Wednesday, 25 July 2012

Food that sings

Organic carrots at FIG, my local food co-op, are cheap. Usually when I apply the word 'cheap' to food, I mean cheap and nasty.

But there's nothing nasty about these carrots, or anything else that I get from the co-op. I don't need an invitation to wax lyrical about my food co-op. Ever since we moved to Australia, I have struggled with the challenges of sourcing and buying fruit and veg that makes me feel good. Until recently, I bought a bit in a little gourmet grocer (do you hate gourmet as much as I do?), a bit at the supermarket, spent a fortune in a health food store, and supplemented it with a very small expensive weekly box delivery.

I have spent almost three years thinking we would never be able to eat the way I want us to.

If it wasn't breaking the bank, it was breaking me. That might sound a touch melodramatic, but for a while there I lost that connection – with food, with nature and with farmers. 

In the UK, I found it easier to find that connection. My weekly box came box with notes and beautiful anecdotes about who was growing what, and why the month's crop of purple sprouting broccoli was wiped out by a sudden change in the weather. It was very real.

I also found a little connection at the supermarket. The Big Four over there are just as bad as the Big Two over here, but I shopped somewhere that paid farmers a decent price for their milk. It was probably far from perfect, but I felt a connection and talking to all those producers and growers over the years, I believed this supermarket was committed to fostering good relationships with its suppliers. That feels right to me.

Labelling helped too, of course. I could tell my pork was raised in the open fields of East Anglia from outdoor bred pigs sired by pedigree Hamsphire boars and my raspberries grown by a nice chap called Harry Hall in Berkshire.  

Sadly, labelling over here is not the same. Beef is Australian and pears are grown in Australia. That's about all you get in my supermarket. When you think of the sheer scale of this beautiful country, there's a lot of connection lost for me where food is concerned.

Organic isn't everything. In fact, when it's packaged in loads of plastic and sits for days on end on the supermarket shelf looking miserable and tired, I'd probably rather go for the fresher stuff on the other side, even if it has been buffed and polished till it sparkles. (Actually, if it sparkles, I just go without.)

Nor is local. People pay too much lip service to local, especially people who don't care. I once ate in a restaurant in the West Country that was so proud of its locally reared chickens. 'It's all local', I remember them saying. I like a story, so I visited the farmshop down the road who sold these chickens. It turned out they were caged chickens. 

But when you combine organic with just-picked and local, and when it's perfectly in season.... well, it's food that sings. I have my connection.

Back to carrots. I ended up with 10kg last week (it was quite some singing).

Here's how they ended up. (And they all went down a storm in lunchboxes the next day.)

Carrot and sesame burgers with chickpeas, lemon and cumin

Kakiage (tempura vegetables)*

Do you need that connection too? Do you wish we had an affordable supermarket full of food that sings? One that could fill the gap that co-ops, farmers' markets and box schemes can't meet?

* Make the tempura batter by mixing 1 beaten egg with 1 cup of iced water, then gently mix in 1 cup of flour and a good pinch of salt. Pay it very little attention and don't worry about lumps. Whatever you do, make sure you have iced water and don't over mix. I added grated carrot, zucchini, red onion and red capsicum. I still had batter left over, so I dunked cauliflower in there too. Add spoonfuls of the mixture to hot oil and deep-fry until browned all over. Drain then dip into equal quantities of soy sauce, mirin, sake and a bit of sugar to sweeten.


  1. Those recipes sound delicious Vanessa particularly the carrot and sesame burgers. In one of the latest cooking magazines I recently made a roasted carrot soup that was quite yummy if you're looking for more carrot recipes:) I would love to know where exactly my food comes from but where I live it's not so easy to source food straight from the farm. I do a lot of my shopping at the local organic shop where everything is nice and fresh, not always local though but always in season and a I figure that for me that's ok. Is it affordable? Look some of it is quite expensive but with a menu and eating less meat I can keep it down to a reasonable amount each week but it still is very expensive eating healthy and organic.

    1. Oh yes, carrot soup is a regular here. In all its variations!

  2. You well and truly celebrated carrots Vanessa :-)

    I'm going to give those carrot and sesame burgers a go thank yuu.

    and yep - I like my food to sing to me. I was daydreaming the other day about only eating food that has a story. Food is what nourishes us - and far too often I don't put enought thought into what I eat.

  3. So true Tricia. We're human beings and we love connection on so many levels, which is why we love good stories. So, naturally, food is the same. Food that comes with a story is very special indeed. Having said that, on a practical level, sometimes we just need to get the kids fed and in bed!

  4. This comment has been removed by the author.

  5. Food choices can be so complicated.. Luckily now my flat is close to a wonderful organic shop which subsidises basic items like flour and canned tomatoes, stocks local produce, buys bulk honey, tahini, spices, yoghurt, oil, teas, flour etc so we take our old jars in and fill those. Eliminates so much packaging. Everything is labelled with its place of origin and its organic certification. Even in supermarkets here (NZ) all produce is labelled with its country of origin, which is a start, although I only go to the supermarket now to buy toothbrushes! :-)

    am bookmarking carrot and sesame burgers, and have just had a lovely peruse of your blog. I found you from Lemon rhodes :-)

  6. Hi Georgi, thanks for stopping by! What a great sounding shop to live near. Enjoy the burgers. They were very popular here. Vanessa x

  7. Also plan to try the burgers- we still have lots of carrots here as well!


  8. Ohh, just wish we had Georgi's shop close by or your local co-op. Our organic food-store is just too expensive for us. I checked out the Fig co-op, and it sounds great, but it is an hours drive from where we live :-( Have to do some more research about what is available here in Umina in terms of honest food. Thanks for the inspiration!

    1. Hi Anna, what about the other food co-op on the Central Coast? It's called PEG, and I think it's in Woy Woy. I've put a link here and it's listed.

    2. Thanks Vanessa! This sounds great!! Found them on: Yipee!

  9. i'm so glad i read this post. i've only just begun to delve. such a humongous issue. but i've been hanging around markets, buying from farm gates and asking more questions, so it's a start! i might need to come and check out FIG- i've been meaning to, but it's a bit of a drive (excuses, excuses!):) sarah

    1. Hi Sarah, I know, the drive is what put me off for ages too. I couldn't contemplate it while Kian was tiny, and he's still not that great in the car, but as long as I have bananas and dates etc to hand, I can keep him going. Listen to me... I make it sound like a 2-hour drive. It's barely 25 minutes, but it seems longer because of the winding bumpy roads. What I'd love to set up is a group of mums who live nearby and we take it in turns to get each other's boxes, which might mean we only have to go once or twice a month. I'll drop you an email...


Thank you for popping over. I'd love to hear from you. Even if it's just to say hello.

Note: only a member of this blog may post a comment.