Are you food literate?

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WORDS | Alycia Crofton

You might identify as a vegetarian, follow the paleo way or make do with whatever is on special at Woolworths. Whatever your flavour we all have a relationship with food whether it involves love, hate or general confusion. The health of this relationship can influence our physical and mental health as well as our social lives and bank balance. Food plays an integral role in our everyday, yet likely because of its habitual use, we don’t take the time to really think about what we are putting in our bodies and where it came from. Our food choices not only impact the health of our bodies, but also the health of our communities, economy and natural environment.

Food literacy is not exactly taught in school and unless you are specifically interested, not at university either. Your food ‘IQ’ and eating habits can be defined by your childhood, your parents, and cultural traditions. In adulthood it is often finances, convenience, and ego that determine what goes into your mouth. 10805699_871861549498884_5761735874162209175_n

Everything you eat goes through the organs of your digestive system and components filter through your liver, kidneys, blood, eventually interacting on some level with every cell in your body. The more processed your food, the harder it is for your body to break down. The choices you make every day also affect the swaying trends of consumerism, the marketing of large and small businesses alike, and the income of producers and farmers. When you pay for a certain food item you are essentially casting a vote that says ‘I want more’.

Big names in the food industry such as Jamie Oliver and Stephanie Alexander are well known advocates of improving the food literacy of communities, especially children and youth. These two in particular have developed educational programs for communities to regain knowledge about cooking, growing food and taking responsibility for what you choose to put in your body and your families. Numerous bloggers, social activists and nutritionists have also jumped on the bandwagon to communicate their opinions and stories to a willing public. There is a growing movement happening right now that is asking individuals to take personal responsibility for their choices while demanding transparency and support for education from authorities.

This active movement comes from growing global concerns of food security, overpopulation and poverty. The concerning increase in obesity and disease in developed nations is also strongly connected to our love of new, highly processed foods. Coupled with savvy marketing and corporate sponsorship, our major food companies and government authorities are not motivated to backtrack such developments.

There are a growing number of youth out there that are starting to question the ways we’ve been eating as a nation. The Youth Food Movement is a wonderful example of these informed folks, sharing their knowledge and love of food through online campaigns and fun events.

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One such event series is ‘Meet the Maker’ the second of which was a huge success last month. The team searches for farmers from a variety of backgrounds and industries that are interested in connecting with their young consumers. A fun night of discussions is facilitated in an intimate city bar where a hundred young people get to learn the process food goes through before hitting their plate and ask their questions direct to the source. Project leader, Helena describes the event as an, “approachable, relaxed and an experiential learning process. By bringing two farmers into a local city bar you can feed your mind and bellies”. You also get to taste the farmers produce – October’s event focused on eggs and dairy which the local chef transformed into milkshakes and fancy hors d’oeuvres.

Previous guests who do not necessarily have a foodie background, were keen to further support the farmers they met and as Helena puts it, “putting a face to the produce and having the opportunity to hear some of the farmers stories forges an emotional connection between the people who eat the food and the people who grow it.”

Helena herself has been working on the event and social media management side of YFM* which has been great experience for her own lifestyle and career being “empowered to test out new skills” in a “seriously supportive environment” of like-minded, passionate people. “I have become purchasing savvy when I choose the food that I eat, and am also much more aware of the businesses that I choose to buy my food because I want to support individuals who are passionate, transparent and environmentally light-treading when it comes to the way that they conduct their business. I literally put my money where my mouth is.”

The City of Sydney council is stepping up to the plate, having just laid plans for a new project to bring the farm to the city, literally. By the end of next year a fully functioning farm and educational centre will be built for inner city residents to visit and facilitate interaction with the source of their food. This acknowledgment of the lack of connection and education surrounding food is a great leap forward to developing more sustainable cities and reducing our reliance on corporate producers.

Stepping away from the supermarket every now and then and walking through a farmers market is an enjoyable experience that indulges all the senses. You can have a friendly chat with the producers, taste test their produce and see all the varieties of colourful vegetables and fresh meats that are often not available in a supermarket. It gives you more appreciation for the food you buy, allowing you to be healthy and sustainable at the same time. If you don’t live near one, the farmer’s market now comes to you on campus with a Harvest Hub stall every Wednesday (central courtyard) and Saturday (gym). I’ve personally started buying lots from these guys and it’s always fresh and comes way under budget.

There is no need to fit a standard or hierarchy over what everyone should and shouldn’t be eating. As long as we do not remain ignorant and are able to truthfully admit that we are the product of our choices – then that’s the best we can do. It’s not easy to change a lifelong habit but it’s not hard to learn something new. Read a book, a blog, an article or at the least the ingredients on a food package. You’ve only got one body so you might as well put good things in it whilst supporting a healthier, happier lifestyle change for everyone.

The next instalment of Meet the Maker will be in February 2015 and you can follow the Youth Food Movement on Facebook and Twitter for details of all upcoming events.

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