Posts Tagged ‘food’

Why did the Australian aborigines never adopt agriculture?

Why did the Australian aborigines never develop agriculture?

This question was posed in the process of designing an indigenous food garden, and I could hear the underlying assumptions of the enquirer in his tone.  Our culture teaches that agriculture is a more desirable way to live than hunting and gathering, and agriculturalist is more intelligent and more highly evolved than a hunter gatherer.

These assumptions can only be made by someone indoctrinated by civilization.  It’s a limited way to look at the world.

I was annoyed by question, and judged the person asking it as ignorant of history and other cultures, and unimaginative.  Since many would fit this label, I figured I’m better off answering the question.

This only takes some basic logic and imagination, I have no background in anthropology or whatever it is that would qualify someone to claim authority on this subject.  You could probably formulate an explanation by asking yourself: How and why would anyone develop agriculture?

First consider the practicalities of a transition from hunting and gathering to agriculture.

What plants would be domesticated?  What animals?  What tools would they use?  How would they irrigate?

Why would anyone bother domesticating anything that is plentiful in the wild?

To domesticate a plant takes many generations (plant generations, and human generations) of selecting the strongest specimens, propagating them in one place, caring for them, protecting them from animals and people, from the rain and wind and sun, keeping the seeds safe.  This would be incredibly difficult to do, it would take a lot of dedication, not just from one person but a whole tribe for generations.  If your lifestyle is nomadic, because food is available in different places in different seasons, there is no reason to make the effort to domesticate a plant.

Agriculture is high-risk.  There are a lot of things that could destroy a whole crop, and your whole food supply for the year, as well as your seed stock for the next.  A storm, flood, fire, plague of insects, browsing mammals, neighbouring tribes, lack of rain, disease, and no doubt many other factors.  A huge amount of work is invested in something that is likely to fail, which would then cause a whole community to starve, if there isn’t a back-up of plentiful food in the wild.

Agriculture is insecure.  People in agricultural societies live in fear of crop failure, as this is their only source of food.  The crops must be defended.  The tools, food storage, water supply and houses must also be defended, and maintained.  Defended from people, animals, and insects.  Growing and storing all your food in one place would attract all of these.  Defence requires weapons, and work.

Agriculture requires settlement.  The tribe must stay in one place. They cannot leave, even briefly, as there is constant maintenance and defending to do.  Settlements then need their own infrastructure:  toilets, water supply, houses, trading routes as not all the food needs can be met from within the settlement.  Diseases spread in settled areas.

Aboriginal people travel often, and for long periods of time.  Agriculture is not compatible with this way of life.

Agriculture is a lot of work.  The farmers must check on the crop regularly, destroy diseased plants, remove weeds, irrigate, replant, harvest, save seeds, and store the crop.  Crops generally are harvested for only a few weeks or months in the year, and if they are a staple, must be stored safely and be accessible for the rest of the year.

Domesticated animals require fencing, or tethering, or taming.  They would be selectively bred for docility, which is a weakness not a strength, so a domesticated animal would be less healthy than a wild animal.

The people too become domesticated and lose strength with the introduction of agriculture.  The wild intelligence needed to hunt and gather would be lost, as would the relationships with the land and other beings.

Agriculture requires a belief in personal property, boundaries, and land ownership.  Australian aborigines knew that the land owned the people, not the other way around, so would never have treated the land in this way.

Agriculture needs a social hierarchy, where some people must work for others, who have more power by having more wealth.  The landowner would have the power to supply or withhold food.  Living as tribal groups, aborigines probably wouldn’t have desired this social structure.

Cultivated food has less nutrition than wild food.  Agriculturalists limit their diet to plants and animals that can easily be domesticated, so lose the diversity of tastes and nutrients that make for an ideal human diet.  Fenced or caged animals can only eat what is fed to them, rather than forage on a variety of foods, according to their nutritional needs.  Domesticated plants only access the nutrients from the soil in the field, which becomes more depleted with every season’s crop.  Irrigation causes plants to not send out long roots to find water, so domesticated plants are weaker than wild plants.

Agriculture suggests a belief that the world is not good enough as it is, and humans need to change it.  A land populated with gods, spirits or ancestors may not want to be damaged, dug, ploughed and irrigated.

Another thought is that agriculture may develop from a belief in scarcity – that there is not enough food and it is a resource that needs to be secured.  Indigenous belief systems value food plants and animals as kin to be in relationship with, rather than resources to exploit.

Agriculture isn’t an all-or-nothing thing.  Indigenous tribes engage with the landscape in ways that encourage growth of food plants.  People gather seeds of food plants and scatter them in places they are likely to grow.  Streams are diverted to encourage plant growth.  Early explorers witnessed aboriginal groups planting and irrigating wild rice.  Tribes in North Queensland were in contact with Torres Strait Islanders who practiced gardening, but chose not to take this up on a large scale themselves.

A few paragraphs from Tim Low’s Wild Food Plants of Australia:

“The evidence from the Torres Strait begs the question of why aborigines did not adopt agriculture.  Why should they?  The farming life can be one of dull routine, a monotonous grind of back-breaking labour as new fields are cleared, weeds pulled and earth upturned.  The farmer’s diet is usually less varied, and not always reliable, and the risk of infectious disease is higher…It is not surprising that throughout the world many cultures spurned agriculture.

“Explorer Major Mitchell wrote in 1848: ‘Such health and exemption from disease; such intensity of existence, in short, must be far beyond the enjoyments of civilized men, with all that art can do for them; and the proof of this is to be found in the failure of all attempts to persuade these free denizens of uncivilized earth to forsake it for tilled soil.’ ”

After all this, I’m amazed that anyone ever developed agriculture.  The question of why Australian aborigines never developed agriculture is easily answered and not as interesting as the question it brings up for me: why did twentieth century westerners never develop hunter-gatherer lifestyles?

The Zero Food Pop Quiz

Zero Weedkiller and Coke Zero

One of these products claims to be food, the other to kill all food plants it comes in contact with.  Can you tell the difference?

Match the ingredients list to the product.

–    Phosphoric acid, Acesulfame potassium and Sodium benzoate

–   N-(phosphonomethyl)glycine andHexahydro-1,3,5-tris(2-hydroxyethyl)-S-triazine

What are these ingredients made from?  How are they made?

Which product contains the most nutrients?

Which tastes better?  This one’s entirely subjective, I’m not willing to taste either product to form an opinion.  The weedkiller smells slightly sweet, according to the safety data sheet, so might come out ahead in this one.

Which has a higher LD-50 (lethal dose)?

Which is more effective at killing plants?

Which kills the most humans?

Which would cause the most harm if spilt on skin?

Are these products identical, with only the packaging and the slight variation in name to tell them apart?

Would you drink something that was advertised as having no nutritional value, and contained no ingredients derived from food sources, and several ingredients known to be harmful to human health?

Would you drink weedkiller if it was marketed as a food product?

I don’t know the answers to any of these questions, and I’m not bothered to do the research to find out.

Food Skills Day

Snails, wine, sundried olives, yogurt, weeds, sauerkraut, green smoothies, paneer and sourdough.  All in a Saturday afternoon.

Ferment, cook, eat, share, experiment, learn, enjoy and play!

Elise and I organised a food skills day to share skills, recipes and ideas with anyone who would care to join us.

On the invitation, the event was declared to be a self-organising, DIO (do it ourselves) event.
I took a chance on the idea of collaborative learning, and asking participants to bring recipes they had never tried before, so we can all learn how to do it together.  Bringing tried and tested recipes was welcome too.
Here’s a couple of recipes that were new to me.

Escargot

I gathered a few snails from my garden and front verge.  Regular garden snails are the same as the ones in the fancy French restaurants.  They are nocturnal, so easier to find and collect when they are out at night.  After rain is a good time.  They develop a lip on the front of the shell when they are mature.  Gather only mature snails.

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Letting them out to play before they are cooked is entirely unnecessary.  They seemed in a playful mood as they came out of the jar, and the water took a few minutes to boil, so we released them onto the playground.

Before cooking, give the snails a rinse.  Then throw them in a pot of boiling water and let them simmer for 15 minutes.  Skim off the foam that forms on the surface of the water.

Take the snails out of the pot, and out of their shells.  A fork and a twist should do it.

Give them another rinse.

Fry ’em up in garlic butter.  We served them with pasta and spinach because it was available, but bread and salad could be good too.

This recipe is a composite of several found on the internet.  I knew nothing about cooking snails before this, and had never thought to eat them.

Paneer

Paneer is Indian-style cottage cheese that is really easy to make, it needs no fancy ingredients or equipment.  The whole process takes 15 minutes.

Bring 1 litre of full-cream milk to the boil.  Add lemon juice or vinegar and turn the heat to low.  The quantity of lemon juice required varies from half a teaspoon to half a cup in the recipes I’ve read, and apparently depends on the type of lemon, as some are more acidic than others.  I guess use the amount of juice that causes the milk to separate.

Stir continuously as the milk curdles.  It should take about two minutes for the milk to separate into curds (the solids) and whey (a clear yellowish liquid).

Place a muslin cloth in a colander, which is over a large bowl.  Strain the mixture through the cloth, then hang it above a bowl for a few minutes to let all the liquid drain out.

Place the cloth full of cheese between two dinner plates, with something heavy on top.  This will squeeze out any remaining moisture, and form the paneer into a firm block.

Paneer is traditionally used in Indian recipes, both curries and desserts.  We fried it in butter and ate it with salt.  It should keep for a few days in the fridge.

Chicken in a dumpster

I found a chicken in a dumpster a few days ago.  It was dead, beheaded, plucked, gutted, wrapped in plastic.  And thrown in a bin.  What a way to go.

I took pity on it, and took it home.  It made me sad to see a life wasted like that.

I tried to imagine what it would be like, to live and die like this chicken.  To spend my whole life in a shed, then killed to spend a few days on a refrigerated shelf in a brightly-lit supermarket.  What would I look like, if it was me in that position?  I picture myself beheaded, gutted, squeezed into shrink-wrap plastic, on a supermarket shelf waiting for someone to buy me, and then thrown in a dumpster when no-one does.

I chose to cook and eat it to do something to honour its life, but this doesn’t feel like enough.  A life needs to be worth more than that.

I haven’t cooked meat for many years, and rarely eat it.  I want to start eating more animal fat, bone broth and stock.  It makes sense to me to cook with animal fat rather than vegetable oil, as it is readily available and often thrown out, whereas vegetable oil takes a lot of land, work, machinery and processing to be useable.  Animal fats also have health benefits over vegetable oil – they are necessary to absorb fat-soluble vitamins and minerals, contain essential omega 3, and don’t degrade with cooking.

Roasting this chicken made me feel feral, like a savage, a hunter, almost cannibalistic.  Seeing this animal being cooked, and then putting my fingers into its body, separating the meat from the bone, felt like something that a civilized human would never need or want to do.  I find it hard to comprehend that many people do this regularly, without ever having thoughts of the life they are taking, or the feelings of savagery that I am having now.

After separating the meat, I put the bones, fat and gristle into a pot of water and simmered it for a couple hours, to make stock.  I strained out the solids, and the water cooled into a thick jelly, not what I was expecting at all.  The stock of one chicken gave me several dinners of chicken soup.

I feel like I should bring all this together somehow, make some conclusion, but I don’t have any conclusions to make.

Project ideas

I’ve got loads of ideas for things I’d like to do in Adelaide.  There’s always more ideas that I can possibly do by myself, so I’m writing them down in the hope that you might be inspired to help me, or do something similar in your own community.

  • Screen documentary films, about all kinds of topics, for free (or by donation).  There are so many good films being made, that I’d like to give as many people as possible the opportunity to see, and by seeing them together can discuss the topic and take action on the issues.  The screenings can happen in loungerooms, community centres, schools, and outdoors.
  • The People’s Library.  Anyone can lend their books to anyone.  Having something online to keep track of who has borrowed them would be really useful, because I’ve lent lots of books to people and forgotten who has them, and I have a few on loan that I forget to return.  An automatic reminder email every few weeks saying “return this book” or “Fred still has your book” would be great.  There’s a barcode scanner that can connect with online catalogues, so scanning the barcodes of all your books would display a picture of the cover and list the details of the book.  This is one for Someone Else, who is more web-savvy than me.  [Update: I’ve just come across unLibrary.com – excited to discover that other people have the same idea, and have made it happen!]
  • Organise regular network meetings for Councils in Transition.
  • Start a Free Skool in Adelaide.  Free classes on all kinds of topics, all the useful stuff that you don’t learn in school.
  • Consult to the Local Government Association about Transition and community food security
  • Block Repair
  • Run a natural energy (human and direct-sun powered) cooking day – demonstrate solar cookers, zeer pot refrigerators, rocket stoves, hand and pedal powered devices.
  • Teach a radical sustainability & activism course, or series of workshops
  • Establish an Edible Forest Garden demonstration site – a whole block in an urban neighbourhood would be amazing, or a park, school, community centre, anywhere really.  We need to start creating habitat for urban hunter-gatherers!
  • Regular potlucks.  Get together with people to share food.  There doesn’t need to be an occasion.
  • Organise a conference on Transition.
  • Encourage neighbourhood gatherings – parties, workshops, garden days, potlucks, dinners, food swaps, film screenings, games, anything to get neighbours together and sharing.  See thesharehood.org
  • Organise regular network gatherings of people interested in these ideas to get together and make these things happen.  I organised one of these last year.  Two people met there for the first time, discovered that they are neighbours, and within a week had started a shared garden in one of their front yards.
  • Games.  Get a bunch of people together to play games.  This could be incorporated into many of the above projects.  Let’s start a tradition that any meeting, lecture, workshop, or party starts with a game.
  • Start a business called The Garden Party.  Design a garden and organise the party to create it.  Instead of just standing around, drinking wine and chatting at your party, your friends can stand around, drink wine, chat, dig, plant stuff, learn, get inspired, build things, feel useful, and want to come and visit you again to see how your garden is going.  And I would get to go to lots of parties.  I reckon councils and health services and agencies that concern themselves with the state of health and social isolation in low-income neighbourhoods would put funding towards this.  It could happen in backyards, front yards, schools, kindys, parks, street verges.
  • Train school staff to start and manage school gardens.
  • Teach classes and workshops about all kinds of things.  Living without money, food growing, permaculture design, nonviolent communication, community economies, facilitation, participatory planning, creative thinking, transition, community and school gardens, food fermentation, appropriate technology, urban water cycle, compost, keeping chickens, gleaning, economics.
  • Make a Garden Design Guide for the Adelaide plains.  The basics of creating a productive home ecosystem, presented almost entirely in pictures, so hardly any reading required.  It could cover fruit trees, vegie patches, compost, worm farms, chickens, irrigation, ponds, forest gardening, building community, sharing with neighbours.

Food Security: Mission Impossible

This article is a work-in-progress, still being researched and developed.  Feedback is welcome.  Feel free to leave a comment.

To achieve food security for everyone on the planet is an impossible goal, and any efforts in this direction will have the opposite effect, making the situation worse.

A lesson in population dynamics, Ecology 101.  The population of any species will increase as the food available to it increases.  As the food available decreases, the population decreases.  This means that a proportion of individuals in this population experiences a lack of food, and starve to death.

In terms of the current situation of human population and food availability: the more we try to provide enough food for everyone – the more food we make available – the more the population grows, and the more food is required to feed everyone.  Food security is a paradox.  Starvation is inevitable.

I recently read Nothing to Envy, by Barbara Demick.  It is a true story of living in famine conditions in North Korea in the 1990s.  It includes accounts of people experiencing starvation, and seeing people around them starve to death.

A kindergarten teacher sees her students arrive each day in a weaker state than the last, until they can’t lift their heads from the table.  After a few weeks they stop coming altogether.  She can’t bring herself to ask their parents what has happened.  She knows that they have died.  Her family has access to food through the black market, but to share with her students would be her own death.

A family spends a whole day to get to the countryside where there are pear orchards they might be able to raid, as there is no food available in the city.  So many people have come before them that they find only one pear, partly rotten.  They take it home and divide the edible part between them.

A woman sells what she can on the black market to buy food for her family.  It is not enough for them all, and over the course of a few months she sees her husband, her mother-in-law and her son die in the house.

Between 1994 and 1998, up to 3.5 million died of starvation in North Korea.

During the 1930s Depression, five thousand people died of starvation in Melbourne, Australia.  There are a lot more of us now, and the situation we are facing is a lot larger than an economic downturn.  We’re also a lot less prepared to deal with it.

A few of the issues facing the world food system:

  • Collapse of aquifers.  Once underground water has been extracted to the point that an aquifer is empty, it collapses and can never be restored.  A large percentage of global agriculture is currently dependent on harvesting water from aquifers at a faster rate than can be replenished.
  • Peak oil.
  • Peak nutrients.
  • Land availability.  Land grabs by corporations and governments, meaning farmland is not available to small-scale farmers.
  • Land degradation.  Soil loss and erosion.  Land is becoming less viable for farming.
  • Climate change.
  • Climate chaos: extreme weather events causing crop losses.
  • Decreased pest resistance in crops that are grown in industrial monocultures.
  • Collapse of honeybee populations.  Honeybees are essential to pollinate almost all food plants.
  • Corporate control of food production and distribution systems.
  • Large-scale, centralised food system vulnerable to shocks and interruptions.
  • Loss of diversity of food plants and animals.
  • Loss of skills in food production, preserving and preparation.
  • No new farmers.  Existing farmers are aging, and very few of the next generation are taking up farming as a career.
  • Urban sprawl taking over valuable farmland.
  • Exponential population growth, requiring an ever-increasing amount of food to be produced to feed everyone -> more land to be given over to farmland -> loss of wilderness areas -> climate change, species loss and loss of soil fertility -> existing farmland becomes less viable.
  • Waste.  Around half of all food produced is wasted.
  • Lack of awareness of these issues in the general population.

Any one of these issues on its own can cause a food crisis.  All of them together, and all of them becoming increasingly present, seem unlikely to be understood and overcome in time to prevent a global famine on a massive scale.

I’ve listed 18 separate issues here, all are interconnected.  Most current approaches to these issues address them separately, and actions taken often have disastrous effects elsewhere, leading us further along the path of collapse.

Conclusion:  Enjoy the food you have.  It won’t last long.

Thoughts on being hopeful, positive and in denial:

Any actions taken can only have a tiny impact, given the scale of the situation.

The most general definition of food security is “there is enough for everyone to eat.”  The term food insecurity is occasionally mentioned, but I’ve never heard any acknowledgement that this means “there is not enough for everyone to eat, so some people starve.”

I feel that we are better placed to address these issues if we understand and accept what we are facing.

This article brings together the ideas presented in two books that I am partway through reading: The Coming Famine by Julian Cribb, and If They Give You Lined Paper, Write Sideways, by Daniel Quinn.  And another one that I finished reading, called Nothing to Envy, by Barbara Demick.

Grow food.

From the zine How to have an amazingly adventurous life for zero dollars a day.

Growing your food gives you a sense of harmony with nature.  You become a part of the life cycle, planting seeds, nurturing plants, eating your own produce and saving seeds so the process can continue.  Your work yields tangible results, and you can be creative and learn as you go.  Your food is right there by the back door, there’s no need to go out for food.  You have access to a wide range of foods that aren’t available in shops.  There’s no infrastructure required.  Anyone can do it.

You don’t need to buy anything to grow food.  Everything you need is produced freely by nature, just look around.

Seeds.

collect from plants growing in friends and neighbours’ gardens, or around the neighbourhood.  Plants that grow well nearby are adapted to local conditions, so their seed will do better than from plants far away.  Plants give seeds away for free, and they really like it when you take some to plant somewhere else.  Local Seedsavers groups share seeds from each others’ gardens, and organise seed swap events.  If you come across a particularly tasty piece of fruit, grab a seed out and stick it in the ground somewhere.  Quite often it will germinate and you’ll have lovely shady tree and fruit for many years to come.  The Seed Savers’ Handbook by Michel and Jude Fanton has everything you need to know about harvesting, treating, storing and germinating seed from a large range of food plants.

Plants.

Lots of plants grow from cuttings.  Just cut of a small branch, remove all the leaves apart from 3-5 at the top, and stick it in a cup of water for a few weeks until it produces a few roots, then stick it in the ground.

Other sources of plants: many fruit trees produce suckers from their roots, which can be dug up and replanted elsewhere.  Seedlings sprout up from under plants that have gone to seed, and can be transplanted.  Garden centres and nurseries may be prepared to give away plants that have outgrown their pots, and I’ve found punnets of seedlings in dumpsters.

Mulch and compost.

All plant and animal material can be composted.  Composting prevents valuable nutrients from going to landfill where they produce polluting methane gas, it creates amazing organic fertiliser, and connects you with the vital process of dead matter becoming new life.  Here’s a recipe: collect animal carcasses and manures, weeds, prunings, food scraps, lawn clippings and your own urine, mix together into a pile about a metre high, add water so it’s damp but not soaking, cover and leave for a couple of weeks.  Spread it around your garden beds, and add a bit when planting new seedlings and trees.  By doing this you are literally saving the earth.

The recipe can be adapted to whatever is around you, the more diversity the better.  When I was living in the desert the only organic matter available was roadkill kangaroos (lots of them), horse manure from the racecourse, and lawn clippings from the school oval.  At a house in the suburbs with very little garden, the compost was food scraps, seaweed and long grass that I had raked up from along the railway line, and brought home in my bike panniers.  That one needed lots of pee to get it going.  Animal manures definitely improve a compost.

Apartment dwellers can use bokashi composting or worm farms, which are both effective if the only organic matter you have is food scraps.  The resulting fertiliser can be given to a friend with a garden, who will thank you for it.

Mulch can be found wherever long grass is cut: roadsides, railway reserves, parks, empty blocks. Neighbours can give you lawn clippings and weeds.  Extra food scraps can be gathered from produce markets at closing time, fruit and veg shops, and supermarket dumpsters.

Animal manures: dog and cat manures are not recommended for compost that’s destined for a vegie garden, as they contain pathogens that can spread disease.  See composting toilet page for a way to recycle these manures.  Other manures can be found, well, wherever there are animals.  Racecourses, stables, shearing sheds, dairy farms, chicken farms.  In an urban setting, gather from pet animals such as rabbits and birds, and pigeon manure builds up under bridges.  Carcasses of birds, mice, and fish can be thrown in, as can meat scraps.

Potting mix is nothing more than sand and compost mixed together.  It’s really easy to make it yourself.

Tools are sometimes in hard rubbish, but they tend to be broken.  Some can be easily repaired, or might just need cleaning and sharpening.  Good quality tools are so much better than bad ones, so this is one thing that might be worth buying.  Secondhand tools are often at flea markets, salvage yards, garage sales and rural auctions.  Borrowing makes the most sense for tools that you use infrequently.  A small garden really only needs a hand trowel, secateurs and a bucket once it is established.  A shovel, rake and fork might be useful to build garden beds initially, depending on the condition of the site.  Being on good terms with the neighbours can lead to a tool-sharing arrangement, in which everyone has a small number of tools that everyone involved can make use of, so between the group there is a wide range of tools available.

Planting containers. Plastic pots are easy to find – look around or ask around.  Seedling trays are thrown out by nurseries, just ask and they’ll give them to you.  Other options are polystyrene boxes from fruit and veg shops, recycling crates that have been superseded by wheelie bins, bathtubs, and clam shells (the big green plastic ones that are in almost every backyard serving no useful purpose).  If you want to get creative try old boots, handbags, baskets, coconuts…

Land. You don’t need a big block of land to grow your own.  Food can be grown in pots on the windowsill, and sprouts in a jar on the dishrack.  If you’re after a bit more space, here’s a few options.

Share a backyard with a neighbour.  The design of our suburbs creates the problem for many people of a large block of land that they don’t have any use for, and it becomes a chore to maintain.  Lots of people would love to have someone else make use of their backyard space.

Community gardens. Have your own plot, meet other local people, and learn about all kinds of things.  Share your produce, your skills, your tools, and your day while building a self-reliant community.

Guerrilla gardening. Plenty of public space is unused – parks, verges, railway corridors, roadsides and those spaces that no-one ever notices.  Add some fruit trees, perennial vegetables and herbs that are adapted to the conditions, and let them grow to provide food for everyone.

Guerrilla grafting. There are plenty of ornamental trees around that are similar to fruit-bearing trees, and can be grafted onto.

Forest garden design. If we observe patterns in nature, and learn how a native forest functions, we can apply these patterns to the design of a food garden.  No work needs to be done to maintain a forest, as all the natural systems interact in a way that makes the whole thing self-maintaining.  If we choose food-producing plants that are suited to the climate, and design them into a forest ecosystem, we can create a garden that needs minimal human intervention, and can keep producing food for us for years to come.

Ferment.

From the zine How to have an amazingly adventurous life for zero dollars a day.

There are plenty of ways to keep food for longer than a few days that don’t involve refrigeration or chemical preservatives.  Ferments, drying and bottling can be done at home.  Preserving makes food accessible out of season, and saves gluts from going to waste.

Fermenting is a way to make food more nutritious by adding live cultures that are beneficial to our internal ecology.  Fermented food also keeps for a long time without needing refrigeration.  Did you know that your food is digested not by your own body, but by the 2 kilograms of bacteria that live in your gut?  This is why it is important to eat a range of fermented foods after taking a course of antibiotics, as the drugs have killed off all the bacteria, which needs to be returned to a healthy balance so you can assimilate nutrients from food.

Fermented foods include miso, tempeh, sourdough bread, yoghurt, cheese, sauerkraut, soy sauce, vinegar, wine, beer and cider.  All of these things can be made at home fairly easily.  For more about fermented foods, check out Bill Mollison’s The Permaculture Book of Ferment and Human Nutrition, and Wild Fermentation by Sandor Ellix Katz.

An easy way to keep fruit for months is to dry it.  Dried fruit is sweeter, and easier to carry around than fresh fruit.  It’s great for cycling and walking, I always keep some in my bag to snack on.  A lot more tasty and nutritious than lollies, and all for free of course.  In Adelaide summers leaving sliced fruit out in the sun for a few days is all it takes.  Placing them under a sheet of glass speeds up the process.  In other seasons a solar or electric food dryer is necessary.  A solar dryer can be made at home, it’s a bit of work but worth the effort.  Any fruits or vegetables can be dried.  This is a simple way to deal with the summer glut of apricots, peaches, apples, and tomatoes, and the large quantities of bananas that find their way into dumpsters and then into my kitchen.

Pickles, jams, sauces and chutneys take a bit more effort, and generally require salt or sugar to preserve them.  Making grapes into wine, and apples into cider, can become a great party with a bunch of people working together on it, and of course leads to another party a little later to enjoy the results.