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If you don’t know where your food comes from, should you be eating it?

Think you’ve got what it takes to be the winner of the 2018 Eat Out Woolworths Sustainability Award? Enter now

The more we know about where our food comes from, the better. The first-ever Eat Out Sustainability workshop allowed us to delve into what’s happening in the industry – where we discovered some bad news but also some very good. Attendees gained insight from Sonia Mountford of Eategrity, Pavs Pillay of WWF-SASSI and Karen Welter of the Longtable Project, as well some key farmers doing great work in the industry. Below we break down the five most important things we learnt.

1. Without soil health we don’t have human health

We have to keep feeding soil to make sure that what’s grown from it is healthy. Angus McIntosh, a leader in biodynamic farming practices, said that there are only really two types of farmers: regenerative and destructive. “The easiest way to determine whether farming practices are sustainable is whether that farmer is building carbon in the soil or not,” said Angus. Jason Carrol, cattle manager at Boschendal farm, shared that they’d re-allocated a plot of land that had been a vineyard for 25 years, sending a herd of 200 animals through it every 48 days instead. The manure and munching on the grass resulted in a significant hike in the soil quality.

A thriving greenhouse is everyone's dream.

Thriving greenhouse = the stuff of dreams. Photo by www.zanda.photography on Unsplash.

2. Eggs are a big deal

In South Africa, 96% of laying hens are in caged production. This seems unlikely to change any time soon, as consumers keep the demand high and regulatory bodies don’t have the will to change. “This would seem to be an industry in denial,” says Sonia sadly.

eggs

Happy hens make for some ultimately very happy humans. Photo by Joseph Gonzalez on Unsplash.

3. Healthy animals = healthy humans

The way we produce livestock can be detrimental to human health. For example, pasture-reared eggs contain more vitamin D, while eggs from caged birds have higher numbers of pathogens. “Our pork looks more like beef; the meat is so dark thanks to all the vitamin D they’re getting from spending so much time outside,” Angus shared, referring to the livestock he rears at Spier. The vast majority of livestock antibiotics are used on healthy animals to promote growth or prevent diseases spreading in crowded and unsanitary spaces. However, Jason pointed out that cows are actually their own doctors. They know when they’re sick and what they may need to make themselves better.

4. The proof is in the pudding

If you’ve ever eaten proper free-range meat or tasted a tomato in season right from the source, you’ll know the difference. Pierre Winshaw from Usana Farm sells eggs from pasture-reared hens that roam freely and eat a natural diet of bugs and grass. At night, they find shelter in egg-mobiles that are moved around the farm on a daily basis. This is typical of the practices these farmers are trying to implement – working with nature to create a better product. He says that feedback from the chefs they supply keeps them going: “So many chefs have raved about the difference that our eggs make in their food – it’s gratifying to see what a dessert looks like made with our eggs, versus one made with mass-produced eggs.”

pudding

And we do love pudding… Photo by Brina Blum on Unsplash.

5. Aqua culture is not a fix-all solution

Yes, prawns are orange-listed but if they’re farmed then they’re fine, right? Wrong. Or rather, not always right. Pavs says that farming seafood can have negative consequences. One such consequence is antibiotics for mass-dependent parasites (which are prevalent when many fish are in small spaces) getting into the water ecosystem. Another is genetically inferior farmed fish escaping into the seas during storms and breeding with wild species, ultimately weakening them. There’s also the concern that plastic microfibres from ropes are getting into the digestive systems of farmed mussels and, eventually, humans. Also, says Pavs, “if it takes [an average of] 4kg of wild fish to produce 1kg of farmed fish, are we really helping with overfishing?”

Do you own an environmentally conscious restaurant? Sonia says it best: “While there can be only one winner, if we work together we can create a change; a movement.” If you want to be that winner of the Eat Out Woolworths Sustainability Award at the Eat Out Mercedes-Benz Restaurant Awards in November, then click here to download the entry form. Click here to read more about the criteria. The closing date for entries is 14 September 2018.

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