Monday, January 25, 2010

From Gate to Plate - 'fresh' fruit and veggies in NL

The other day I was passing the time voyeuristically viewing my facebook home page and I came across this picture. The photo was taken outside a restaurant in Albany, Western Australia and rather than your typical menu and price list, it lists the food products used in their meals and the distance travelled to get the food from the gate of the producer to the plate in their restaurant.

Now firstly, I’ve gotta say, I love it. It’s fantastic marketing to start with. I would eat there in a minute! I would feel so smug knowing the produce is both fresh and local, and hasn’t been sitting in a distribution centre in BFI for weeks before being shipped across the country or the world before it finally gets served up in the restaurant.

I also like the idea of supporting the local community. In a region as abundant as the south west of WA it is both a viable and marketable business proposition.

I think it is cool this restaurant (I don't even know it's name, it might be prudent for them to insert restaurant name on top of produce list) doesn't promote the prices of their dishes. Who cares if you are paying a few bucks more to salve your environmental conscience? (This maybe delusional given you probably don’t live in Albany and had to drive/fly there in the first place). But having eaten at this restaurant (which I just know in my intuitive heart of hearts is delicious), you could walk out satiated and feeling proud of yourself, imagining you are leaving behind only a light foot print on the planet.

This photo has got me thinking... I’ve been banging on to my Dutch partner ever since I landed in the Netherlands (in a not so environmental jumbo jet), about where the fruit and veggies that we now buy come from.

I have learned there are still products coming out of Zimbabwe, (I thought the land had been divided up into unviable small land holdings). I have bought snow peas, sugar snaps and beans, labelled as Zimbabwe, Egypt and Madagascar, (they all come in the same packaging, does a distributor buy bulk and package up or is it BS?). A quick and possibly dodgy calculation shows the distance between the Netherlands and Zimbabwe as 5500km, now that’s a hell of a long way for my snow peas to get from the gate to my plate.

It has been exciting (small things) to learn Kiwi fruit manage to make it across the oceans from the land of the long white cloud to the land of cheese and clogs. Well you see they are Zespri Kiwis and my friend works there in Tauranga in New Zealand.

I was blown away that the bananas come from Brazil, now that seems like a long way away (it’s a shame all I learnt in Geography was about cumulonimbus clouds). A quick consult of google maps it is another 5500km (is that a coicidence or did I not clear my earlier caclulation) from the gate in Brazil to my daughter's banana eating hand in the Netherlands (personally haven't been a fan of bananas since eating too many as a child and spewing on mum and dad's bedroom floor - sorry, too much info I know).

The oranges come from Spain, god love em, they are delicious! At least they aren’t from California (I have an inherited prejudice of Californian oranges which are imported to Oz even though there are also grown in Mildura).

What has surprised me most is it is just not the supermarkets importing 'fresh' food. At my friendly Saturday morning market in Delft (which is clearly more commerical than farmer's market), the ‘fresh’ fruit and veg also includes food that is imported.

So anyway, I suppose you are wondering what my point is about all of this? No, well I sure am, let me think…

Well, if it was up to the Dutch to consume Dutch produce that was only grown in their local region, they would end up only eating potatoes and boerenkool (kale – farmers cabbage), which I must say is a delicious dish to have, but could easily be limited to consumption once every three months.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

It snowed... It snowed...

Okay, I was warned it would be cold when I came to the Netherlands, but I had no idea it would snow. As an Australian in the Netherlands my previous experiences of snow have been on top of a mountain with a couple of planks strapped to my feet. Snow to me has been something that is accessed only after a five hour drive finishing with an impossibly steep and windy mountain road, and a good dose of car sickness. I don't think of walking out the back door of my house onto snow. That has happened maybe once in my life, and in retrospect maybe it was drawing a very long bow to say it was snow, it was more like ice passed off as snow. As a five year old, and with no other perspective I was happy to believe it was snow.

In a former life, I dreamt of living in the snow. My wild imagination had me living in Canada or Austria, swishing my way down never ending ski slopes, covered with fresh powder and lined with trees on each side. I fantasised about Apres Skiing, of cute boys, of dancing all night and skiing all day. I was committed to do a season, to give it a go, to improve my skiing ability and to see the world. So that life didn't go further than my imagination, but I was very surprised when three weeks ago or so, I ended up living in the snow.

The first night I scoffed at the predictions, yeah right, sure it will snow. But at 4am in the morning when the magical flakes were coming down, I woke my partner to share my delight. He was enthusiastic, and even managed to get out of bed and have a look, but it wasn't long before he was sucking back some Z's, while I was jumping out of my skin, unable to wait till the morning to check it out. I even dreamed the snow had all melted by the time I awoke, but in reality it hadn't, I arose to a winter wonderland.

It wasn't just one day of snow, as those living here in the Netherlands know. After our first really big dump of snow (about 15cm) my partner and I put the sleeping lamb in the cot, rugged up the little lion, and went out to play in the snow. We ended up with two kids on the lounge room floor watching baby TV, while we, the parents, played in the snow and upgraded frosty the snowman from a metre high version, to a double balled two metre high snowman who sat in the back yard proud as punch with his new girlfriend. For a week, neighbours would look into my house and smile, and I would think, what they find my messy, toy covered floor sweet? And then I would remember frosty and the missus peeking through the windows like a pair of old perves.

2009 the year of the lamb's first Christmas, was the lion, the lamb and my first white Christmas too. What a delight! At new year the snow came again, and we got to see in 2010 among fireworks and snow.

The other day, I sat mesmirised while in the space of an hour our place went from covered in crusty ice, to wonderful white. I shook my head as I navigated the red kinderwagon through the snow to pick up the lion from school as I just couldn't believe that I was walking through the snow as part of my daily life, I imagined telling the lion in years to come, when we lived in Holland when you were a girl, I walked through the snow to collect you (insert halo here).

So while I'm still very smitten with the snow, it isn't all schnapps and yagerbombs. Doing a week's shop, is not so possible in the snow. I've grown muscles on my muscles lugging two kids to the doctor's through fresh snow. Our trip to Berlin was postponed due to snow. The snow melts and becomes ice, and like every other person I slip and slide as I get around in the snow. Today we even had a rollover with the red kinderwagon, and to this mother's terror, my precious lion and lamb also hit the ground, luckily we came off OK. The snow has been the cause for much of my recent pleasure and today has been the catalyst for a meltdown about how hard it can be to live in the snow.

The snow is always whiter :-).