Food has been getting political in our house recently. It started when our 7 year old son took his distress at seeing images of homeless and terrified Orangutans in Indonesian forests and decided to make our household palm oil free. This has been no simple task. An incredible 10% of supermarket products contain this cheap oil, demand for which is driving the destruction of Orangutan habitat in south east Asia and bringing this dear creature to the very edge of extinction. These products include the usual suspects – most processed snack foods from lollies to dry biscuits contain palm oil and the kids have quite happily banned all their favourite treat foods. Some are more surprising, such as the bulk of peanut butters in which the high value peanut oil is extracted and replaced with the cheaper palm oil. And good luck finding supermarket toothpastes, soaps and moisturisers without this ingredient.
My childrens’ dedication inspired to me to dig out the Ethical Supermarket Shopping book that Santa gave me for Christmas. Its a challenging read. The booklet notes boycott calls on Nestle, whose aggressive marketing of baby formula in the third world has been linked to infants deaths, a fact which has not gone un-noticed by the World Health Organisation. Then there is their child labour and workers rights records. Coca-Cola Amatil? Murder, kidnapping and torture of union leaders at their Colombian plants. Groundwater and soil pollution and exposure to toxic waste in India. L’Oreal and Proctor and Gamble continue inhumane and lethal animal experimentation. Even more unhappily, L’Oreal is 26% owned by Nestle and now owns the Body Shop. Major criticisms also for Kelloggs, Kraft, Mars, PepsiCo, Revlon and a host of others.
My initial revisiting of this booklet was paralysing. How can you make ethical choices when so much of what we find on Supermarket shelves contributes to pollution, slavery, environmental vandalism and more? I imagined that we would have to slowly compile a list of things its OK to buy, as the list of unethical items was just too huge. Then it dawned on me: there is a very clear correlation between what is good for your body and what is good for the environment and global community we all call home. The take home message is that cheap, processed foods with long ingredient lists are just not good for anybody.
I don’t really like to preach, but sometimes it seems necessary and no matter how you look at it comes down to this: inserting soft drinks and chips and bottled sauces and chocolate bars into your body is bad for you. We all know this. It gives you cancer and diabetes and it makes you fat and it inflames your arteries and slowly poisons you. If you’re a parent, it models this to your children, and as surely as drinking and drugs you are teaching them to be sick. Now lots of people seem to like to revel in this kind of behavior these days: It’s the food version of the general rolling around in its own abundance that the Western world likes to do. Whilst you could argue that it might be OK to do this kind of thing to yourself, I wonder how many people stop to consider the impact their choices are having on other people. When you buy a bottle of coke, you are essentially casting a vote for Coca Cola Amatil and saying “my desire for this product right now is more important than access to clean drinking water for people in India”. So it’s pretty simple – every single time you make a choice about what to put in your mouth you are casting a vote about what is acceptable behaviour in the arena of food politics.
After much agonising over ingredient lists and endless internet research, I came to the following conclusion: if its healthy for me, odds are its OK for everyone else. It’s not a perfect match I know and granted my “healthy” standard is probably set higher than it needs to be but its a start. Fruit and veg, mostly organic and / or local, ethically sourced meat, whole foods, simple fats, small producers, minimal packaging. So we’re stumbling along, my family and I, very imperfectly trying to change our food habits. The best thing is, though, that we’re having a a whole heap of fun doing it. The kids are profoundly inspired by their ability to take positive action – all they have to do is not choose the pizza shapes. Today we made toasted museli (because Uncle Tobys isn’t all that great either and the cereal munchers in the household are struggling for an alternative). The kids loved it – stirring big bowls of organic oats with cold extracted honey from small producer at the St Andrews market, fragrant with cranberries and mixed peel and vanilla. They know its story, they know why we’re eating it. Its real, its delicious and it minimises harm.
Cranberry and orange museli
The only part of this recipe you need to stick to is the oats, honey and oil and the method. Otherwise, its all about the flavours you personally like.
- 500gm rolled oats
- 1/2 cup dried cranberries
- 1/2 cup mixed peel
- 1/2 cup shredded coconut
- 1/2 cup slivered almonds
- 1/4 cup canola oil
- 1/2 cup honey
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Preheat the oven to 160 celcius. Mix all the dry ingredients together in a large bowl. Heat the honey and oil to make the honey liquid. Add the vanilla extract to the honey and oil. Stir the combined liquids through the dry ingredients until well mixed. Cover a couple of baking trays with baking paper and spread the museli mix across the two trays in a thin layer. Place in the oven and cook for about half an hour until golden. You will need to stir it regularly to stop it from burning. Remove from oven and allow to cool completely before storing in an airtight container.