Enabling change in our Society, Environment and Economy (SEE)

SOLE food in the ACT

by Bec Pollock (Tuggeranong SEE-Change member)

What is SOLE food, I hear you ask? SOLE stands for sustainable, organic, local and ethical. Along similar lines to the locavore movement, the 100 mile (160 km) diet, and ethicurean philosophies, this is a way to gather your eating and food shopping ideals into one stylish acronym. Who wouldn’t like to tell their friends that they’re having ‘SOLE food’ for dinner? But being able to explain what SOLE food means, where to get it and how to cook it, well, you’d just about need to be the host of your own reality cooking show! Simply put, SOLE food is good for the planet and creatures, good for the people, and good for your tastebuds!

However, it can be a challenge to find produce and food within these guidelines. The categories can be tricky enough on their own! Sustainable applies — not just to the farm or production methods — but you want better processing, storage, distribution, and packaging options too. ‘Organic’ or chemical-free produce is becoming more and more prevalent, but when you look closer it often comes from overseas, or (argh!) is wrapped in plastic. Local,  well does that apply to anything grown within Australia, or are you more specific and want it from local farms, even if that means the products are not as sustainable or organic. Ethical can be such a grey area, because everyone has different ideals, and it can include anything from free range, fair trade, animal welfare, to veganism. I think SOLE food also needs to be energy efficient when it comes to storage and cooking!

Even if you find products that fit all the SOLE food guidelines, you still need to consider affordability, convenience, accessibility, nutrition, plus the tastes and preferences of the people you are shopping and cooking for! If like me, you have two fuss-pot little kids, one of whom is dairy-free, plus a gluten-free coeliac husband, as well as working part-time, being involved with community groups and our own permaculture garden, throw in a dislike of supermarkets, and it is all too easy to want to hide yourself in the pantry with a block of organic, fair trade, locally grown chocolate… if you can find some, that is! The way to handle the challenge of eating SOLE food in the real world (and a good motto for life in general) is to find the balance… do the best you can, and don’t beat yourself up for what you can’t.

In the Canberra region we are lucky when it comes to SOLE food eating, in a lot of ways. We have some great farmers markets, farmers outlet stores, food co-ops, farmers who sell direct, local grocers and stores all selling food that would fit some, or even all, of the SOLE guidelines. Sure, it may not be as convenient as going to a supermarket, and you’ll need to find ways to work with what is available, but it’s worth the time and effort. It may be a matter of meal planning based on what is in season and is available at the SOLE food friendly stores, or coming from your own garden. It’s tempting to want to cook the gourmet food shown on cooking shows, or in cooking magazines, but I think that meals made from SOLE produce are so much sexier, tastier and satisfying!

For the products that are more expensive, we eat less of them, or don’t eat them as often, but know it is worth paying the money, as they include the true cost of the produce. That is, the cost of supporting and protecting the local environment and communities involved in producing the food. The cost of maintaining sustainable processes when getting the produce ready for market. The cost of keeping up their ideals in all areas of their business. To us, these costs are worth it. For some, the price of SOLE fruit and vegetables seems beyond their weekly budget, the cost of SOLE meat or dairy products will always be too high, and the luxuries like SOLE chocolate and coffee well out of their means.

Choku Bai Jo

That is understandable, but I would recommend anyone who feels like they just can’t afford SOLE food, to visit Choku Bai Jo in Lyneham and now also in Curtin, who have such wonderful SOLE produce often at cheaper prices than the supermarkets. Other ways to eat eco-food, within a tight budget, are to eat more fresh, in season vegetables with Australian grown dried legumes; to highlight meals with a small amount of meat, dairy or nuts; to use up leftovers; to buy bulk grains and legumes; to cook more from scratch and use more whole foods; and to have more ‘Sunday night’ meals, like soups, vegie fritters, beans on toast, or omelettes!

Another option is to grow and raise your own organic food. It sure covers the local ideal, when you can walk just out your back door to pick ingredients for dinner! In our garden, we are using simple permaculture principles to create an edible garden, trying to set up a ‘closed loop system’ so we can use resources we have on site. We’d like to have our own chickens and bees one day soon, but for now are focusing on setting up the garden beds and learning how to grow perennial and annuals in this climate. We’ve grown a lot of produce already, and learnt how to preserve it too. Woden SEE-Change holds workshops to help you learn how to grow your own organic produce, build chook houses or make preserves. There are other groups and places to do courses or workshops in this area too.

Local food producers need support, and I think they need it now! It’s great to show your support with your wallet and buy SOLE food, but what else can you do, besides door knocking your neighbourhood, and popping tasty samples on toothpicks into your neighbour’s mouths? You could hold a SOLE food dinner party, picnic or pot luck lunch.

You could join the local slow food movement group, Slow Food Canberra. You can listen to and participate in ABC 666’s radio segment, Feast. You can also talk to the farmers at the markets or outlets where they are selling their produce, or attend one of the open days that some local farmers hold. It’s a fantastic way to get to know where your food is coming from, and to thank the producers for all the hard work they put in to keep you eating!

SOLE food, it’s hip, it’s happening, I mean, who doesn’t want to be a SOLE food mama, or papa? If you’d like to find out more about local shopping and eating, you can find a list on the local eco-blog www.everydayecointheact.blogspot.com or go there to add your suggestions and recipes too.

With thanks to our


  • ACT Government Environment and Planning
  • The Association of Independent Schools of the ACT (AISACT)
  • Catholic Education Office (Archdiocese of Canberra and Goulburn)
  • Education and Training Directorate
  • ACT Government