I should have known that going to the Stellenbosch Slow Market at Oude Libertas yesterday would bring on claustrophobia, it being the fullest I have ever seen this popular market, and one that I had sworn that I would never go back to again.  The announcement of the winners of the 2012 Eat In DStv Food Network Produce Awards was the reason for my visit, and once I had received a copy of the magazine with the winners’ names, and tasted some of their produce, it was a good time to leave.

Given the increased passion for food preparation, spurred by cooking programs such as MasterChef Australia and now our own South African reality TV cooking show, as well as the recession reducing the frequency of eating out, buying healthy produce to use and eat at home is becoming increasingly popular.   Five years ago Eat In, sister publication to Eat Out, which presents the annual Top 10 Restaurant awards, was launched by New Media Publishing. The magazine’s Awards ‘aim to acknowledge and celebrate outstanding independent South African producers for their integrity, passion and innovation’. The crucial criterion is that the produce is South African grown, and added criteria were that the products are produced ethically in terms of the workforce, and in an environmentally responsible manner.  The winners were judged by Eat In editor Anelde Greeff, Eat Out editor Abigail Donnelly, MasterChef SA judge Pete Goffe-Wood, Hartford House Chef Jackie Cameron, and Melissa’s food buyer Deon van Wyk, and are the following:

*   Best new product: Karma Jams from Kestell in the Free State, judged to be ‘one of the first serious South African jam ranges’

*   Best Small Producer: Confectionery: Sweet Temptations Toffee from Somerset West, which makes innovative toffee flavours such as Blueberry and Pinotage, and is wrapped in colourful packaging.

*   Best Small Producer: Dairy (Cheese) : Buffalo Ridge from Wellington, awarded for its ‘authentic flavours and textures’, and its ‘phenomenal’ Feta.

*   Best Small Producer: Dairy (Other):  Jenny’s Clotted Cream from Langvallei Jersey Dairy farm in Robertson, awarded for its ‘authentic’ English-style clotted cream.

*   Best Small Producer: Earth: Boon Hill Salad Leaves for its unusual mix of edible flowers and salad leaves.

*   Best Small Producer: Grocery: Quality Pickles, awarded for their well-balanced and aromatic flavours without being overwhelming

*   Best Small Producer: Bakery: De Oude Bank Bakkerij in Stellenbosch, Fritz Schoon having developed a reputation for his excellent rustic artisanal breads

*   Best Small Producer: Paddock: Dargle Duck in Pietermaritzburg was praised for its duck paté, sausages, and breasts.

*   South African Heritage Award: Rozendal Farm Vinegar from Stellenbosch, flavoured with interesting herbs such as buchu and honeybush.

*   Innovation Award: Earthshine’s range of kale chips: a range of raw vegan chips.

*   Best Organic or Free-Range Producer: Croft Chickens: praised for its ‘good old-fashioned farm bird’ taste, and comes from the Natal Midlands

*   Best Outlets/Markets:

.   North: Braeside Butchery. Pretoria Boeremark

.   East: Piggly Wiggly, The Food Market

.   South: Ocean’s Edge, Wild Oats

*   Best Local Food Blog: ‘My Easy Cooking’ by Nina Timm

The magazine has a calendar of the harvest seasons for fruit and vegetables, and contains a selection of recipes.  It also has an article on ‘Shopping ethically in South Africa’, written by Claire Hu, being the purchase of produce made with minimal harm and maximum benefit.   She raises ethically interesting issues:

*   Should one buy at a supermarket or a local shop. The answer is obvious, due to the carbon footprint  effect of the delivery by the supermarket chains, but it is not always feasible to not shop at a supermarket

*   Buying Organic foods is ideal, but there is no national standard yet

*   Free-range meat is also ideal, but once again there are no government-approved criteria

*   Shopping at Food markets is a growing trend, which is carbon footprint-friendly

*   Fairtrade accreditation for sustainable food production is not yet widespread, compared to Europe

*   SASSI approved fish should be the benchmark for all purchasers

*   Genetic modification of maize and soybeans is widespread in South Africa, and its health effects is not yet known. There is no mandatory product labelling of such products.

*  Carbon footprint: consumers can choose to buy products with a lower carbon footprint.

*   Recycling should be encouraged in reducing and separating waste.  Products with lighter packs should be chosen, and one should bring one’s own shopping bags.

*   Slow Food: this international organisation has branches in South Africa, creating awareness for the benefits of eating healthy foods, and avoiding fast foods.

Artisanal beer (Robson’s Beer, Triggerfish), and aromatic spirit (Wilderer Distillery, Jorgensen’s Distillery) producers are highlighted in an article, matching what Eat In stands for.  The balance of the magazine is a regional listing of bakeries, cooking schools, Deli’s and farm stalls, fish suppliers, fruit, vegetable and nut suppliers, markets, meat and poultry suppliers, organic and health produce suppliers, sweet stuff, and tea and coffee suppliers.

2012 Eat In, New Media Publishing. Tel (021) 417-1111. www.eat-in.co.za Twitter:@EatInSA

Chris von Ulmenstein, Whale Cottage Portfolio: www.whalecottage.com Twitter:@WhaleCottage