Sustainability – it’s a word that gets bandied about a lot, especially as humans face the challenges of climate change, population growth and issues such as overfishing. It can feel overwhelming – and it’s hard to know if what we’re doing is good or bad.
But former chef and food critic Matthew Evans, who owns a small-scale farm in Tasmania, tells Broadsheet people should ask these questions: “Can you do what you’re doing now, forever? Can we keep using coffee cups and eating this much meat forever? And if not, what do we need to change?”
Evans is one of the experts interviewed on the new SBS and CGU podcast The Few Who Do, which is hosted by Jan Fran and Marc Fennell. In each episode of the series, the hosts focus on one social problem and offer two potential solutions by interviewing Australians who are pushing for change and coming up with answers to humanity’s big issues. For episode 12, The future on a plate: What are the foods of tomorrow?, Evans explained how small-scale farming can help the environment, and the importance of perennial crops (for example, tomatoes, strawberries and onions).
Before packing up his life in the city and heading to Tassie, where he established Fat Pig Farm, Evans was a food critic for the Sydney Morning Herald. He’s now an author and hosts the SBS TV show Gourmet Farmer, where he visits artisans and small-scale producers, and investigates soil regeneration. Evans is also a vocal proponent of sustainable farming and eating.
“Aboriginal people lived in Australia for 65,000 years and caused minimal damage to the landscape,” Evans says. “In 250 years we’ve undone much of that. Sixty-five-thousand years is a good measurement for what we should be aiming at.”
One of the key issues he identifies is the destruction of topsoil as a result of bringing old-school European farming practices and animals to Australia.
“A lot of the topsoil has blown over to New Zealand,” he says. “We need to look at growing perennial, not annual plants – those are plants that live for years, that don’t just have a one-year life cycle. The best thing we can do is have more varied diets.”
Evans also says we should be more mindful of how animals inhabit the land. In the podcast, he explains how he feeds his pigs with food waste from his kitchen, and how the pigs in turn feed his orchard with their manure.
Skye Blackburn, an entomologist who believes we should get more of our protein from insects, is the second expert featured in the episode. She’s the founder of the Edible Bug Shop, where she sells cricket protein powder, ants with dark chocolate, ant-seasoning salt, roasted mealworms and more. She admits insects probably aren’t going to sustain us for every meal – we’ll still need livestock and agriculture to feed the ever-growing population – but Evans believes they have a place.
“Insects are the fastest-growing animal we can eat. If we want to look at sustainability, we need them for protein,” he says. “I was out in the country and there were insects [sprinkled on top of] tacos, and everyone was lapping it up.”
Evans says Attica’s Ben Shewry is one chef who takes a holistic approach to sustainability. “[He] sees his responsibility outside the confines of restaurants,” he says. “He considers the true cost of what he does, and thinks about the people who might copy him and admire him, and how he can be an influence on them.
He also reckons Marrickville’s Feather and Bone is a business with great sustainable practices. The butchery has a nose-to-tail ethos, selling organic, biodynamic and pasture-raised meat. “Feather and Bone is one of the only butchers that say you should eat less meat,” he says. “They take responsibility for animal welfare and want to help farmers improve the land over the years.”
Importantly, Evans also argues there’s no point getting overly-anxious when thinking about how you can live more sustainably. Sometimes you will fail. “I think a lot of people hear the word sustainable and switch off ... If I forget my Keep Cup, I’m not going to get anxious that I have to use a non-recyclable coffee cup. There’s no point getting anxious about those things.”
Listen to The Few Who Do on your podcast app, and find out more information here.