Thursday, 5 February 2009

A Shared Table

This past week I have been in Las Vegas (of all places) at a conference (that is a story for another day). We were scheduled to fly home straight after the conference but due to mechanical problems, we missed our connecting flight and this meant we spent an unexpected day in San Francisco. It was interesting to watch the reaction of other passengers to this news. I decided to treat it as a bonus and to make the most of having a day to explore San Francisco. It would be fair to say that many others weren’t quite as excited as I was – but we still all spent that extra day in San Francisco.

What I wanted to share with you was an experience I enjoyed in an extraordinary eatery that I stumbled across in the very popular and trendy “Ferry Building” down on the harbour-side (

Being winter over there I was drawn to this little café and larder – I’m not sure whether it was from the food I saw being served or the actual warmth of the place. However despite these it had a special energy and I’m certain that this is what attracted me. As I stepped inside I felt an air of calm and peace. The staff seemed to be genuinely pleased to serve us (as opposed to the more contrived service we experienced in Las Vegas).

I was attracted to a large wooden shared table for twelve just inside the door. It was laid simply with vases of fresh flowers. “Boulette”, the long-haired beloved, resident sheep-dog lay asleep under the table and as a bonus he was happy to be used as a big woolly rug to keep our feet warm. The kitchen stoves and ovens were close to the table – large benches and a huge canopy housing the copper pots and utensils added to the homely feel. It reminded me of a large country kitchen.

What was so remarkable was that there were five chefs quietly, calmly and efficiently preparing our meals in close proximity to our table. Each chef was fully focused on their work and I could almost feel their warm, positive energy transfer to the food they were preparing. This kitchen was quiet and calm (almost soulful) – nothing like the loud, raucous and hostile kitchens made famous by some TV chefs. The food on offer was seasonal and sourced from local farmers – a relationship respected and developed over the past 30 years between the farmers and the owner of the café.

The café embraced “slow food” principles. Slow Food is an international organisation made up of convivia (regional or local groups). Members of each convivium are people who are interested in food and who value local, seasonal food, prepared traditionally (often by methods passed down through families). For more about the Slow Food movement go to

I am a great believer in food having its own energy and taking on the energy of those who prepare it. If a meal is prepared with love and care, then the food takes on some of that energy and when we eat it we get the benefits. I also think there is magic in a shared table – something that unfortunately in today’s hectic world tends to be reserved only for celebrations like Christmas and birthdays.

My meal was beautiful. I had scrambled eggs (cooked to perfection) on sour dough bread. These were teamed with shaved turnip, radish and pieces of pomegranate. A touch of lemon-infused olive oil was splashed over the top just to balance the flavours. My colleague commented that this was the only meal I had actually finished on the whole trip! And she was right – not only did the food taste amazing but the whole experience was very nurturing.

I believe the attitude the chefs brought to the whole experience was the most important thing. It was obvious to me as I watched them work that they were very focused and nurturing in their attitude to the food they were preparing and that they cared about me as a diner.

This was the quintessential dining experience – one that only comes along occasionally. It was an experience to be relished and remembered.

I hope you get a chance this season to share a leisurely, lovingly cooked meal with friends and family. I hope that you get an opportunity to take on the wonderful energy of those around you and of food that has been thoughtfully prepared. And that you are nourished on all levels – something that cannot be bought but is a most precious gift.

I wish you all a very Happy Christmas and would like to express my heart felt thanks for your support in 2008. I hope your experience at Mammoth is like my experience at Boulettes Larder. We are overwhelmed with your response and support and thank you for spending some time with us this year.

Merry Christmas and we hope you have a Wonderful and Healthy 2009.


Live Better. Together we Can Make a Difference.

Tuesday, 7 October 2008

The Notion of Fair Trade

In our ever-increasing busy lives not many of us stop and think about where our food comes from; whether a fair price has been paid to the producer of that food or if anyone has been exploited in the process of getting that food to our table.

I had never thought about myself until a couple of years ago when I was fortunate enough to attend a function celebrating and highlighting the importance of "fair-trade". Kylie Kwong (Australia's ambassador for fair-trade) was there along with fair-trade coffee growers from Papua New Guniea. I was fascinated to hear their story and blown away by the impact our choices, as western consumers, have on the lives of those in the third world. Needless to say I had no idea the amount of work by growers that goes into the cup of coffee I enjoy every morning.

This me with Henry Arme who is from the Purosa region of Papua New Guinea

Fair Trade is a term that simply means that the producers of a product get paid a fair price for their produce. I watched a DVD recently called “Black Gold” – a very powerful documentary showing why growers in the third world don’t get paid a fair price for their coffee. Something that is very disturbing in this world of extreme affluence.

“Black Gold” is based in Ethiopia – known as the birthplace of coffee!
Tadesse Meskele manages a corporation of coffee growers and strives to achieve a better price for their coffee. Tadesse’s union buys coffee from 101 individual co-operatives around southern Ethiopia and sells it throughout the western world. It is the Sidamo brand of coffee and is considered to be one of the world’s best.

In Africa 1 cup of coffee costs 1 birr (US$0.12).
In the US is costs 25 birr (US$2.90).
You get 80 cups of coffee from 1kg of coffee beans.
Currently one kilo of coffee beans is been sold for 2 birr (23 cents).
In Western countries 80 cups is been sold for 2000 birr (US$230.00).
So out of that $230.00, the grower is getting 23cents.

The supply of coffee on the world market was once regulated by the International Coffee Agreement, until its collapse in 1989. Since then the price paid to farmers has fallen to a 30 year low. Tadesse believes that for his farmers to live well (meaning nutritious food, clean water and children attending school) they need to make 10 birr per kilo of coffee. The growers themselves would be happy with 5 birr per kilo. Last year they received only 1 birr per kilo.

On top of this, rich countries pay three hundred billion dollar subsidies every year to their farmers. Africa cannot afford subsidies to their farmers. In 2003 the World Trade Organisation (WTO) met in Mexico to review and set the rules for global fair trade. It was the hope that the poorer countries could trade on a level playing field with the rest of the world but unfortunately these subsidies will continue to protect farmers in wealthy countries. Today Africa is the only continent in the world to get poorer over the past 20 years. Its share of world trade has fallen to one percent because it cannot compete with western producers.

As a result Africa is now more dependent on emergency aid then ever before – more than seven million people rely on foreign aid in Ethiopia alone. Ironically, if Africa’s share of world trade increased by just one percent it would generate a further seventy billion dollars a year – five times the amount it now receives in foreign aid.

Tadesse shares an emotional story of poverty and unfairness in an affluent world. His hope is that “one day consumers will understand what they are drinking and demand to pay a fair price.” He believes the consumer can bring about change if they become aware of the producers and how they are suffering.

I think we can Live Better and through our consumer power we can Make a Difference. By buying fair trade we are empowered as a consumer to pay the grower a fair price. If the grower is paid a fair price he is then empowered to Live Better. Profit from fair trade is used collectively in the third world communities to build schools, educate the young, provide clean water and nutritious food, provide health care as well as infrastructure – all taken for granted here in Australia.
By Living Better and Making a Difference here in Australia we are allowing others to Live Better and Make a Difference within their communities.

“Awareness is the first step to change”

I was very moved by this DVD and feel that now I have this awareness I need to do something more. Here at Mammoth Health we are going to explore ways we can do more for these communities directly. We’ll keep you posted.

If you would like to watch Black Gold DVD, the Mammoth Health Library has a copy to lend out or click on the following link and watch online:
' Live Better. Together We Can Make a Difference'

Tuesday, 2 September 2008

Live Better. Together We Can Make a Difference

I was recently having a coffee with a colleague and we were discussing our personal philosophy; our mantra. It got me thinking. How could I put in one statement what I was about and what my life's work was about? At work, (at Mammoth Health) we’re about more than just addressing illness with supplements and diet. We are also about living our lives to their full potential. Healthy, vital people are more likely to be happy and when we are happy we have a positive impact on everyone we meet and they in turn leave a positive impact on the people they meet (the ripple effect…). We are also about reducing our carbon footprint – treading more lightly on the earth, living a more sustainable life and preserving the environment for future generations. We’re about being conscious of what we eat, where it comes from and whether a fair price has been paid to those who produce it for us. And we’re about living a deliberate, full life where what we do makes a difference.
So my one statement mantra is:

'Live Better. Together We Can Make a Difference.'

We are more than just our physical selves – we are mind, body and soul and together they make up who we are. Our mind, our body and our soul empower us to live optimally; to live fully and to live deliberately and to really know that we can make a difference.

Mind: to live better we need to continually learn new things; to challenge ourselves, to broaden our parameters and see things for what they are. In this fast changing world with many scientists now warning that global warming is the most immediate and urgent challenge we are likely to face in our lifetime we will need to develop resilience.
I have also set myself the challenge of being more curious and on that note I recently learned that my IT guy, Toby has pet tree frogs! I was so fascinated and intrigued when he told me about them – their diet, their different personalities etc. that I decided to learn more about tree frogs. So this week I’m going to expand my mind and discover the wonderful world of tree frogs. What new thing are you going to learn about this week?

Body: it is not until our body breaks down that we fully appreciate the fact that we often take it for granted. Most of us don’t value our health until we are unwell. The food we eat, the exercise we do and the relaxation and leisure activities we pursue all impact on our body which in turn impacts on the way we think and the way we act.
Just remember that feeling of the ‘morning after’ a big night out indulging in too much alcohol, junk food and limited sleep. Our tolerance levels are low, our mood is compromised. We feel tired, under the weather and in no way open to living fully and optimally. Then bring that back to every day living and the way we choose to live. By feeding our body daily with healthy, whole, unprocessed foods (vegetables, fruits, grains, legumes, fish & lean meats) cooked lovingly, without additives and preservatives, to nourish our bodies, we can have a positive influence on our thinking and our actions.

By making a commitment to exercise regularly and to deliberately set aside time daily to relax and pursue leisure activities we are valuing our bodies, treating them with reverence and respect and empowering ourselves to live fully.

I have noticed in the past week I have been so caught up in the end of financial year hysteria that I have made no time for my regular walk. As a result I’ve got to the weekend exhausted, feeling sluggish and not as ‘vital’ and open to life as I could be. I also know that when I don’t make time to exercise I don’t have my healthy release of stress and instead have resorted to coffee and chocolate to keep me going – but ironically this has contributed to me living sub-optimally. So this week I have deliberately scheduled into my diary my exercise time – I have changed some appointments so I can commit to exercise because I know I will live better! What are you going to do differently this week to live better?

Soul: our soul is essentially who we are; our spirituality and what we value in life. Most people value family and community and the importance of connectedness within family and community. I believe the most urgent issue in our lifetime will be to live sustainably; reduce our carbon footprint and tread more lightly on the earth. I believe that as individuals we can make a difference. It is very easy to perceive problems as so big and global and out of our control that we feel powerless to make any difference at all. But it is truly the decision and the action of the ‘ordinary’ person –you and me - that will eventually force change. I don’t believe that inherent change comes from extremists, or from governments. It comes from within communities - how we deliberately choose to live our lives. I noticed in The Age on Wednesday (2nd July 2008) a story about a group of locals from Daylesford who are so committed to renewable energy that they have spent years consulting with and educating their local community about it. They have highlighted how simple and clean wind farms are and how they create an energy source that is sustainable and has a low impact on the environment. As a result of their commitment to renewable energy they have created a community corporation where ownership is structured to prevent a takeover by a large corporation. (About half of the investors are local residents interested in supporting a secure clean local energy supply.

'Live Better. Together We Can Make a Difference'
…because it's not a rehearsal

Thursday, 24 July 2008

Anxiety - a modern illness?

We came across this quote recently:
"Anxiety is one of the greatest of modern ills. And it flourishes most in the fat
soil of security. It is a middle-class disease, endemic in those countries which
enjoy the highest standards of living and the greatest stability. We have
banished fear, which is a healthy emotion, only to admit anxiety, which is a
morbid one. We no longer wake up in the morning mildly astonished and delighted
to have been safely brought to the beginning of this day. We no longer spring to
our feet to satisfy ourselves that there is no immediate threat. Instead we come
gradually to consciousness, and lie in bed in complete safety, gnawed by
anxiety... The man who pins his faith on security is bound to suffer from
anxiety, for he knows in his heart that however many insurance policies he takes
out, he can never really be safe. This very night his soul may be required of
him. It is only when he turns outward, to some end outside himself, in other
words embarks on life's adventures, that he saves himself and exchanges anxiety
for mere fear."
Tom Price. Former Warden (Executive Director) Outward Bound Mountain School, Eskdale, England (1960’s), Mountaineer; Address to the RSA 1966

Now more than ever anxiety and anxiety-related conditions plague our society. It is time to stop; reassess our lives; recognise what is important and live consciously... because it's not a rehearsal!

Live Better. Together We Can Make a Difference

Sunday, 6 July 2008


Recently we attended one of the Alfred Deakin Lectures called the Geography of Hope and a key message of Dr Brian Walker, one of the speakers, was that climate change is going to bring change on a scale that most of us have never experienced before - he called it "The Gathering Storm." He suggested that in order to accommodate this change the thing we will need most is resilience. I have heard a similar message about resilience in another context. In this case the message was about the importance of building resilience to allow our children to cope in a time of ever increasing technological change and the important role of teaching our children to engage with risk to build that resilience.

Unfortunately this is occurring at a time when we, as a society are becoming significantly more risk averse. I heard one academic from the UK describe this as 'cotton-wooling' our children. He described a test that was used by one council in the UK to test the soft-fall used under climbing frames and other equipment in playgrounds. This test used a china plate dropped from shoulder height. If the china plate broke then the soft-fall failed the test. Treating children like china plates provides a useful metaphor for risk management gone too far.

I have heard another academic warn that in our attempts to eliminate risk from the lives of our children that we were also preventing them from the significant benefits and learnings that come from engaging with risk in a controlled environment. He suggested that there was evidence that this may lead to young people finding more dangerous ways to experience that adrenaline rush through for example illicit drugs or driving dangerously.

In our efforts to protect our children from all risks in an attempt to keep them safe, then what other risks are we exposing them to long term? Obesity, depression, mental illness, substance abuse?

Clearly nobody wants their child to be hurt and I am not proposing a reckless approach to risk - but does that really need to extend to "bubble wrapping" them in order to protect them from the risks that we perceive to be around every corner, whilst at the same time inadvertently exposing them to long term health risks? I hope not.

Monday, 16 June 2008

Stock - the old fashioned way

I recently had a customer come in and ask how could she make stock – the ones in the supermarket were full of preservatives and flavor enhancers and also contained gluten which she had a problem with.
Now I know it is very quick and easy to pick up a carton of Campbell’s stock on your shopping round but to tell you the truth it is such an expensive way to make soup.
Winter for me is having a big pot of soup always on the stove ready and inviting…ready for the kids when they come home from school cold and starving; ready for when I’m inevitably home late from work to serve as an instant entrée with thick crusty bread while I put dinner on; and always ready to serve just in case friends pop in unexpectedly which is always delightful (don’t you always have a great time when things are spontaneous?)
Making stock for me is just a part of winter – and one thing I look forward to. Often on Friday nights I make my stock – it is such a wonderful ritual to end the week. I do confess I usually pour myself a glass of red wine while I’m doing it, which makes the ritual all the more enjoyable. I believe this relaxed, nurturing energy is passed into the food so therefore those that eat it are not only nourished physically but also emotionally!

My Stock Recipe:
2 chicken carcasses (or beef bones, ham hocks etc.or just vegies if you are vegetarian)
1 onion
1 carrot
1 stick celery including tops
1 bay leaf
1 piece lemon zest
6 black peppercorns
Sprigs of fresh herbs from the garden
1 piece of seaweed (I use arame or wakame: seaweeds contain all 100 or so minerals & trace elements in the most absorbable form so your stock becomes very mineral rich. p.s. there is no seaweed flavor – my family & friends would have no idea I’ve use seaweed in the stock!)

Place chicken carcasses in a stockpot and cover generously with cold water. Bring to simmering point and add remaining ingredients. Gently simmer for approx. 4 hours (the aromas are great). Refrigerate and strain any fat that has risen to the surface. The stock is now ready to use for your favorite soups or casseroles etc. I salt my stock as I use it for soups etc. – I use an unprocessed celtic salt because it is very rich in trace minerals and gives my soup a very rich flavor with extra depth.
This stock can be refrigerated for 2-3 days or frozen. (A great way to freeze some of the stock is in ice-cube trays so when you want just a little bit to flavor meals you don’t have to thaw the whole lot.

It is wonderful having control over what is in your food. No multi-national food company determines how many flavor enhancers, extracts, salt and sugar (cleverly disguised) you consume. And what’s more it is so cheap to make and so much more flavorsome and healthy for you and your family.

Friday, 6 June 2008

Slow Food Winter

David & I belong to Slow Food Southwest - a movement that started in Italy in 1989 in opposition to fast food. There are groups of like-minded people (or convivia) all over the world that embrace the philosophy of slow food - food that is seasonal, sourced locally and lovingly cooked using age-old recipes and methods that have been passed down through the generations.
We meet at the start of every season and enjoy an afternoon of good food, good wine and good company. Our winter meeting on Sunday 1st June was held at Clyde Park Winery in Bannockburn - a magnificent setting with wonderful hosts. Terry and Sue are not only known for their beautiful wines; they have an outdoor wood oven which cooks the most delicious pizzas! I highly recommend the mediterranean pizza with a glass of their pinot noir. As we graze and gaze over the rolling hills and vines you could swear you were in Tuscany. Slow Food is a wonderful way to pass a Sunday afternoon. For more information visit