It’s with a sad heart that I will go to this week’s farmers’ market. After nearly four years, at two different markets, selling pork, sometimes lamb, sometimes beef, sometimes felafel, it may be the last under Rare Food’s current incarnation. Not that Ross and I have a sign to promote our brand on the tent. Or any kind of decent attempt at a good-looking stall. But we have built up our business to the point where it’s reasonably busy, and we sell a lot of our beloved pigs directly to the punters, albeit in the shape of ham, or rillettes, or bacon.
Problem is, both of us are busy with other projects. Both of us have farms to run, a toddler to wrangle, families to foster, and bigger ideas to pursue. And we live a good two hours and a body of water away from each other, which makes transferring the market kit, or the market produce, somewhat fraught. Ross has the commercial kitchen and appropriate licenses. I have easier access to Hobart. Our pork is stored two minutes from my place, and a long way from Ross.
I was going to have a bit of a rant about produce this week, about the need for growers to give direct selling a crack. About the desire for consumers to look their producers in the eye. About the synergy that is created between those who nurture produce from the soil, and those that would like to eat that produce. Also, what that produce means to those who buy it – in terms of its cultural, ecological and nutritional importance, and the only way it will continue to be produced by small growers is if there’s someone there to buy it.
And then I read, finally, after an inexcusably long period since its publication, In Defence of Food, by acclaimed US author Michael Pollan, and found so much of what I’ve been thinking had already been put into print. Albeit in the guise of nutritional advice (or, rather, the advice to ignore nutritional advice).
It did put one of our market responsibilities into context. One of the bugbears of small producers is the impost of the system. In my case, it’s a food labelling system that has been foisted upon us because of the shonks out there. The charlatans and industrialists who have taken what should be food, and put all sorts of non-food-sounding things in it. Like emulsifiers. And preservatives. And soy isolates. The labelling laws exist because food isn’t food anymore; rather a place for industrial chemicals, faux food-like substances masquerading as something that came from the land, from a bakery, from a cow.
If I sell you a product at a market, say I make six wild rabbit pies, I not only have to tell you the ingredients, but also construct a nutritional panel from the same. Even if I never make those pies again. And even though a nutritional panel of those pies will not actually represent the true nutrients in the pie, and certainly it won’t represent the nutrients that are available to you as the eater of the pie. That’s because to come up with a nutritional panel, I use a (Federally funded) web page that doesn’t recognise the inherent difference between wild rabbit (that eats leafy greens and hence has lots of novel things in its body, like those very trendy omega-3 fats) and a caged (ie farmed) rabbit that has a completely different profile. It also doesn’t recognise that people from different genetic backgrounds, and individuals from within the one family, absorb nutrients differently. Add in the fact that nutrients interact one with another, and with other things in the diet, and a nutritional panel for a batch of six one-off pies is a fiction. That’s just rabbits. Try comparing my fat, free-range, green-leaf-eating pigs with the confinement animals that the government-provided internet link presumably uses as its “pork” in the ingredient list, and even the levels of macronutrients (fat, carbohydrate, protein) are hopelessly inadequate. That’s before you even get to the nutritionally dubious distinction between saturated fat and polyunsaturated fat.
Anyway, I won’t go into a rant, because I don’t want to be a target when I come back to the market. And come back I will; be it in a month, three months or a year, because I love to sell direct to the people who will buy my produce. To see the faces and share stories with those who are the final destination of things I have helped bring onto the plate. And I hope they like buying off the person who creates sustenance from sunlight, dirt and air.