The new breed of food consumer

Earlier this year, peak farming bodies voiced their alarm that a shocking 75 per cent of year six students believe cotton socks are an animal product and others think yoghurt grows on trees.

Just under half of the 300 surveyed did not know bananas, bread and cheese came from farms, leading the Australia Council of Educational Research, which conducted the study, to express its concern about the findings, which prove there is a huge disconnect between farmers and consumers.

Other industry groups are calling for more education about modern farming practices, to provide transparency and build trust of Australian products.

But a new report has identified a new breed of Australian food consumer: the urban ‘food citizen,’ who achieves social superiority by arming themselves with heightened knowledge about ethically and sustainably produced food, as Rachel Sullivan writes for CSIRO Publishing.

As Australia’s two major supermarket chains conduct a noisy price war, a quiet revolution has been taking place.

The past few years have seen the rise of food citizens: urban consumers who actively seek to secure ethically and sustainably produced food and connect with how food is grown and made.

Their interest has led to a rapid proliferation in alternative food sourcing, including farmers’ markets, food co-ops, community gardens and urban orchards, herd shares, neighbourhood cooperatives, fresh produce box schemes, farm gate trails, and informal home-grown produce trading within communities (i.e. food swaps).

The grass roots movement is starting to have an economic impact, with a recent report from the Australian Egg Corporation estimating that backyard chickens now account for nearly 12 per cent of the country’s total annual egg production.

‘We often don’t know the story behind the food we consume, but when you talk to the farmer you have a different perspective on whether something is healthy or not,’ says Nick Ray the founder of Local Harvest, an online hub that helps consumers find local farmers’ markets, community gardens, food swaps, organic and free range producers and community box systems.

‘A sustainable food system relies on us localising at least part of it, and will help make it more resilient to price hikes and potential supply issues associated with fossil fuel and fertiliser shortages.’

Kirsten Larsen from the Victorian Eco-Innovation Lab at the University of Melbourne agrees.

‘As the Queensland floods demonstrated, our current [centralised] food system is vulnerable to disruption, whether that relates to climatic extremes or other interruptions to supply,’ she says.

‘When the central wholesale market in Brisbane went underwater, significant parts of Brisbane’s supply chains were out of action.”

Organisations like Food Connect [see below] were able to quickly respond and adapt to the situation, partially because the diverse base of smaller suppliers were less affected overall by the flooding, but also because its rich social network enabled people to connect and organise food movements through (and to) flooded and cut-off areas.

‘It’s an example of how a more distributed network for food sourcing increases their strength, resilience, flexibility – and therefore security.

Not only do they connect people with farmers, they also increase connections to bigger system change.

To read the full article, click here.