone each year followed by barley, canola, oats, lupins and peas, a whopping 80-90% of this is exported overseas, and the rest is sent interstate. Just a handful of boutique flour mills operate in WA and to my knowledge not one noodle or pasta manufacturer. Amazing considering the  massive local consumption I can only predict based on my own families tastes.

Pasta, quite possibly made with WA flour, is returned to us after being made interstate, in a ‘ready to cook’ state – and better travelled than the average consumer themselves! Unfortunately having burnt through fossil fuels in transport and manufacture every step of the way.

Products like Smiths potato chips also  traverse the Nullarbor after processing in NSW, and although this is an admirable aussie brand, I still wonder if we could make the same here in WA? We do grow an abundance of potatoes.

The fact that shoppers are not just worried but also outraged by not being about to purchase their favourite brands must make us think – is it our really right to have processed foods brought to us from so far afield? Shouldn’t we be investing making our own and securing more food security on our own side of the country? Or should we change our tastes?

For starters I believe we must support those local producers that are here – for if we don’t, we risk them going out of business and increasing our reliance on imported product. Our local pork growers for example, have long worried about oversupply making prices untenable. Yet the shortage of bacon and small goods in currently making headlines!

For a state who prides themselves on making massive machines and crushing millions of tonnes of rock –  you’d think we’d be able to rub together a little flour and water to make our own spaghetti or even chop a few taters for a snack!

Anyway, it’s food for thought – and it’s definitely the right time for action.

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