Reflections & Intentions

Firstly a heartfelt thanks you for your continued support by following my re-sprouting with EATegrity. It has been four months now and I got off to a slow start due to mostly technical frustrations – my email (soniam@eategrity.co.za) is finally working and I am getting the hang of my new website platform so I can now get back to my regular food journey updates.

2015 was challenging in many other respects and I am pleased to close the door on it. The one constant throughout the turmoil has been my passion to discover more about the journey of our food and my eagerness to grow consumer awareness. So I have jotted a few, okay more than a few thoughts I would like to share with you going into 2016.

 

Mindfulness

Consider this carefully. What you do as a consumer with the food choices you make and where you spend your money on food purchasers has a greater impact on our natural resources than you could possibly imagine. If we are fortunate enough, we eat every day of our lives, so what you eat really has an impact on the world we live in.

It has an impact on our water resources, soil health, natural environment, ecosystems, air quality, social justice, both wild and farmed animal welfare, bee health, food diversity, nutritional diversity, seed diversity, land sovereignty, poverty, pharmaceuticals, food waste, nutritional food sovereignty and so much more.

So if any of these seem important to you then it would make sense for you to inform yourself about where your food comes from- right? Just how easy is that to do though? A lot easier if you know your farmer. I firmly believe that the short food chain is the solution to better enable consumers to make informed choices.

Know your farmer brings you that much closer to traceable transparency. Good sources are Ethical Co-op, Green Road, Organic Emporium, Bryanston Organic Market and Oranjezicht City Farm Market. I suggest you ask questions about the farmers they source produce from and if you are happy with the responses you receive then please support these food outlets on an ongoing basis.


Chew it over

Unfortunately part of the job of encouraging consumers to support farmers that are using higher animal welfare and more sustainable methods of farming is to get them to understand how consumers are being misled by false claims.

Over the years, farmers have shared their exasperation with me of the misleading claims being made by retailers. As an example, often the production methods of authentic free range produce sold in smaller retail outlets have higher cost inputs and these prices are undercut by big retailers who source from larger, more commercial but less authentic free range producers. So how can consumers know the difference?

From chefs of award winning “sustainable” restaurants claiming to have visited all the farms they source from (even though not one livestock producer was visited) to retailers making unsubstantiated ethical farming product claims, South Africa is awash with misleading ethical food claims.

Therefore if you are truly interested in where your food comes from and how it was produced, be aware of the claims being made and chew it over. Do they sound feasible to you? Are you able to get information on the farm? Are you able to ask questions and receive adequate information from your food supplier or are you fobbed off with intellectual property as a response?


Lack of transparency

The red flag for me is when I get the response of Intellectual Property. IP is all too often the reason given for not being able to share information on where an ingredient is sourced from or how it has been extracted.

When these answers are not forthcoming then I ask how can consumers make an informed choice? It is the responsibility of food suppliers to ensure authenticity of their products and transparency to allow consumers to make informed choices with their eyes wide open.

It is also the responsibility of food suppliers to know everything about the farms or processes involved in the product they are selling so that they can confidently provide answers to any queries. Not surprisingly, this is the most frequent response to some of the queries I have made. Worrisome though, it’s most used by producers of ‘health’ products and retailers that make the most ethical claims.


Go with your gut

Since the gut acts as our immune system’s first line of defense, kind of like a bodyguard, continued research on our gut’s micro biome will help us understand what food to eat that protects, boosts and supports our gut biome. So keep a lookout for some news I will be bringing you on this front.


Soil health

2015 was the United Nations “Year of Soil” and frankly I’m going to miss this one. Perhaps we should have a United Nations “Decade of Soil” to bring further awareness about the importance of soil health. Most important to remember though – if we don’t have healthy soil in which to grow food then we can’t gain optimum nutrition from our food.

Healthy Soil = Healthy Plants = Healthy Humans.

This is the very reason I am so interested in the entire food journey from soil biome to gut biome, which brings me to Organic and Biodynamic farming.

 

Organic 3.0

Organic has had a slow journey in South Africa, from a fringe movement frustratingly into a niche market. We need to move organic into mainstream by realizing that as consumers we are part of the food system and understand why it is important to support local organic farmers.

Through Organic 3.0 we understand that organic is not just about food, it is also a social movement and it is about sustainability of our planet.

I will be bringing you more details about organic 3.0 as provided in a talk I attended in November by Konrad Hauptfleisch from IFOAM. I was also fortunate enough to be provided with an opportunity to interview Konrad for On The Table via Niche Radio, which you will be able to listen to very soon.

Briefly, the concept of Organic 3.0 is a descriptive expansion outwards from the prescriptive base requirements. By positioning organic as a modern, innovative system, which puts the results and impacts of farming in the foreground, it calls for a culture of continuous improvement, adapting to local priorities.

Recognizing organic and biodynamic farming as methods of food production that offer solutions to global issues of hunger, inequity, energy consumption, pollution, climate change, loss of biodiversity and depletion of natural resources are the motivators to support locally produced organic and where possible biodynamic food.

 

Take your pulse

United Nations declares 2016 “The International Year of the Pulse”. I must say this is going to be a slow starter for me to get as excited about, not because I don’t like pulses, I do, I love them but Year of the Soil really is a hard act to follow as it is. However, I will be bringing you more news on this and hopefully some exciting recipes too that I will share on my Mindful Monday posts.

 

Green Mondays

EATegrity is an early supporter of Green Monday South Africa . Green Monday is a global initiative promoted by Humane Society International (HSI). Tozie Zokufa, program manager for HSI South Africa says, “farm animals are often raised in crowded factory farms that pollute the environment, in addition to causing tremendous animal suffering. From land use to water use and water pollution, to greenhouse gas emissions, there are few areas of the environment that aren’t affected in some way by animal agriculture. Cutting back on animal-sourced foods once a week can decrease our environmental footprint and help keep us healthy too. I encourage you to pledge your support to this campaign, particularly in light of water scarcity in South Africa.

 

One Web of Life

While many faiths do aspire to kindness and compassion they have generally reflected little on how the fundamental tenets of their various faiths might be calling us to relate with compassion to our fellow beings. OWL aims to encourage people of faith to think consciously about their relationship with all the creatures with whom we share the Earth.  For more information and/or to become a supporter of OWL, email owl@safcei.org.za

 

Food heroes

Where do I begin to tell the story about the fabulous, courageous, insightful, tenacious and brilliant people that are working towards change in our broken food system in South Africa? There are so many that have inspired me. The people that have held my respect over the years are Haidee Swanby and Mariam Myatt from African Centre for Biodiversity. I don’t know about all the self-sacrifices they have made but I can only guess at it since they have been tirelessly and methodically fighting for our right to know about genetically modified food production in South Africa for many years.

I plan to find the time to share my list of food heroes with you through the months of 2016, allowing you to get to know them and understand a little of what drives them in their vision to help shape a better food system. You can listen to Haidee Swanby here.

 

Death to fat-free

Three documentaries detailing the adverse effects of sugar were released this year, and sugar is increasingly being blamed for its role in a number of health conditions, and particularly for type 2 diabetes and metabolic disease.

I am hoping that 2016 will see the demise of fat-free food everywhere since these are generally laden with sugar to improve the taste, especially for kids. My biggest bugbear is low fat yoghurt for kids which ingredients includes sugar and other additives which aren’t even declared on the label; those little Disney character yoghurt packs should be banished from stores.

I would also like to see the dietetic spokes group Association Dietetics South Africa (ADSA), kick the big food sponsor habit and tell people to rather count toxins instead of calories. In other words, eat Real Food.

 

Food fights

Another big fat issue in 2015 was the Tim Noakes’ trials. The Prof Tim Noakes’ trial was dubbed the “Nutrition Trial of the Century” which started again on Monday 23 November.

The hearing against Prof Noakes is by the Health Professions Council of South Africa (HPCSA) on behalf of dietitian Claire Strydom, former president of the Association for Dietetics in SA (ADSA).

The charge follows a complaint lodged with the council by Strydom for a tweet Prof Noakes made in February 2014, in which he said that low carb high fat foods were good first foods for babies. The hearing ended a day early on November 30, without the defence being able to begin presenting its case. It was adjourned to February 8, 2016. Marika Sboros followed the trial, which you can read about here.

Banting has had an influence on what is marketed in retail stores and even restaurants are increasingly offering banting options on menus. Wouldn’t it be powerful statement if this consumer base would support higher animal welfare production?

Prof Noakes advocates for grass fed but are banters savvy enough to understand the health concerns of grain fed, factory farmed meat versus pasture raised and would they support eating less meat but of better quality?

Perhaps we can get them to substitute protein from entomophagy instead?

 

Bug out

Entomophagy is the practice of eating bugs. Insects as a food source has been practiced for many generations in various parts of the world and experts are calling crickets the protein of the future. Insects for human consumption could help in solving a wide range of ecological, economic and health related issues.

Amongst many other nametags, researcher and environmental justice educationalist, Zayaan Khan is also South Africa’s leading expert in entomophagy and is using her knowledge and interest to get people to change the way they think about food. Zayaan is an extraordinary woman who is a true food revolutionary and a visionary.

 

The importance of beeing earnest

Another insect to be considered but not for consumption purposes is the bee. Regardless of the seemingly confusing statements by South African bee and beekeeper experts, our bees are under threat.

Some researchers say the Western Cape has lost 40% of its bee population since the first outbreak of American Foul Brood (AFB) reported in 2009. The Western Cape requires between 120 000 to 140 000 pollination units annually so you can see that it is a big business that is under threat too. It is also quite alarming that so little has been done to address the spread of this disease.

There are people that want to be part of the solution but this is not something that we can afford to be gullible about. I have visited a couple of bee farmers to get their input on the AFB story and to understand a little more about bee keeping and bees. It certainly is not a straightforward story to tell but I earnestly want to tell it.

In the meantime please be mindful of just how important bees are to us and you can also help them by creating bee friendly gardens by including some bee-attracting indigenous plants, as well as not using harmful chemicals.

 

Warrior power

Talking of chemicals will always bring Rushka Johnson to mind. Her petite frame contains a powerful personality with boundless energy that works to change the world for the better. In December, Rushka took Builders Warehouse to task for selling Glyphosate in their stores.

After the The World Health Organization classified Glyphosate, (active ingredient in Roundup), as a Class 2a carcinogen, Rushka was alarmed to see that even children could purchase Roundup at Builders Warehouse stores. She contacted them, notifying them of her concerns and asked them to please stop selling Roundup. They responded that they wouldn’t.

So Rushka organized a nationwide picket to get #RoundupOut of Builders Warehouse. To see more of what this warrior is up to, visit https://www.facebook.com/events/509177492562686/ and offer your support.

 

Grow yourself an edible garden

Let’s face it, eating for health is expensive, particularly if you are a large family, or even a small one. Another consideration though is what is the true cost of your food? We will discuss this topic further this year.

Food prices don’t steadily climb – they jump and they never come down. I am pretty sure that almonds and cacao in particular compete favourably with the price of gold.

I dig the people at Soil for Life who teach people how to build the soil and grow healthy plants, so that families can sit down to plates of safe, fresh nutritious food, all year round. I was fortunate enough to do their Grow to Live course and recommend it for anyone who wants to grow their own food but needs practical knowledge like I did. See their success stories here.

 

Saving the best till last

I don’t know if you did it as a kid but I always saved the best part of my meal till last, which was usually mushrooms. So what is the best news I can share with you this year? Well you will need to wait till the end of January to find out more about this exciting news which I know will assist those exasperated farmers that I spoke of and in turn, will help consumers make an informed choice.

 

But remember!

If there is one thing to remember through 2016, actually rather the rest of your life, it is this: Healthy Soil = Healthy Plants = Healthy Humans.

Oh, okay, just one more thing – Eat Real Food, please, it’s good for you and better for the planet. Ditch the processed foods – even the ‘healthy’ ones.

Sonia Mountford

Sonia Mountford

Sonia Mountford lived as an expat in the Middle East for a number of years and enjoyed travelling and exposure to third and first world cultures. Her interest in food security began while visiting in Sri Lanka after floods and discovering the politics around Food Aid. As a co-founder of Grass Consumer Action and the only full time member, she spent four years researching the dysfunctional food system in South Africa, investigating, questioning and exposing misleading claims. Although her interests range from food politics to toxins in our food, including harmful ingredients in processed foods and Big Food influence; she soon came to realize that the most important part of the food journey begins on farms. For that reason she spends much of her time visiting farms, learning and talking about constraints and concerns in production methods with farmers. Passionate about nutritional food security she believes higher animal welfare farming practices are not only necessary for ethical reasons but also for human health. She is an ambassador for SOIL, BEES and healthy WATER. Mountford started EATegrity (eategrity.co.za) “Helping You Find Integrity in the Food Chain” in 2015. Her aim is create greater consumer awareness about the food chain and to encourage transparency in the South African food industry.

2 thoughts on “Reflections & Intentions

  • January 4, 2016 at 2:16 pm
    Permalink

    Hi Sonia

    This, your first post for 2016, is to my mind in synch with United Nations ‘International Year of the Pulse’. Thank you for keeping all these issues alive.

    Three comments:
    1. In my view, there needs to be clarity around what is meant by the term ‘organic’.
    2. You mention ‘permaculture’. Possibly you might consider also adding ‘agroecology’ to your list of appropriate approaches to farming.
    3. Just to mention that your hyper-links don’t display unless I hover my mouse over them. Consider giving them a distinguishable colour.

    Hope 2016 doesn’t burn you out.

    Reply
    • January 18, 2016 at 7:38 am
      Permalink

      Thank you for comments Hendrik
      1) I will be posting a story on what organic should mean and the challenges we face as consumers and challenges of the farmers in South Africa around this claim.
      2) There are many additional farming terms that I wish to cover and many food production terms – pleased to see there is an interest in agroecology too.
      3) You gave me the push to finally sort this technicality out – thanks!

      Reply

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