Information about work, life and play in Regional Australia

Monday, October 02, 2006

US Spinach contamination kills one, 187 sick

Did that attract you attention? The story is a serious and frightening one.

According to the US Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (here), spinach affected with E. Colli supplied by one company has so far affected 187 people (other cases have been reported but not confirmed) in 26 US states. The CDC states:

Currently, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is advising consumers to not eat any fresh spinach or salad blends containing spinach grown in the three counties in California implicated in the current E. coli O157:H7 outbreak -- Monterey County, San Benito County, and Santa Clara County. Spinach grown in these counties is often packaged in other areas of the country. If consumers cannot tell where fresh spinach was grown, they are advised not to purchase or consume the fresh spinach. Frozen and canned spinach can be safely eaten.

Spinach has largely vanished from US shops and restaurants.

Australia has high food standards. There is no suggestion that the US experience will be duplicated here. But the case illustrates the problems we all face in identifying where our food has come from.

What has this got to do with Regional Living Australia? Well, the move of people to Regional Australia is in fact part of a global trend in which people are seeking to take back control over their life, to move back to simpler life styles, to change the texture of their life from the homogenised mass produced to the individual and local.

I grew up in a simpler world. I do not wish to go back to that world. I love the diversity and variety offered by modern Australian life. I do not wish to give up Thai food, garlic, the use of chilies in cooking. But I do miss parts of that world.

I miss the taste of fresh milk from the cow just milked by my Uncle. I miss the crisp taste of apples picked straight from from the tree in the early morning, wet with dew and cool from the
night before. I miss the thrill of our childhood fruit raids: we knew where every fruit tree was in the immediate area.

I miss feeding the hens (one of our jobs), the tiny fluffy chickens. I do not miss chopping the bird's head off, but do miss the free range taste later. I miss the taste of the raspberries picked from the vine then mashed up with fesh cream for breakfast. I miss the eggs hidden by the hens that we found and then ate for breakfast. I miss the preserves made by mum and stored in the pantry outside the kitchen door. I would come back from early morning training and open a jar from the fridge, black cherries, apricots, plums.

I miss the yabbies we collected from nearby dams using a tin with holes punched in the bottom and then fresh cooked. I miss the cakes and scones fresh baked. I miss the food cooked on the open fire, the taste of potatoes cooked in the ashes and then eaten, charcoal and all, with lashings of butter. I miss the taste of fresh mushrooms picked from the paddocks.

I miss the mornings when with friends we grabbed our bikes and the dog and cleared out, not to be seen for hours. I miss the cubby houses we built in the strangest places. Most of all, I miss the freedom.

I accept that in this more complex world many of the things we did are no longer possible, especially in the city. Indeed, some are now illegal. But it worries me that we are bringing up generations who have never seen a farm animal, who have never experienced the countryside outside the increasingly controlled world of the school excursion, never lit a fire or grown a plant. Even gardening, once a universal Australian occupation giving everyone some exposure to growing things, has become very much a minority past time.

But it's not all black. Starting in Italy, the slow food movement has spread world wide. Coming out of the US, the local food movement has also spread world wide. In Australia, farmer's markets have spread, while consumers are increasingly demanding that supermarkets identify, at least in broad terms, where food has come from.

One advantage of living in Regional Australia is that it is much easier to identify where your food has come from in that you can identify and select local produce. You do not have to, but the choice is there. Because blocks are bigger even in urban areas, you can also (but only if you wish) grow more of your own. And your children can still access the rural experience.

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