Before I wrote my first book I was a mess. A physical manifestation of my life choices. I ate all the wrong things, I rarely exercised, and I drank way too much.
There were however, voices heard through the clutter of modern media, voices that resonated, ultimately influencing me to begin my journey. In the late 90's an English mate introduced me to Jamie Oliver. I remember attending a classic 90's dinner party that hosted where some of the dish's came straight out from the Jamie Oliver cook book. I'm pretty sure the main dish involved zucchini, cream, parmesan, pine nuts and farfalle pasta. This sounds ridiculous to share now, but I'd never eaten anything like it. It was simple to prepare, relatively healthy and addictively delicious. I cheekily asked for more servings, and went out and purchased the book in the following days.
Prior to this experience I wasn't much of a cook. For years after however, I'd enjoy cooking 'fancy' meals for dinner parties and special occasions, but never really embraced cooking as part of my everyday. Then Jamie did a TV special where he travelled around Italy cooking food with the locals. I discovered that other cultures don't just eat food for fuel, instead I was introduced to the concept that food can be much more than that. It can be identity, tradition, celebration, love and beautiful version of a human existence. I subsequently saved like mad, sold my car and bought a ticket to Italy, where I inevitably fell in love with food, but also the lifestyle where food is regarding as an integral part of our life story. I returned to Australia and began cooking everyday.
One lazy weekend I remember stumbling across a re-run of a BBC TV show called 'Escape to River Cottage'. This Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall character was mind blowingly inspirational. I became obsessed. As a child I'd been raised on a farm, we had a large veg patch, chooks, cows, fruit trees etc, but as an adult working in an office I'd lost touch with all those things. Fresh from Italy, inspired by Jamie and Hugh I began digging up my rented backyard and growing vegetables, raising animals, hunting and foraging. This was ten years ago now. I had no idea that the process would lead me down a path of becoming much healthier and more aware of where my food comes from, and what it does to me. Sure I've since written a few of my own cook books with a focus on the whole grow, gather, hunt, cook approach, the end game is really just about a return to eating real food, food that keeps us healthy, food our bodies have evolved to optimally function with.
The point I'm waywardly making is that it's those voices nudged me along the way. Those voices in the form of books and inspiring TV series are what motivated me to embrace a new way of living. Both of these blokes continue working tirelessly at keeping those voices heard. Unfortunately there are many hardline, extreme value based people that literally spew hate towards people like Jamie because after he partnered up with a major brand supermarket. Of course everyone is entitled to their opinion. Playing devils advocate I'll suggest we examine the bigger picture.
Most Australian's (86% according to The Colmar Brunton Omnibus Survey) prefer to shop at one of many of the thousands of supermarkets dotted around Australia, the other 14% visit farmers markets. I'd guess that somewhere between 1-5% of us grow our own food (a.k.a. The Freaks).
So most Aussie shoppers visit supermarkets. Most Aussie adults are also overweight or obese 63.4% (ABS Health Survey 2014). So to influence any change with our nations diet influenced health crisis, one might assume the most effective approach would be to work with the companies that are selling the most amount of food, to the majority of the population. Sure, this doesn't take into account how the farmers are treated, primary producers welfare (417 visa worker abuse), whether the food is organic, free range, local, sustainable, an so many other issues. But maybe focusing on one issue at a time achieves more significant gains.
I once attended an event called the Do Lectures. Over the course of the weekend event I heard this sentence repeated many times: "Do one thing, and do it well". In regards to addressing a social issues, this approach resonates with me. We have a serious issue with diet influenced obesity. It's caused by two main factors, the type of food we eat, and why we choose to eat it (our relationship with food). Obesity is a serious problem leading to many secondary health issues such as Type 2 diabetes, increased risk of heart disease, stroke and many cancers. Every OECD country now has a national health issue with diet influenced obesity. This is a a health issue of global proportions, it's time we began to take it more seriously!
Some people focus on the welfare of farmed pigs, some people focus on our over fished oceans. Some people focus on personal health for the sake of looking amazing, some people focus on promoting food a healthy functioning body (that's me).
For many of us (not all, but many) with some focus and dedication we can address many aspects of our modern food issues by embracing mindful consumerism. As a food activist, however, I now accept that a focus on one major issue at a time will bring about better traction, momentum and public awareness.
So here's to the voices out there that are championing all the many and varied causes with a focus on food. What ever way they approach the issue, I commend you. For those that have influenced me personally, I thank you. I listened, and I changed my behaviour. The results are awesome.