My self-provisioning experiment – the plan
I’m a bit worried that as the global industrial food system falls over (the unsustainable and ecologically-devastating system that stocks supermarkets in New Zealand with things like nectarines and almond milk from drought and wildfire ravaged California, cocoa and chocolate made from beans picked by slave child labour in Africa, bananas from pesticide-drenched plantations (and workers) in Latin America, and grains from everywhere grown with fossil-fuel based fertilisers and emitting greenhouse gases as they grow) there will be a shortage of food in these parts.
Actually, I’m already more than a bit worried that right now there is a shortage of safe, nutritious and sustainably-produced food in these parts. For those on low incomes, and those who lack the land and/or other resources (tools, knowledge, practical experience) needed to grow and make such food, getting three really good meals a day can be hard to impossible. Even though there is currently a strong ‘local food’ movement in New Zealand addressing this issue at community level, and lots of initiatives to address it at the home level (both kinds of initiatives are covered in my book Food@Home, and lots more have sprung up since the book was published in 2012) we don’t yet have coverage of all the areas (geographical and practical) where such effort and support is needed.
There is also no general public or governmental awareness of how urgent and necessary it is that we start improving the national food scene in all its dimensions (safety, sustainability, nutrition and equitable access) now, to ease the desirable and essential transition away from industrial food to good food. On the contrary, the propaganda for crap food is relentless and overwhelms the few alternative messages put out by government agencies or NGOs. Crap food propaganda saturates our visual and aural environment. It associates fun, social desirability, good taste and even good health with products stuffed with sugar, fat, salt and/or synthetic chemicals. We’re also constantly told by the propagandists for crap food (who are paid handsomely by the junk food corporations for their efforts – said corporations spend way more on marketing than they do on the ingredients in their ‘food’) that we need to eat their rubbish because we have no time to grow or make food for ourselves, and that their food is more convenient than home-produced food. By implication, it would be too hard for us to make food as quickly and conveniently as the industrial food factories and junk food chains can do it for us, and anyway – don’t we have better things to do with our time than produce tasty, good-looking food?
All of this is lies, but lies with a superficial ring of truth about them or they wouldn’t be so successful. Perhaps especially successful with those who lack experience in growing and making food for themselves, who may think that it does indeed take heaps of time that they could use for doing ‘better’ things, or that it requires a lot of skills that they don’t have and would find hard to acquire. (They also overlook the fact that it is really not that convenient – or sustainable – to have to own and run a car and do a lot of driving to get to that ‘fast’ and ‘convenient’ food if one wants to have it regularly.)
But, you may be objecting, how do you know that it doesn’t take more time to produce your own food from scratch, and that if you don’t already have the skills to do it you’d be better off not bothering to acquire them, but doing something (anything) else instead? The answer to the second objection is of course subjective, because if after starting to learn how to garden or cook you decide you don’t like doing either of these activities, then of course you will be happier if someone else does them for you. But it won’t take you very long to find out whether being outside getting a bit mucky tending plants that you will soon harvest, or being inside turning those freshly-harvested plants into soup or salad , gives you no joy at all. It’s more likely that you’ll find that either activity is more fun as well as more useful than anything you could do on or with a device with a screen. If this is the case, then the skills required will come quickly enough. I have written books on gardening that have been well-received. That’s despite my never having had a formal lesson (let alone taken a course) in gardening. Like most amateur gardeners, I learned by doing, supplemented by reading and asking. One of the things I like most about gardening is that there’s always something new to learn – and enjoy.
With regard to the time it takes to produce your own food, it is easier to be objective about this because it can be measured. So I have started an experiment in measuring how much time my partner and I put into growing food, and into making the ‘pantry foods’ (bread, preserves, biscuits, cordials, spreads, etc.) that we eat, and how much of each we produce. This is not an experiment in self-sufficiency (we won’t ever be growing the rice and coffee we consume – or even the oats and sesame seeds in our home-made muesli), and nor is it an experiment in saving money on food – although if we were to buy instead of making the high-quality, high-value foods we produce most weeks (such as loaves of bread and muesli made with all-organic ingredients), or grow large quantities of every year (raspberries, walnuts), we would be spending another $50-100 a week on groceries. It is an experiment in producing the most we can of the foods we like that can easily be produced where we live at the bottom of a Banks Peninsula valley at latitude 43.7500 degrees South.
Within these constraints it is turning out to be an experiment in affordable luxury, and also in sharing our surpluses. I did a practice run on the methodology at the beginning of this year, from mid-January to mid-March, but I was too busy doing other things at the time to update the spreadsheets weekly, and the numbers got away on me. So I started again on December 1st, and am hoping to stick at it for the next 3 months, and do a monthly report at the end of each month on how it is going. So far things are looking pretty much as they did on my earlier trial – we’re producing a lot of value for remarkably little effort. Watch this space on December 31 for my first report.