Working to Solve the Food Problem

Our former intern Vanessa Ratjen has picked up and moved her life into a van that she’s driving all over the southern hemisphere. From the road, she’s finding inspiring people and asking them about how they make it work, that whole committing-your-life-to-a-greater-cause thing. She documenting everything on her blog Awesome-istic. From time to time, we’ll republish some of her interviews here on the blog. Starting with this one, about Mel and Thea, two food advocates in Australia. 

veggies

Mel and Thea

By Vanessa Ratjen

Solving food “issues”—socially, environmentally, globally and locally—is a daunting task and not something any one person will have the answers to. But imagine if we put all our heads together—a mix of brilliant ideas would surely spout out, and together we’d be able to create the drastic changes that are needed. So let’s get everyone involved! And while we’re at it, let’s make it interesting!

In Australia, Youth Food Movement is doing just that: bringing people together around food, while building awareness within, and a voice for, a generation of young Australians that want to make a difference.

“We’re interested in the capacity of young people to make good decisions around their food,” says Thea from YFM’s Sydney chapter. “And that will mean different things to everybody. But we want to start that conversation, because it’s a conversation that’s not really happening in Australia.”

Through workshops and guest speakers, music, food and film events, YFM has become an information hub that “provokes thought and challenges ideas” about modern food industries. And, in doing so, it’s cultivating a community of youth making informed decisions and becoming conscious consumers.

“So long as you’re ‘in the game’ you can make whatever choices you want,” Thea explains. “But I think a lot of people are outside of the game and aren’t even thinking about food as a choice.”

As Australia’s youth becomes a more food-aware generation, YFM is making advocating for change accessible, appealing and attainable, and collectively we’re rewriting the rules.

veggie on head

“We’ve grown up in this culture of the supermarket and being able to go and get our food and not really knowing the people who produce it, or where it’s come from or what has been entailed in the actual manufacture or production and distribution of our food,” says Mel of YFM’s Sydney Chapter.

But a couple years ago a few “youth” decided to change that, to stop seeing “food as fuel” from a shelf but rather something that’s tied into communities and the environment. The mission resonated with their peers, and soon people like Mel and co-director, Thea, clambered aboard. We all have the capacity to make choices that “demand and support a healthy and secure food system,” they tell me, and we needn’t wait for change to come to us when we can do it right now.

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On being able:

“Capacity” means lots of things. I don’t think all sustainable practices cost money, it’s just about being conscious of where you can invest money and what the easiest way to do it is. We understand that in many cases buying organic produce or buying ethically-produced produce is more expensive, but a lot of the practices we talk about are actually cheaper.

For example: waste. The age bracket 18-25-year-olds are one of the biggest food-wasting groups in Australia. It’s a huge waste and there’s a huge amount of money that goes in the bin that students and young people spend on food and they just end up chucking. So much of that practice of “throwing out stuff” is really normalized, so, talking about sustainability to that group is really important because it’s a way for them to be aware of the fact that they’re actually throwing away money.

It’s the same with meat production. Spending a little bit more on a good piece of meat but not having it five nights a week is a way to reduce your environmental footprint that’s cheaper.

It’s that innovative way of thinking that we stand for. We’re not advocating for young people to just go and buy organically grown produce because “that’s the best.”

eating

We want feedback:

We’d like to see people become engaged about where their food comes from and work with retailers and consumer buying power to make those changes within the system. We’d like to work with young people, as a consumer, to have a voice around where their food comes from and feed that back to the retailers that they buy from, whether that be a supermarket, or a farmer directly from a farmer’s market.

The Approach. Shaking it up through Knowledge, Attitude and Practice:

Knowledge — to create an understanding of how our food system works and how food gets from the field to the plate.

Attitude — building value into how we make decisions. Being aware of your power as a consumer and that if consumers do make concerted choices then we can actually shape our future.

So many young people are disengaged, not actively disengaged, but have never been engaged in these kinds of issues! So, thinking about farmers or the environment—that farmers matter, that the environment matters.

Practice — converting that knowledge into some kind of action. We create events and experiences for people that create that meaning: actually going out and visiting a farm or doing a mushroom forage on the weekend, or being part of something creative.

There’s something about a physical practice that really connects you to something, and it’s not just something you read on a piece of paper or see in a classroom, it’s actually going and living it. I think that’s a really powerful way to communicate with young people because we’re so immersed in media and information everyday.

<Check out these past events for inspiration: Reel Food NightsCropFestPassata DayRide On Lunch>

mel and thea

Big plants start from small seeds:

We’re both a small organization and a big organization because in terms of active volunteers we’re a relatively small group, but at the same time we speak to quite a large community all around Australia. We’d like to see people connect with our issue or the issues we work on and hopefully connect with each other over those issues. It’s building a community, which is a bit of a lofty concept, but it’s what we’re inspired to create amongst young people: a community around an issue.

But, you don’t live in Sydney…:

There’s a way for people to participate even if you don’t live in town! Originally the group started in Sydney, but we want the organization to be a catalyst for a movement of young people operating around the country and affecting change at the local level in a very locally-contextualized way. So, we’re from the Sydney team and look at what’s happening in the city, we’re developing resources for people to set these chapters up in their own locations.

Links:

Youth Food Movement: http://www.youthfoodmovement.org.au/

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