The story behind a good meal: Helena Rosebery of the Youth Food Movement on Wanderlust

The story behind a good meal: Helena Rosebery of the Youth Food Movement on Wanderlust

Wednesday, 23 March 2016

KM – Welcome to the show!

HR – Hi Katie, thanks for having me on!

KM – My pleasure. Everyone who listens probably knows that we absolutely love our food here on Wanderlust, which is why we have so many chefs and foodies as guests. This is really interesting, digging a little deeper into the food culture. Can you tell us about what Youth Food Movement does, and how you got involved?

HR – Youth Food Movement puts on adult food education projects and creates content. We are basically translating the Australian food system through one-off events, event series and workshops. This is happening right around Australia, as we have chapters in Sydney, Brisbane, Melbourne, Western Sydney and our newest one in Launceston. We are trying to reconnect urban consumers to the source of their food, and the people behind their food.

KM – It aims at working with young people. Why is that so important?

HR – At the Youth Food Movement we are concerned with giving Gen Y a voice. Food is inherently a very loaded topic. It’s personal, it’s political, and everyone eats. It’s really important to give young people a voice because we are the generation of the future. We are the future farmers, the future shoppers, manufacturers, politicians and eaters. We’re the ones that are going to be inheriting the problems of the current food system, so who better than us to fix it? We also believe that Gen Y, 18-35 year olds, have a certain energy, a zeal and out-of-the-box thinking because we aren’t tied to set ways of thinking. That enables us to create playful solutions that work in real life.

KM – That’s absolutely true. In the age of social media and self-starting businesses, young people are leading that. In one of your projects, Meet The Maker, which aims at shortening the gap between the farmer and the consumer. What kind of experience should participants expect when they go to one of these events?

HR – It started in 2014 and the Youth Food Movement Sydney Chapter put on an event called Pork & Potatoes and we managed to sell out a pub. We weren’t sure how it would be received, but it was a serious success. It was all about promoting highland gourmet potatoes. Our friend Norm does excellent potatoes. And Rex from Salsbury-Berkshire. We locally sourced producers in the New South Wales region because we thought it was important to have attendees meet the faces behind the food they might come in contact with, whether it’s at Woolies or a farmer’s market. It’s all about bringing these farmers to a city pub and giving participants a chance to ask, as we said, the short and curly questions about their food, directly to the producers of their food. It’s about the fact that not enough true Australian stories are out there, and they’re not out there in a way that is fun and palatable. That people are going to hold on to, and will influence their food choices in the future.

KM – You mentioned before that you’ve expanded across the country. Have you had different reactions from people in different parts of the country?

HR – Wherever it is, our national community manager will testify to this, it’s all nuanced. It’s young Australians coming together and getting rowdy about food politics and swapping recipes and that kind of thing. No matter where you are, people are excited to meet like-minded people. But yes in terms of the projects put on, we find that in Melbourne you’ve got a really strong, well-developed network of food academics and students studying food. They’ve put on the Real Food Night, an evening of short films and panel of experts, from agriculture to academics. We’ve also had CropFest in Brisbane, celebrating wonky produce. That’s coming up once again. We’ve also got university chapters. The University of Western Sydney. They put on little events that bring in students from different disciplines. It’s about forging community around food and making information about food fun. I’ll take this opportunity to say that we’re always looking for volunteers in all of these chapters. If you are wanting to get involved, go to You’re guaranteed to meet some really energised, passionate young people.

KM – And it sounds like have a load of fun in the meantime! It’s great that you mention food academics being involved. A few years ago it felt like Michael Pollan was the only academic speaking about food issues, and he’s amazing.

HR – Oh, he is a babe! He is amazing. There’s a joke in the office that we’d like to get a t-shirt that says “What would Michael Pollan do?” Michael, if you’re listening, I love you!

KM – (Laughter) Don’t we all! I’m totally with you on that. There are multiple reasons why we should shift our perspectives around the food industry and eating. A big part of that, and especially for the Youth Food Movement, is eating well. What kind of steps do people need to take to make this happen in their own homes, and what are some of the challenges present in this space?

HR – At the Youth Food Movement we’re all about transparency in the global food system. There are a lot of things that go unanswered simply because of the way we were raised. In Australia we have been very unaware about the seasonality of our foods. We’re all about inspiring people and empowering young people to question what they’re purchasing. Awareness is everything. Questioning is the first way we can start making changes. Question what you’re buying. If you know the story behind it, you end up forging more of a connection to that produce. The food industry will start listening, because as Michael Pollan says,”Eating is a political act.” You can really vote with your fork. Once you scratch the surface, there are a heap of questions. At the Youth Food Movement we’re trying to start telling the real story of the Australian food system. We’ve found through research and engagement at events that in Australia there’s quite a lot of confusion, and a widely-held belief that what happens in the American food system is the same as what happens here, but that isn’t the case. In terms of what can the everyday young person do at home? Once again, asking questions. Reading a little bit more. Being aware of what you’re purchasing. Starting to up-skill yourself in a way, by using the whole vegetable, by reducing food waste. It’s crazy – one out of four shopping bags worth of groceries is wasted every year by an individual. There’s the image of a person in a shopping centre car park with four shopping bags, but only driving away with three.

KM – It’s just so heavily linked to the confidence and overall enjoyment the eating experience when you know what it is what you’re putting on your plate, or buying at the supermarket. I get endlessly frustrated by the idea of free range eggs, because every egg says it’s free range, and the few brands that I do know of that are genuinely free range, I feel so much better when there’s no guilt around what I’m cooking.

HR – Oh I hear you. It’s the same thing with grass-fed beef. We’re lucky in Australia on the whole that nearly all of our cattle see grass at some stage. It’s very different from America, but that’s not widely known. We want to give young people the confidence to make those food decisions and put that on their plate happily, without guilt.

KM – You’ve got some great events coming up, called Spoon Led, April 2nd, 16th at the Powerhouse Museum and April 9th at I.C.E. in Parramatta. What’s going to be going on at those events?

HR – Spoon Led is something that I’ve been nutting away on in the background. It’s a series of one-day workshops, where we’re up-skilling pairs of young people to hack away at food waste. What kind of quick skills can they apply in their kitchens and at work in order to waste less food. And also giving them the means to “talk trash” and get away with it. What we mean by that is, how do you approach what can be quite an uncomfortable conversation with your housemate. “Hey, stop putting your food waste in the normal garbage bin!” We’ve got some chefs catering lunch for that, some amazing guys called Hidden Harvest from Wollongong. They rescue food in dumpster dives. We’re all about up-skilling this cohort of future Spoon-leaders. They’ll go on and host their own events, and roll out that message and skills to their mates. It’s all about your mates and that’s how it sticks, we’ve found. It has to be fun, and something in which you can support each other. Eating by example.

KM – That’s why it’s called a movement! It’s been so lovely talking to you. Check out – Thank you Helena for talking to us on Wanderlust this evening.

HR – Thank you Katie, my pleasure.

Find out more about the Youth Food Movement at their website. Listen back to past episodes of Wanderlust via SoundCloud.

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