Solve world hunger . . . one meal at a time

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Solving world hunger . . it’s no small topic to broach in the lead-up to Christmas but you can be thankful the issue has not been addressed by me but by Ronni Kahn, CEO and Founder OzHarvest, Australia’s leading food rescue organisation.

Ronni is, of course, the Founder and CEO of OzHarvest; she is strong-willed, single-minded and extraordinary. Ronni set up OzHarvest a decade ago and today there are 28 vans tootling about each capital city in Australia feeding people who would have once gone hungry. But OzHarvest, and Ronni, are becoming much more than just a pick-up service for leftover food. They are leading the charge on food waste – a $10billion waste in Australia alone. It’s a proper disgrace.

And yes, I am honoured to sit on the Board of OzHarvest.

This week Ronni is in Lima, Peru as a guest of the United Nations. Here’s what she is going to say:

Solving world hunger and climate change by addressing global food waste

Although you’ve heard this  before, we need you to hear some of the issues facing all of us again and perhaps pass this knowledge onto someone who hasn’t heard it, so they too can be aware…

On one hand, nearly one-third of the world’s food production goes to waste each year.

That’s some 1.3 billion tonnes of fruits, vegetables, cereals, meats and dairy products lost or wasted instead of being eaten according to the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation.

On the other hand, 870 million people across the globe are undernourished and without access to food.

Skip to Australia. OzHarvest, as part of our Education pillar (the other pillars being Rescue and Engage), repeats this fact year on year, that $8-10 billion of food is wasted in Australia every year. That’s 4 million tonnes of food that ends up in landfill.

Think of the staggering amounts of squandered water, energy, fuel and labour used to produce those products.

Horrendous for a country with a modest population of 23 million.

The terrifying reality is that 2.5 million of our fellow Australians actually live in poverty according to the latest ACOSS report released this year, and rely on assistance and food relief services such as those provided by OzHarvest, FoodBank and similar organisations to get by.

Without the basics of food and water, how can one survive?

This is what connects all humans. It’s also what provides a person with dignity and respect. It is our basic human rights. It’s also why some experts say food security and food sustainability are two of the most important issues necessary to solve in our lifetime.

I bring your attention to some of the global challenges that we at OzHarvest like to get our hands dirty with, and have a go at contributing our innovative thinking and solutions towards.

The global issue of food waste, food security, and how to feed a growing world population which will exceed 9 billion by mid-Century.

Another is Climate Change. It’s real. It sure is.

Believe it or not, food waste contributes significantly to Climate Change.

So if you’ve ever wasted the weekend’s leftover spag bol that you just couldn’t bring yourself to eating on Monday morning, or threw away a banana because it’s too brown and bruised…. we’re all a little guilty aren’t we?

Every kilo of food wasted or lost that ends up in landfill, rots and creates methane which is 20 times more harmful a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide.

As the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) points out, if food waste were a country, it would be the third highest GHG emitter after the USA and China. Scary fact.

It’s exactly these issues that see OzHarvest invited by our international partners UNEP and Climate Action, to bring our decade of experience, learnings and knowledge – and proven track record – to activate a food waste themed educational, informative and interactive lunch event for 350+ delegates as part of the Sustainable Innovation Forum at COP20 Lima.

The Sustainable Innovation Forum brings together world leaders, CEOs, senior executives, national, regional and city leaders, investors and industry experts to share ideas and accelerate innovative solutions to address climate change, accelerate green growth and sustainable development.

It’s with pride and honour that our somewhat small actions at OzHarvest, in having saved 10 million kilos of food from landfill to date, and delivering 30 million meals to hungry Australians have left a huge positive impact on our environment and social world and continue to make an impact as we share our model and legacy with other countries.

I hope this encourages you all to think about what you too can do, to make a small contribution in your own way, to help solve hunger, reduce food waste and make a positive impact to addressing Climate Change which will affect each and every one of us , if not now, in some time in the not too distant future. Help us make the small changes necessary to make a huge difference.

RIP Gusman encore. A worthwhile reminder why we should fight cancer with all we got.

When you’re dealing with parents growing old and getting crook, as all of us in our ’40s undoubtedly are, you’re always struggling for perspective, for meaning and sometimes you get an unexpected clarion call.

On the weekend I got an email from Maz Larkin thanking me for a post I wrote a year ago about the death of her beautiful son Gus to brain cancer at age 15. She had been sent it from a friend on the one year anniversary of his death on October 24, 2013. She pointed me to a video tribute made to Gus that is now on the Cure Brain Cancer website here.

She also reminded me that this weekend right around the country you can walk for a cure; there are literally hundreds of walks on – so maybe try to do one or donate a few bucks.

Brain cancer is shit. We’d be far better off without it.

So following is the blog I posted the day of Gus Larkin’s funeral on October 30, 2013; I hope it’s worth reading again or for the first time. I did and cried like a baby. But somehow it also filled me with hope and so did Maz’s amazing note this week. It’s pretty amazing how strong we can be.

RIP Gusman – I wish I knew you better
Original post, posted on October 30, 2013

I didn’t know Gus Larkin real well. Met him a few times, seemed like a good kid – son of a mate, funny bastard, quirky sense of humour, loved the Simpsons. Nothing unusual about any of that. I got to know Gus a whole lot better today at his funeral. Gus Larkin passed away last week aged 15, courtesy of a horrible brain tumor, as if there is any other kind.

Gus lived shorter than all of us would want, he suffered more than most of us could imagine, yet he did it with the strength and attitude all of us would covet. He was an ordinary kid at 11 when he had a bit of blurred vision. That was 2010, he was tested and the news every parent dreaded was delivered. What made this impossibly worse was that at almost exactly the same time, in fact within the very same month, his old man, my mate Gav Larkin, founder of RUOK Day, was also diagnosed with an entirely unrelated Lymphoma. Gav died in September 2011, Gus went to join him last Thursday.

Today was impossibly difficult. It was hard enough for us, the congregation at the church in Waverley, but for Maz, Gav’s wife and Gus’ mum – well you just can’t fathom it. You simply can’t put any of your feelings into words; whether written or spoken.

And when Gus’ sister Josie spoke, and she spoke incredibly beautifully as anyone who knows her knew she would, she said that this one – burying her brother, was even harder than the last one, burying her beloved father – you just had to ask yourself – how can this be allowed to happen? How can life be so brutal, so unkind, so impossibly sad?

And when Maz spoke, so gently, so beautifully about cradling Gus in her arms at his birth and just 15 short years later, at his death – your heart just fair dinkum broke. In half. Shattered.

I’m not a religious bloke, so I’m not sure God is going to do it for me, but the Catholic father said something that resonated. He said “Trust”. You just have to have Trust and you have to believe that somehow things will get better. For Trust, read faith. And regardless of your denomination of faith, faith is the thing that binds us. Faith that somehow, something good can come of such tragedy.

I’ve never felt so despairing at a funeral. I’ve seen a few off in their ‘40s and plenty in their ‘80s, but seeing off a 15 year old is gut-wrenching. Your whole body aches, your head throbs and hours later your eyes still sting. As a mate said as we exited the church; “15 year olds should be at birthday parties, not funerals.”

To Maz and Josie and Van and all their extended family all we can do is extend ridiculous, sincere and wholly unfulfilling commiserations. From what I knew and now know of Gus, or the Gusman, is that he was awesome. That he celebrated every day – every sunrise and sunset; that he saw the great in every day. That he lived and fought and loved and celebrated as hard in his 15 years as many do in eight or nine decades might say something. What? I have no idea.

His was not a life fulfilled, it was a life cut well and truly short. But it WAS a life well lived. He was surrounded by love and heartbreak and joy and real, genuine sadness. He never reached the potential he might have, given time, maturity and worldliness, but he gave his short 15 years everything he had. And maybe we just have to trust someone or something or some entity that, that’s enough… Because let’s be honest – what other option is there?

One option is to donate money right here www.cureforlife.org.au

Why are we eating our own? A leading #sommelierspeaksout

Last week I posted a blog on my frustrations with a very particular type of wine list in a pretty particular type of place – if you don’t remember my estimable words please refresh your mind here.

On the following day in the slightly more august Sydney Morning Herald, veteran wine writer Huon Hooke had his say on his own pet frustrations on pretty much the same topic, although his issues were slightly different to mine. See them here.

And off went twitter. Sommeliers were aggrieved, wine writers were defensive, some people were rude, some saw a conspiracy, others wondered what all the fuss was about. Most normal people didn’t even know it was happening – such is the insular world of the wine-loving twittersphere.

Tom Hogan is an award-winning sommelier, formerly of the Lake House in Daylesford where he presided over a list that last month was awarded Australia’s Best in the 2014 Wine List of the Year competition. More recently he has set up his own excellent part wine bar/part shop in Port Melbourne called Harry & Frankie which won Best New Wine List in the same national competition. It is a wonderful joint and Huon and I both agree its wine list is of the very highest order.

Tom was a bit peeved by a few things we wrote so I have offered him the chance to put forward his personal view, and that of the profession of which he is justifiably very proud.

Take it away Tom:

Why are we eating our own?

The role of a Sommelier within restaurants and the broader wine industry has dramatically increased in importance over recent years – this has been triggered by the higher standards of professionalism within the Sommelier community and a desire from the dining public for more specialised beverage service. Sommeliers now enjoy a greater responsibility, along with winemakers and wine writers, in nurturing an ever-increasingly competitive wine industry.

Mirroring our chef colleagues’ desire to challenge and innovate, the best Sommeliers are curating wine lists championing the artisanal and the dynamic from here and abroad. I’m always excited to see an emphasis on the former rather than the latter, including boundary pushing styles that can sometimes be confronting. The best wine lists recognise the importance of synergy with the restaurant’s cuisine, service ethos and environment (both immediate and surrounding). It would be inappropriate for Attica – an innovative, dynamic, challenging food experience – to carry a list boasting producers whose heyday was in the early to mid-90s. Nor should an RSL list be dominated by alternative “amber” wines. Attica’s signature dish of ‘potato cooked in the earth it was grown’ surely demands a match more progressive than the vinous equivalent of steak, egg and chips.

It is important to recognise that a restaurant’s target audience is not necessarily the general public as a whole – successful restaurants pitch themselves succinctly to their target audience. The moment one attempts to be something to everyone, you’re not too far away from being nothing to no-one. Ultimately, the success of a wine list is shaped by market pressures – are consumers embracing the list? The financial sustainability of a wine program will help inform its future direction.

It’s indisputable that stories sell wine; it’s also true that the best stories are those you’ve experienced first-hand. Having said that, your story is only as engaging and significant as your wine is delicious. It’s with these concepts at the forefront of our mind, my colleagues and I champion producers such as;

  • Ruggabellus: Abel, Emma, Bailin & Rouille are some of my family’s closest friends having spent Christmas & Easter together
  • Jauma: James is responsible for the biggest hangover of my life and is someone I’ve known for 8 years
  • Syrahmi: Fozzie’s to blame for my ‘big break’ at Lake House & I’m to blame for setting him up on a blind date with his future wife and
  • Jamsheed: I probably learnt more from drinking with Millsy at Gerald’s in the late-2000’s than I did through my WSET Diploma

These stories might be seen as self-indulgent – and probably quite rightly – however, I’m trying to convey that these producers are not trendy in my eyes – simply, they are my friends and they are making fantastic wines that I’m proud to stock and serve.

The fact that they are found on many wine lists is further testimony to their quality.

On the single occasion I was visited by a TWE / Fosters / Southcorp representative in the past decade, I placed an order which was unable to be fulfilled because the product in question had been removed from sale in order to fulfil the minimum stock requirements for future wine shows. It’s hypocritical for big companies to bemoan the lack of local support, having neglected the local market for much of the past two decades.

Harry & Frankie is a family business. I choose to do business with families and owner operators who are producing excellent wine and with whom I have personal relationships. I don’t have a gripe with big companies – but they lack the personal connection I have with many of Australia’s artisanal producers.

The Sommelier community’s increasing relevance and influence has been met with thinly-veiled criticism from a small, yet vocal portion of traditional wine media. The role of the critic, in my mind, encompasses actively partaking in constructive discontent. Unfortunately, the Sommelier community has been on the receiving end of a disproportionate number of published works displaying an unhealthy dose of unconstructive negativity. In my mind this particular discourse might just be fuelled by a fear of irrelevance in an evolving wine landscape, a landscape that is highly influenced by the digital environment we now live in. But that might just be me having my personal grip and taking things a little too personally.

On almost every day, the wine game is an incredibly rewarding industry to be involved in. We deal in a completely unnecessary product that we indulge purely for our pleasure. However, it is a tough game. All of its major players are currently under pressure; big wine companies are reporting record losses, wine writers are seeing their column inches cut and restaurateurs are facing ever diminishing profit margins.

Some in the industry have reacted poorly and have chosen not to support one another – rather, they have chosen to adopt a seemingly cannibalistic approach to one another. In particular, I felt last week’s piece by Huon Hooke in the SMH questioned the validity and worth of my, and my colleagues’ role as sommeliers while casting aspersions on my wine making friends with the other. I took it really personally. Maybe that’s not how it was directed and I know Huon is not a malicious man, in fact he’s a great bloke, but that’s how I felt.

We do our best to encourage people to learn about and enjoy more interesting wines. We slave over our businesses and try to be hospitable, we are protective of our own. And when we feel aggrieved we feel the need to fight back and defend our turf, in a civilised way, with a great glass of wine by our side.

So Huon – what will it be? I will open any bottle you like on my list – there’s nothing that can’t be sorted out over a good bottle of wine – at least that’s something we surely agree on.

Tom Hogan
Owner & Sommelier
Harry & Frankie

 

Yet another gripe about wine lists… #predictablestu

I write this column from atop my high horse. I’ve been riding this particular steed for quite a while and intend never to get off till I get my way. And trust me people I’m a hefty bloke with some pretty serious saddle sores right now, so for god’s sake please pay attention.

Australian wine does not have nearly enough representation on the better wine lists of Sydney and Melbourne. And it pisses me off. And it has done so for more than a decade. And I thought it might be improving, but it’s not.

Last month I was invited for the fifth year, to be a panel member judging the Sydney Morning Herald Good Food Guide Wine Lists of the Year. Big lists, short lists and regional lists and the winners will be announced on September 1. There are some terrific lists, cleverly constructed that understand that bigger is not always better, that empathy with the food is essential and that supporting local “producers” includes the wine grower as well as the pig farmer.

And then there are the “others”. The ones that think they are “on trend” by being deliberately obscure; ignoring local wines that might simply be too easily understood and accessible.

And then . . ., ooh baby, then  . . . . there’s my particular bete noir; the hypocritical locavore.

The bloke (and it’s ALWAYS a bloke) who forages the weeds from his median strip and  blends them with the whey from the cow he keeps in his yard and the salt he pans from the Alexandria canal . . . oh god, it’s all so painfully LOCAL and ON TREND, it might just make you grow a beard.

But when I see his drinks list, I really want to hurt a hipster because, yep no surprises here, 90% of his wine list has travelled halfway round the world, in big clumsy, heavy bottles with stupid waxy tops and contents that look like the urine sample of a man with just one functioning kidney.

I’m sorry but I call a big, fat, BULLSHIT on that sort of behaviour.

For mine it shows that the person in charge of this restaurant is a chef, not a restaurateur, and that’s bad for business.

I could understand this dire situation prevailing if we lived in, say Wales or Kenya or even Thailand but we don’t. We reside in one of the most clever, brilliant, diverse and exciting wine producing nations in the world and we are getting too widely ignored on our own shores.

If I was in government (and you can be glad I’m not) I would be bloody legislating against this sort of behaviour. I’d be banging on louder than Senator Crazypants from Queensland – and making a hell of a lot more sense.

I have nothing against wines from all over the world; I love them and drink them all the time, but I reckon an outstanding wine list should offer diners the best of both worlds – wacky wines and drinkable wines and an opportunity to discover something they didn’t know they had, possibly right here on their own doorstep.

So think local, eat local and drink local.  It will make you a better human.

Think. Eat. Save. Why we need to repurpose our fridge. @OzHarvest. #mealforameal

Bill Pritchard is the Associate Professor in Human Geography at the University of Sydney. I first read this post late last week and it was set for a run in the mainstream media but extraordinary events dictated otherwise.

Today Bill and I both participated in Oz Harvest’s incredible Think. Eat. Save initiative in Martin Place. He agreed to let me post his piece on my blog.

Thanks Bill.

Think. Eat. Save. Why we need to repurpose our fridge. @OzHarvest. #mealforameal

Take a look at your fridge. If it’s like those of many Australians, too many of its contents exist in situational limbo between being bought, semi-consumed, and then, some days, weeks or months later, discarded.

A fridge of half-consumed food might seem like the most implausible subject for serious intellectual enquiry. But in the quest to understand and repair the twenty-first century’s dysfunctional food system, it’s a good place to start.

Our current global food system leaves more than 800 million people under-nourished, makes more than 500 million people obese, and unsustainably diminishes our natural resource base. The current ways in which we produce food aren’t feasible for a future planet of nine billion.

Fixing these problems is tough work. It takes good science, clever policies, and political and civic leadership. However, sometimes the best strategies are also the most obvious. The World Bank has estimated that somewhere between one-third and one-quarter of all food produced in the world is wasted. If we can address this, a huge step forward would be taken.

Why is food wasted? In Australia, the ironic cause of much of the problem is our excellence in transport, logistics and packaging. Our easy access to a huge range of food that is packaged and presented for (apparent) freshness, make the problem of food waste seem invisible.

I’m old enough to remember my mum planning our meals. Sunday dinners would be converted through the week into stews and casseroles. My mum did these things because of the cultural repertoire that defined her generation’s attitude towards food. In an age less dependent on refrigeration and with less packaging, doing the most with the food you had was a moral and economic code. The cookbooks of the age celebrated the creative uses of leftovers.

We shouldn’t invoke nostalgia for its own sake. But remembering the past brings the shortcomings of the present into view. Social, economic and technological systems have seduced consumers into false economies. Buying food in bulk may give the suggestion of cost savings, but these savings evaporate if the food is later discarded. All too often, fridges have become transit zones of poor food choices.

The irony is that with microwaves and other supportive technology, we are better positioned than ever to organise food consumption in ways that minimise wastage. However, contemporary consumer mindsets treasure new and different meals every night, rather than planning weekly food cycles. Supermarkets construct and feed these mentalities by glamourising perfection. Misshapen fruit is filtered out of sight. Packaged foods are sold in increasingly idiosyncratic and expensive ways through manipulations of exotic combinations of ingredients.

The horizon is not all bleak. The Think.Eat.Save initiative by OzHarvest in partnership with the United Nations Environment Programme and UN Food & Agriculture Organization, brings these issues to the foreground. Among the hipster communities of the younger generation, food is sexy. In my experience as a lecturer at the University of Sydney, the best and the brightest of the next generation all understand the importance of food politics. Volunteer community gardening is the new black.

These trends don’t reach everyone in society equally. For the many households on struggle street, getting a meal with greatest convenience and lowest price remains the priority. But as a society, we are now starting to have a different kind of conversation about food, and one which is bringing the problem of food waste front and centre. A good start is to look inside your fridge, and think about how and why its contents tell a bigger story about the global food system.

We live in a society where we think we’re still better off if we buy in bulk, leave the detritus of our choices in our refrigerators, and then dump it at zero personal cost for our local Council garbage collectors to pick up.

Whether we’re better off is questionable. Whether the planet is better off is undeniably not the case.

#thankful for Ester and her @dairygoodness

Ester

Ester Wimborne was not famous but she was much loved, almost revered by people who love great dairy, real people and beautiful produce.

She sold Country Valley yoghurts and milks at Eveleigh and Marrickville Markets every weekend for at least the past five years. She died in a road accident last Sunday.

Ester or @dairygoodness as she was known on Twitter, was remembered at the Delicious Produce Awards on Monday. She is a great loss.

Without prompting, our wonderful Business Manager Sophie Steverson drafted this #thankful tribute to Ester, who she saw every weekend for five years.

Soph has agreed that I can post this tribute on my blog. Thanks Soph.

#thankful for Ester and her @dairygoodness

By Sophie Steverson

We had a timely reminder on the weekend on the preciousness of life and how it can be turned upside down when least expected. 

We have been buying our milk and yoghurt from the Eveleigh or Marrickville Markets for the past five years. Once upon a time we brought milk at the supermarket and didn’t really give it much thought. Then we met Ester who sold milk, yoghurt and cheeses at the markets. 

Suddenly there was a story behind where the milk was coming from and every week she would tell us almost exactly the same story about how great her milk was, how many awards it had won and how we wouldn’t find better. We were slow to adapt. I wasn’t convinced. But over time and many a free sample we became addicted. 

We started to share Ester’s love for the product, her never ending and tireless campaigning for the small guys who believed in what they produced. When we had our babies, Ester would personally deliver milk and yoghurt to our house at no extra cost but would love a simple conversation on how we were all going. 

We went for our usual trip to the markets on this Sunday morning just past. As one of the first people to arrive we were told the terrible news that Ester had died in a car accident on her way to the markets, only an hour earlier. 

We were stunned, in shock, not sure how to process the information. While not being close by any means, Ester has played a big part in our weekly habits of the past five years and suddenly she would now not be involved any more. Ester will no longer tell us how much our children are growing and how it must be because of her milk and yoghurt.  

The last time I saw Ester my son was having a meltdown that not even a free sample of juice, yoghurt or butter could abate. I was looking forward to having a real conversation this week but it didn’t happen, and now never will. 

I can’t remember if I ever expressed my real thanks to Ester for being there every week but I’m thankful that we were able to share our Sundays, that she shared her story with us and that we can continue to enjoy her beautiful products and remember her when we do.

Thanks Ester. Rest in beautiful dairy peace.

 

 

Australian manufacturing has a future. It’s called craft.

Australian manufacturing has a bright future, maybe. If we can look past the past and into the future; if we can get the government out of the way and let us be awesome; and if people can reconcile that we will never drive an Aussie made car again… If all these things happen Australian manufacturing will thrive again.

Australia’s manufacturing future is craft. It’s good things made in small batches. It’s high quality and ingenuity over mass produced and homogeneous. It’s food and booze not clothing and textiles. It’s stuff where we have a natural competitive advantage, not things where we need hand-outs, leg-ups or trade protection.

Now I’m going to warn you that there is a totally self-serving piece of promotion coming up, so if it makes you uncomfortable, look away. But it gives context. It tells a real story, so here it is…

Three weeks ago I received an email that the gin brand I am lucky enough to be partner in, Four Pillars, had won a Double Gold medal at the World Spirits Competition in San Francisco – at our first attempt. Boom! We had made what good judges thought was one of the nine best in the world. We make this gin in small batches in the Yarra Valley and we’ve been at it for less than a year.

Our win received a little bit of publicity and it was bookended by two other brands winning awards that make me see a bright future for Aussie food and booze. A couple weeks before we won our award, a small whisky distillery in Tasmania, Sullivans Cove, was voted the World’s Best Whisky at a serious and credible competition in the UK. You can read the story here. It is a brilliant result for a small distillery that has been going almost 20 years.

And then last week Cobram Estate, Australia’s biggest olive oil producer, jagged a couple of international awards at a global food showcase in New York. And this was the second year in a row it has happened. And yes, thanks for asking, I know and like the Cobram Estate guys and I’ve met and tasted the Sullivan’s Cove drinks and yes I am massive fans of them both.

It is important to note we are craft, not “cottage” industries. We are serious brands wanting to take great products to the world. But with one simple caveat:

PLEASE, can I beg our Treasurer and his mates TO GET OUT OF OUR WAY.

Get this – the Federal government makes almost THREE TIMES more revenue out of one bottle of our gin than we, the producer, do. Yep that’s right. We make around $12 per bottle (and then we take out COGs and expenses) and the Feds get $24 excise plus $5 GST – so close to $30 PER BOTTLE! It’s INSANE.

And it makes Australia the highest taxed spirits industry in the world. An American craft distiller is taxed 10 TIMES less than we are. Yes, granted, we like Austrade but this sort of punitive tax regime HAS to be fixed to allow more of us to flourish and employ many more thousands of people in our craft industry.

And don’t start me on us being part of the alcohol “problem” this country supposedly faces (which it doesn’t, but that’s another story).

OK, political soapboxing complete.

Here is a message – to the cheese and ice cream makers, the olive oil producers, the distillers, the winemakers, the brewers, the bakers and the tea and coffee makers… WE, yes WE are the future of manufacturing for this country. We manufacture things that are the world’s best and we showcase them proudly across the globe. And we win. We show that Australia is a sophisticated, tasty, discerning, clever, creative and crafty country.

Long may Aussie manufacturing reign. I reckon we should all drink to that. Who’s with me?