Growing up on a farm in Northern Victoria fostered a close connection with the natural world and showed me how food ends up on our plates. Since my childhood, the way we grow, distribute and purchase food has changed dramatically. Now we live in a world of choice and convenience, but at what cost?
While the established environmental organisations focus on issues such as climate change and renewable energy, Sustainable Table, a non-profit organisation dedicated to promoting a more humane, environmentally friendly food system, has taken a different approach .
Last month I had the pleasure of sharing a cup of tea with Sustainable Table Co-founder and General Manager, Cassie Duncan, and learning why she is passionate about empowering consumers to support healthy, sustainable food production.
I was blessed to have part of my childhood in the country. I grew up in a single parent household and so when Mum was working, I used to spend holidays with her parents who live in Yarrawonga on the Murray River. I made friends, including my best friend who I met when we were five years old. Her family really embraced me and her grandfather ran a farm so we’d spend time on the farm, going around on motorbikes and doing things you just wouldn’t experience as a city kid. We’d take our bikes out to the bush and pick mushrooms and as long as we were home by tea time, it would be ok. That side of my childhood really informed my interests later in life.
During year 9 at Methodist Ladies College, I spent a term on a remote farm called Marshmead which was hugely life changing. Enjoying nature was something Marshmead introduced me to. I really loved the sense of peace I got out in the bush. I adored being in nature and loved every minute of it. From that point on, I felt this deep sense of connection with the earth and wanted to do something connected to that in my own life.
Connecting how I choose to eat with the impact I have on the environment was a really empowering moment in my life. Prior to that, I was focused on having shorter showers and switching to green energy, which are all really important, but food is something I make decisions about three or four times a day. Each time it’s an opportunity to consider how I’m impacting the environment and how I’m supporting our community. That, for me, is the power of food. It’s not a chore, it’s a joy. I think most of us find joy in food, and to attach that with how we choose to care for the world I think is a very positive message.
Everyone has to eat and how we choose to eat has the power to change the world. We get to choose where we spend our money every single day and that’s a very powerful vote. But making ethical decisions can be very complex and confusing. We realised if we can do all the hard yards and simplify that for the masses, then maybe more people would jump on board.
We need to educate people about the true cost of their food choices. I remember chatting to Sylvia, who runs Bass Coast Farm in Gippsland, and she was saying she had watched 34 dairy farmers close in her region in the last 20 years. She said, “People don’t realise what that does to our communities. Who is running our CFAs? Who is filling our footy teams?” So we might corporatise farms and people are still getting food, but at what cost?
You have to believe we are all good at heart, but I think there is a real disconnect in the way people behave. You have animal lovers who donate to the RSPCA monthly, but eat meat three times a day from God knows where. They haven’t connected their sense of care and love for their pets with their sense of care and love for the animals that they consume so we are trying to bring that to light. That’s why we are currently in the midst of our Give a Fork! Campaign. We need a national food campaign that gets people talking and discussing the impacts our food choices have on the environment, our health, on animals and on farmers. We would love to see the Give a Fork! campaign grow to be the sort of national voice for food system issues in a way that Movember is for men’s health issues.
Developing connections is really important to me. When it comes to food shopping, that’s been a big influencing factor. It’s not just the sustainability aspect of shopping at a farmers’ market, it’s the fact I get to have conversations with the people who grow my food. I think that’s how we should be relating to our food and how we are born to connect with people and communities. Sometimes in cities we are lacking that. For me, I’ve been able to create that sense of community through how I purchase food and that’s incredibly empowering.
© Matilda Bowra 2016