Illustration: Cathy Wilcox
Call me old-fashioned but I like plain old lettuce. In fact, for most of my life I had no idea there was anything other than plain old lettuce. It was a recent revelation to me that chefs, horticulturalists and others in the know, call it “iceberg” – heaven knows why.
Our food has changed over the past few decades. Every time I wander through the fancy grocery store near my home in the CBD of Melbourne, I feel linguistically impoverished as I spy delicacies like Pollastrini di anzio Sardinas and Conservas Ortiz El Velero. “That’s anchovies,” says Louise. You need to speak at least eight languages to shop in most of the inner-city groceries of Sydney and Melbourne. But there’s no iceberg lettuce.
Nevertheless, I struggle on, mumbling in foreign tongues, to find some fish to spread on my toast and lettuce. I usually settle for any old tin of sardines and as I walk away I often wonder how they can catch so many fish that are just the right size for the can.
When I was a kid a good simple meal was sardines on yesterday’s toasted Tip Top bread, but now we have small fish in tins from every latitude, breads galore and lettuce options that go way beyond my dear old dad’s first edition of Yates Gardening Guide which is now nearly 50 years old.
And then on the way home the other day, I had a thought. Maybe I should simplify the whole thing and grow my own lettuce on the balcony of my apartment.
Apparently 52 per cent of Australian households are growing their own fruit and veg, according to the Australia Institute. And the numbers are increasing. They don’t seem to have any figures on people keeping chooks but it wouldn’t surprise me at all if that was on the rise as well.
Coming back from London several weeks ago, I spied the wonderful chef and gardener Stephanie Alexander on the plane and was reminded that in 2006 she had the idea to put a kitchen garden in every school. I was only too happy to fund the first chief executive of her Kitchen Garden organisation to get the idea under way. It is now a national program that introduces children to the magic of the natural world and the skills of working together to produce what we need to live.
It’s clear that there is a widespread yearning for simplicity and a more natural, self-sufficient and healthy way of living.
Take the initiative
Yet at the same time, we are bogged down in stalemates and complexities when it comes to national policy on almost anything – energy policy and climate change in particular.
I spent some time last week in a conversation with our Chief Scientist Alan Finkel. He is a rational, intelligent and clear-headed man yet his straightforward and skilfully couched advice is mired in political infighting within the government.
How any group of people with national policy implementation obligations can still be trying to find ways to discount the views of more than 90 per cent of the world’s climate scientists is beyond me.
As regular readers know, I’ve been involved in a cattle property in WA’s East Kimberley that grew to around 2 million hectares, about half the size of Denmark. The whole property was transformed by the use of solar power that was installed by our own people.
Our ossification and inaction over energy policy and climate change is a dark chapter of our national story and there is no light at the end of the tunnel.
Sometimes we just have to work things out for ourselves and take the initiative while our pollies fight among themselves, whether it’s making renewable energy work for our own property or community, or growing our own clean food.
Charlie thinks it’s obvious that our political system can’t make the big decisions. Our ossification and inaction over energy policy and climate change is a dark chapter of our national story and there is no light at the end of the tunnel.
Our only choice at the moment is to take matters into our own hands and rebuild a sense of self-reliance that used to be the principle of family life for earlier generations.
Stephanie Alexander’s Kitchen Gardens are teaching these and many other skills to our young people.
Stephanie Alexander started a kitchen garden schools program. Photo: Marcel Aucar
You might think the world is rushing by too fast with the arrival of Uber, Amazon and many other technology advancements. But take a breath. It’s all a bit of an illusion. The basics are still important. Let’s not have our politicians distract us by their infighting and bureaucratic game-playing.
The reason Nick Xenophon is popular is because he talks commonsense without the back-seat driving of old-hat political party institutions.
There’s a lot to be said for the basics in life – iceberg lettuce, sliced bread, home-brand sardines and taking the advice of experts who really know what they are talking about.