Every day it seems there’s some kind of outrage on social media and this week’s lucky target is the latest food marketing campaign by Woolworths and Michelle Bridges.
The video clip starts with Michelle Bridges dressed in overalls in a lush looking vegetable garden. “Like everyone I grow my own vegetables, isn’t that right darlings” Michelle says dreamily as she sweeps her hand fondly across her vegetables. She then shoves a handful of dirt into her mouth saying “mmm…that’s top soil.” Then Michelle tells us that “it’s time to get real. Eating healthier doesn’t mean you have to act like a freak”.
Obviously it’s a tongue in cheek campaign aimed at getting the message across that you don’t have to grow everything yourself to eat healthy. And that’s of course true. But not everyone saw the funny side with masses of complaints on the Woolworths and Michelle Bridges Facebook pages. Humble home gardeners have expressed their confusion and disappointment at the video. In particular, people have taken great offence to the implication that people who grow their own food are “freaks”. There’s also real confusion around why Michelle Bridges would label someone a “freak” for growing and eating their own vegetables while at the same time promoting a packaged frozen food product.
Woolworths and Michelle Bridges are now in damage control and have removed the video from social media. Woolworths issued a statement on their Facebook page saying “We’ve listened to your feedback about the latest Michelle Bridges video and have removed it. Our intention was never to upset anyone. As the fresh food people we know how passionate our customers are about fresh food. We share their passion and want everyone to eat healthily whether they grow their own or choose health foods from our supermarkets.”
I totally understand that in the busy modern world it’s not practical for everyone to grow their own and make food from scratch. Some wouldn’t even know which end of a shovel goes in the dirt and that’s ok too. I’m an avid home gardener (not necessarily a great one) and am passionate about local food, but even I get that it’s not always practical or necessary to grow your own.
I know there are a lot of loving mums in particular suffering unnecessary guilt and angst from an endless list of expectations that they place on themselves. One of these at the top of the list is trying to provide nutritious healthy food for the family.
When all you want to do is put a decent meal on the table, it can be overwhelming to try and buy local, sustainable, healthy, organic, ethically produced food. And when you flick to Instagram and see all the beautiful photos of perfect pretty meals and perfect pretty gardens with perfectly manicured people – well sometimes it’s a bit much.
I’m not a mum, but I’ve been thinking recently about how much pressure I put on myself to grow my own food, make healthy food from scratch and buy local. At the end of the day we all just do what we can and what works for us. I grow herbs and veges in my garden and am lucky enough that my mum gives me eggs from her chooks. I love nothing more than buying from local markets and independent stores and do this whenever I can. And yes I regularly shop at the big supermarkets too.
But what I don’t get is why Woolworths and Michelle Bridges chose to mock people that are having a go at what they consider to be a meaningful and productive way to provide food for their family. In sprawling country yards and tight little city spaces people have been growing their own food for generations. For the farmer supplying to a local market or the supermarkets, it’s part of a long history of pride and purpose. For the grandmother who teaches her grandchildren how to grow tomatoes, it’s a way of passing on family traditions that bring so much joy. For the mother who provides her son with bags and bags of oranges picked by hand from her tree, it’s a part of showing love and care. For the refugees that grow food from their homelands in a community garden, it’s about holding onto the one thing you didn’t have to give up and sharing a gift with your new neighbours. And for the young inner city couple growing lettuce on a balcony for the first time, it’s a way of providing for yourself in a city that might provide your every need, but can never provide the simple stuff that nourishes the soul.
For the woman who picks a little bunch of herbs from her garden to give to a grieving friend, it’s about showing that you do care even if you’ll never know quite the right words to say. And when you are handed a single pineapple that your Pop planted in his humble vege plot seasons before he passed away, it’s a way of everything having its place and time, of everything living on and a way of feeling that everything is going to be ok.
So maybe that’s why people couldn’t see the funny side. It’s because while gardening and growing food might be a quaint hobby or hipster fad to some, for others it’s part and parcel of who they are. It’s what keeps them connected to nature and to the seasons, to family and friends. It’s about getting your hands deep into the soil and feeling a sense of fresh purpose when you glance in the mirror at the end of the day and smile when there’s dirt all over your face. And yes, it’s about shoving the dirt in your face if you damn well feel like it. It’s a way of coming together around the kitchen table and being so proud of the one little piece of home grown parsley on top of the meal you managed to put together even though you had a shitty day at work. And it’s about planting new seeds and starting all over again as the sun starts to shine through the clouds.
And sometimes it’s about those flowers that catch you entirely by surprise in the evening and you wonder if they have just bloomed or if they’ve been there all along and you just didn’t see them. You can’t get this from the supermarket aisles. And if this is what makes you a freak, well ain’t that the grandest thing.