I think by now most, if not all, of you would have heard about the recent flooding and cyclone Yasi in Australia. In particular, you probably heard about the floods in Brisbane and Queensland. At the time I didn’t say anything. I used to live in Brisbane. I still have family there. I know people who lost everything. I felt so close to it and so far away from it. And everything already seemed to have been said on numerous posts around the blogosphere. So I said nothing.
And now people are moving onto the next world event, riots in Egypt and a number of other countries. Riots that are partly fueled by increasing food prices. Increasing food prices that have partly occurred because Australia is one of the major food bowl countries of the world and over a decade of drought then torrential flooding results in increased food prices, not just in Australia, but around the world. And moving onto the next world event is normal. And riots in Egypt are a very major event that we should all be paying attention to.
But now, for this post, I just wanted to bring you back to Australia and the aftermath of the floods. What I want to talk about is the effect of the flooding and the cyclone on food because that is what this blog is about. You see, our floods made the world media because they occurred in one of our major cities, Brisbane. But great swathes of our most productive land was flooded too; stretching from the north of the country right down to the south. Wheat crops were destroyed just weeks before harvest. The banana and pineapple crops were decimated by flooding and then a record-breaking cyclone. Stone fruit rotted on the trees. Vegetables rotted in the ground.
And this is a tale of two supermarkets. I’m only going to name one (in the photos), but two Australian supermarkets hold 80% of the market, so if you’re Australian you can guess which other supermarket I’m talking about. This post is about decisions. Decisions that two supermarket chains made in the aftermath of the floods. And the decisions that you and I can make too. While I’m talking about flooding in Australia, if you’re from another country and you’re interested in eating locally and sustainably, I’m sure that there will be similar situations in your own countries at some time or other.
Our two major supermarket chains have made two very different decisions on how they are handling the aftermath of the floods and cyclone. One supermarket chain has decided that loyalty to farmers and Australia is very important to them. They have little signs up throughout their fresh food section (and dotted through this post) that explain that they may not be able to get certain vegetables, that the prices may increase, that quality may not be as high as you’re used to but that they want to support Australian farmers and keep Australian produce in their shops and they hope you want to support Australian farmers too. And prices have increased. At the summer glut time of year when prices are normally at their lowest the prices are now about double for tomatoes, bananas, grapes, capsicums, stone fruit and a host of other fruit and veg compared to a month ago.
In the fresh food section of the other major supermarket, the situation is markedly different. Where before almost everything was Australian produce, there are now obvious signs above a number of fruit and veg that tell you the produce is a mix of Australian and imported product. The fruit and veg here have fewer marks on them. And the price differential is not so great compared to a month ago.
I know the decisions we make in these sorts of situations often come down to economics. If we can’t afford to buy the more expensive product, then no matter where our ethics sit we end up buying the cheaper product. I’m lucky, while I don’t like to waste my money, I can afford to put my money where my ethics are. To me, right now, it’s a very important time to be supporting our farmers and helping them to get through so they can still farm next year. Because producing so much of our own food locally is important. For reducing food miles, for food security, for so many reasons. So me, when I’m not shopping at my farmers’ market and I decide to shop at a supermarket, it’ll be the one that’s sticking by our farmers.