In the aftermath of the floods

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.

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10 Responses to In the aftermath of the floods

  1. Debra Kolkka says:

    I rarely buy fresh food from supermarkets in Australia because I object the the hold they have over shopping habits. I also don’t buy ate the 2 major department stores for the same reason. I am pleased to hear that Coles is at least rying to do the right thing. I still wonder how much of the money goes to the growers. I am lucky that price is not always the issue for me and I always buy from farmers’ markets or independent food markets. Thanks for the nod to my blog about the floods in Brisbane. We were lucky because we have insurance, but many did not, through no fault of their own in many cases.

    • Bee says:

      Yeah Deb, I’d like to buy more often from independant reatilers (when I’m not buying from farmers’ markets). This is a time-based sacrifice I’ve made – because it becomes too much for me if I need to go to many shops in the one week.

      And yeah, I agree with you, we don’t know how much is going to the farmers. Although teh quality has certainly driopped from teh “pristine” vegetables they normally buy. So they are definitely syaing yes to farmers who they would normally tell to just throw their produce out. And they are still buying Australian produce when the other chain isn’t necessarily buying any – I most definitely don’t belive “Australian and imported porduct” contains anymore than the minimum Australian product.

      And no problems on the blog nod. I suggest everyone goes and reads your series of posts if they want to get an idea for what it was really like in Brissie (and what cleaning out a flooded house is like!).

  2. Cindy says:

    Well done, Coles!

  3. eremophila says:

    I can feel your passion pulsating about this issue. In my area, there is only one supermarket, and it’s not Coles…… When I am able, I buy organic produce direct from the grower/s both at farm gate and monthly farmer’s market. Last week, I had to make a choice regarding almonds. Either standard ones, or biodynamic ones at more than twice the price. I’m on a low income, and decisions such as this don’t come easily. But I did choose the more wholesome product, and was rewarded with much better flavoured, and probably much more nutritious almonds.
    What really concerns me about the flooded agricultural land is the degree of pollutants washed onto it, and whether sufficient testing will take place……sadly, I doubt it.
    I see an opportunity for a much needed revolution in our food production – if it doesn’t happen I despair for the children of the future.

    • Bee says:

      Yeah, I agree I’m quite scared about the pollutants that were dislodged and “liberated” by the floods. While I lived in Brissie, someone did a study on the level of pollutants in the sediments of the Brisbane river and it was published in the Courier Mail newspaper. They were very high and they likely were washed onto people’s land during the flooding.

  4. Thanks for the link back Bee. It’s such a big topic food, and so many complicated arms and legs branching off it. I very, very rarely buy fruit and vege’s from the main supermarkets. Since starting with Foodconnect, it’s been pretty amazing tasting the differences in quality. Tomatoes actually tasting like tomatoes!
    I hope the flood effected farmers can pull through all of this.

    • Bee says:

      It definitely is a very complicated topic, you’re right. And yes, whenever I eat supermarket vegies, especially lettuce and cherries, I am always left a bit disappointed now.

      No problems on the link back.

  5. I saw these signs in Coles & was automatically suspicious (I know., I’m like that) but realised they were genuine. I rarely shop in ‘the big 2’, preferring the independents & markets. I feel pretty dam blessed too that mostly I can use my $ to shop as ethically as I can.
    Great post & thanks for sharing your thoughts here, couldn’t agree more that as Aussies who’ve been through our share of natural disasters (re: Canberra Bushfires for me) then its not just about helping when we’re making the news, but its about the continued help until everyone is back on their feet.

    • Bee says:

      Glad you enjoyed the post.

      Yeah, I’m a bit suspicious of how “clean” their motives are. But the outcome is good. And I’m all for encouraging whatever little bit towards a good thing we can get major supermarkets or other big companies to do.

      I was living o/s when the Canberra bushfires hit. It was shocking to hear a bushfire had made it right into a city. I hope your house wasn’t threatened at the time.

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