Catch a (brush) turkey for Christmas

Brush turkey for Christmas dinner? – image by She Who Takes Bird Photos, aka Laurel Wilson

The only thing more difficult than taking a photo of a brush turkey is selling the notion of preparing one for a (budget) Christmas lunch. Those of you quick on the uptake will have already registered that Mr FOMM is being ironic. Brush turkeys as you may know are a protected and even endangered species. Besides, they have a “stuff you’ attitude which is refreshing (bok!) And the chicks are cute.

As it happens, turkey is the least popular meat for people laying in provisions for Christmas. The ubiquitous Christmas ham leads the pack by a good margin, along with chicken, then turkey.

Northern hemisphere folk might find this hard to fathom, but rich hot food is not a priority for the Australian Christmas lunch. No, we prefer ham, chicken, prawns, a variety of cold salads and condiments, followed up with fruit salads, ice-cream, custard and yoghurt, all of it more befitting our typical 30+ degree Christmas Day. The diehards do Christmas pudding, but as we all know, it takes a long afternoon nap to sleep it off.

Retailers work hard at this time of year to sell us on the idea of (a) over-eating (b) over-spending and (c) eating food we rarely eat. The latter includes turkey, which has its biggest sales between December 20 and 24. I’m aware turkey is very big in the US and Canada on November 23 (Thanksgiving). According to the University of Illinois, 88% of Americans surveyed by the National Turkey Federation eat turkey on Thanksgiving; 46 million turkeys are eaten each Thanksgiving, 22 million at Christmas and 19 million at Easter

Compare that with Australia, where 3 to 5 million turkeys are killed and sold for meat every year. On average, Australians eat approximately 1kg of turkey per person per year, most of which is consumed during one week at Christmas.

You’ll pay about $110 for an organic turkey, or about $22 a kilo.

You can find loads of information on the Internet about meat consumption, much of it available on animal welfare websites, which point out the factory-like habitat of animals being fattened for consumption. I have a few things to say about that and one is that after being sent on an assignment to one of Queensland’s largest (cattle) feedlots, I went vegetarian for two or three months.

As you may not know, there are 2.1 million Australians (11.2%) who say they are vegetarians (Roy Morgan Research, 2016). Vegans are lumped in with vegetarians, though it’s not the same thing.

If you were curious about what vegos eat at Christmas, musician Emma Nixon says she makes a roast vegie, quinoa and lentil salad.

“It’s good hot or cold. I take the leftovers to Woodford

Another muso, Karen Law, says her family eats fish but is otherwise fully vegan. This year they might throw some salmon on the bbq, plus a lot of salad, bbq sweet potato and kipfler potatoes.

Folk dancers Peter and Linda Scharf favour tofu kebabs, with satay sauce, falafels, bean patties, salads with extra trimmings and dressings. Not to mention plum pudding (no suet) and a couple of glasses of ‘fermented grape juice’.

To spew or not to spew

Meanwhile, non-vegan Aussies are very big on eating prawns at Christmas – 50,000 tonnes were consumed last year at this time. Just so you know, 80% of prawns sold in Australia are imported and it costs about $50 a kilo to buy locally-caught prawns.

As I am one of an indeterminate number of people for whom prawns induce violent chundering*, I cannot explain the appeal. I watch people spending inordinate amounts of time shelling prawns (is that the right term) and it always seems to me there is more to throw out than what makes it into the ice bucket.

One Christmas past we returned from a holiday at the beach to be greeted with an awful smell, which was quickly traced to a full, broken, leaking and putrid wheelie bin on the street outside our house. Someone had waited until our (clean) bin was collected and replaced it with their munted* bin full of prawn waste. Eeuuw, people!

Full credit to Brisbane City Council waste management who (a) picked up the offending bin within 24 hours and (b) replaced it with a brand-new bin.

But I digress (yet again)

We are a wealthy country with relatively high disposable income, low-ish unemployment and a reputation for spending more than we earn.

Australian Retailer Association executive director Russell Zimmerman told SBS News last year that food and drink accounts for 40% per cent of the total Christmas spend.

The Pork Producers of Australia said that in the four weeks leading up to Christmas, 8.4 million kilos of ham was sold in 2015 and about the same in 2016. In terms of traditional bone-in hams, it was about 4.3 million kilograms in 2015 and 4.6 million kilograms in 2016 – an increase of 7.6%.

Our local research found that the price of Christmas hams can range from as little as $7 a kilo in discount supermarkets to $18 a kilo for organic and/or free range ham bought from a butcher. A premium boneless leg of ham could cost you upwards of $30 a kilo.

That seems cheap when you read about Spain’s jamon imberico, the truffle of the pork world. A 7.5 kg leg can cost between $A180 and $A720. Iberian ham comes from blackfoot pigs, raised on pasture planted with oak trees. According to my favourite source (The Guardian Weekly), the demand for Iberian ham in China is such that the escalating price is denying humble Spaniards their once-a-year treat.

Just so you know what you’re eating, all fresh pork sold in Australia is 100% Australian grown. However, approximately two thirds of processed pork (ham, bacon and smallgoods products) is made from frozen boneless pork imported from places like Denmark, the Netherlands, Canada and the United States.

According to an international study by Caterwings, Australians chew their way through 111.5 kilograms of meat per year, per person. (Someone’s eating our share). This data probably does not take into account the 11.2% of Australians who are vegetarians and vegans, the 604,000 Muslims as well as those of the Jewish faith who do not eat pork; or the unknown number of people who have developed a mammalian meat allergy by exposure to ticks (more on that topic next week).

If you can’t afford $90 or so for a leg of ham, I have a suggestion. There are these prehistoric-looking birds that roam around the scrub. They are notorious for scratching up people’s vegie gardens and using leaf litter and mulch to make huge mounds, inside which they lay their eggs. Yes, they are protected and indeed endangered (the chicks are left to fend for themselves as soon as they can walk around). But who’s to know if you knock one off, pluck and gut it, stuff it and cook for 17 or 18 hours or until tender? Don’t forget the basil.

Just don’t throw the waste and left-over meat in the wheelie bin and forget to put the bin out. That would be unneighbourly.

*Munted – Kiwi for ‘damaged or unusable.’

*chundering – Oz for vomiting

Christmas 2016

Not keen on quinoa

(Ord River irrigation scheme photo by Laurel Wilson)

I have a couple of issues with the alternative health world’s high-protein saviour, quinoa (pronounced keen-wah). There was the time we were travelling around Australia and got invited to lunch by vegan friends.

Some 12 hours later came a coincidental 24-hour bug, where I woke at 2am immediately looking for a bucket; the kind of ‘lurgy’ you pick up from feral roadside dunnies. So yes, the taste, smell and texture of quinoa still causes an initial revulsion, much like when you’ve been spreading horse poo around the fruit trees and no matter how many times you wash your hands, you can still smell it.

Don’t get me wrong, I can eat quinoa – it goes well in salads, as it tends to fall to the bottom so you can leave the little seeds if you can’t scoop them up with a fork. Quinoa is a high-protein pseudo-grain popular with people who suffer from coeliac disease or those diagnosed as gluten intolerant (two different ailments would you believe?) Quinoa, which used to be exclusively grown in the Peruvian Andes, is now being grown, experimentally or not, in at least 10 different countries, including Australia.

Quinoa is variously described as fluffy, creamy and slightly crunchy, a substitute for rice and other cereals. A grain-like crop with edible seeds, it belongs to the spinach and beetroot family.

All kinds of people eat quinoa (and other grain substitutes like amaranth), including vegetarians, vegans, those who have issues with gluten and of course ladies who lunch and want to be with the in-crowd.

Here lies the second issue with quinoa – its consumption by people who don’t have a genuine health reason for eating it. Popularity in the west has led to a quadrupling of price, making it scarce and expensive for the Peruvians and Bolivians who have grown up using it as a staple.

Quinoa has caught the attention of commodity brokers, as per a report produced in 2015 by NAB’s agri-business economist Phin Ziebell highlighting it as an ‘emerging commodity’.

Prices in Bolivia and Peru sat around 45 to 50 cents per kilogram through the 1990s but a surge in global consumption from 2008 onwards pushed the price as high as $US6.50/kg in 2015.

As is the way with commodities, there is a supply and demand cycle. By early 2015 the price had dropped to $3.40/kg.

Our local co-op sells organic white quinoa for $12.95 a kilo and the organic red version at $20.95 per kilo. That might seem like some kind of mark-up, but you have to factor in the cost of growing, harvesting, refining, storing and exporting, not to mention meeting the export market’s GF criteria.

Quinoa marketing and business consultancy Mercadero says falling prices are having an impact on the fledgling grower markets. At the beginning of 2015, wholesale prices above US$5,000 per US ton ($5.51/kg) were common. In the last quarter of 2015, import prices of organic white quinoa fell to about US$2,300 per US ton ($2.53/kg), while conventional quinoa was sold at US$2,000 per US ton ($2.20/kg) or less.

While this is bad news for new producers, Mercadero says consumers have not yet benefited much from the lower trade prices. “…when they trickle down, the superfood will become much more affordable, spurring further market growth.”

So are we growing it here?

Last year the EC imported 20,362 tons from Peru, Ecuador and Bolivia, while European growers produced 7,000 tons, the majority grown in France. While the world in general relies heavily on the South American markets, quinoa is also being grown in the US and Canada.

Ziebell notes in his NAB commodities report that in Australia, planting has been concentrated in Western Australia and to a lesser extent Tasmania. In Western Australia, trials have centred on Narrogin in the central WA wheat belt and Kununurra in the Ord River irrigation area.  Now there’s a surprise; when we were travelling in the Ord River region in 2014 it seemed every second tree in the irrigation zone was sandalwood, grown for its use in the perfume and incense industries.

Ziebell says cultivation of quinoa is at a trial stage only in Australia. Problems include weed control, poor tolerance of water-logging, a highly variable yield and a lack of transport and marketing arrangements.

Quinoa is traditionally harvested by hand in South America, but the highly mechanised Australian model could cause problems in the future. Ziebell says the shared use of headers and silos used for wheat may cause cross-contamination and pose gluten free certification problems.

So why don’t we get a tax break?

She Who Eschews Gluten on Suspicion (more rational than that- Ed. aka SWEG)  has two cousins in Canada thus afflicted. One cousin was peeved to find he was not eligible for government subsidies because he discovered he was gluten intolerant by trial and error, while his brother was diagnosed and therefore eligible for government support.

It’s an expensive business, being unable to eat ‘normal’ food. A half decent loaf of gluten free bread can cost upwards of $7 or $8 and a packet of GF muesli can fetch up to $16.50 (which is why I make my own – Ed).

According to Coeliac UK, gluten free food has been available on prescription since the 1960s, although 30% of Clinical Commissioning Groups (who organise delivery of patient services in England) are now restricting or removing support for patients with coeliac disease, which is exacerbating health inequalities.

Patients receive generous tax rebates in countries including Canada, New Zealand and Ireland. In Italy, vouchers are available equivalent to 140 euros a month. In the US and elsewhere, patients must keep receipts and calculate the difference between the cost of gluten-free and the gluten-included equivalent. But at least they have a choice.

Coeliac Australia president Tom McLeod said there is no rebate for GF food for people with coeliac disease in Australia, although competition and a range of choices is helping to lower prices and make GF food more accessible.

“The only treatment for coeliac disease is a completely gluten free diet,” he told FOMM. “Coeliac Australia would welcome any move by the government to improve affordability of gluten free food for people with coeliac disease, or those medically requiring a gluten free diet.”

So forgive my earlier crack at people who adopt faddy diets. I do recognise that for some people, an appropriate diet can enhance their quality of life. Still, what’s with the six or seven varieties of salad greens at your typical supermarket? There was a time when you had (a) iceberg lettuce or (b) sorry, lettuce season’s finished. Now there’s a strange concept – eating fruit or vegetables in season as opposed to ‘fresh’ from the cold store.

Ah, the good old days, when you’d come home from school and get two thick slabs of white bread, slather them with lard and make a chip butty. Try and tell the young folk that today.