• Interview with Alex Iljadica of the Youth Food

YFM teach us that even wonky carrots deserve to be chomped on.

You've probably been a bit of a dick to your vegetables recently. You might have looked at a soggy bag of beans and a wilting piece of celery and said, "you guys just aren't good enough to go in my mouth, I'm going to throw you in the bin instead," seriously, that's such a dick move on your end. Imagine if someone threw you into a dumpster every time you felt a little lack lustre or sleepy.

The people at Youth Food Movement are all about re-connecting us with our food and changing the engrained attitudes that we have towards waste. They want to drop a few friendly knowledge bombs on us about ethical eating and teach us a thing or two about sustainable ways to keep our planet stocked with fresh, healthy, delicious food.

We spoke with founding director, Alex Iljadica, who gave us the low down on YFM along with some handy tips on how not to be dicks to our fruit and vegies

  1. What’s the Youth Food Movement all about and what sparked its beginning?

We met studying nutrition at the University of Wollongong and we felt a bit overwhelmed and powerless to some of the challenges we could see in in the food system such as soaring obesity levels, unacceptable amounts of food waste or a system reliant on non-renewable resources. We were young people, we lived in the city far from those who grew our food but the more impassioned conversations we shared, the more we realised that consumers have a significant and crucial role in shaping the food landscape. We are the demand side of the equation.

With this realisation that consumers are key, the conversations we were having still felt hopeless at times. The future looked bleak, and the people who were talking about our future, the world that we would raise our children in, spoke with passion, but they also appeared exhausted.

This was in stark contrast to the conversations we’d have with friends about food, throwing ideas around about different projects we could run to start reducing food waste, reducing obesity, giving farmers a fairer wage. Those conversations were filled with youthful exuberance. They were filled with hope and this is what we wanted to inject into conversations about food happening in Sydney.

I always say “I can do nothing, or I can do something” and we saw that creating a community around food was a way of doing something about that future that we innately care so much about. We saw an opportunity to build the skills, knowledge, connection and value that young people have around food, as a means of supporting and driving ‘healthier’ food choices, which support our individual health and those of the land, the farmers and our communities.

"The more impassioned conversations we shared, the more we realised that consumers have a significant and crucial role in shaping the food landscape. We are the demand side of the equation."

2. How did you get YFM off the ground?

There are plenty of ways to create a more sustainable food system, the piece of the pie that we are contributing (our theory of change) is about increasing food literacy - the knowledge, skills and experiences young adults have around food - and empowering young people to be active in their community - I’m not talking exercise, I’m talking about being a leader, getting your hands dirty in things that matter and having a voice in conversations that matter.

We kicked things off like many good businesses, we had a dinner one night and we invited anyone and everyone we knew who cared and thought about food and its impact on the world as much as we did. At that dinner, we covered the tables in brown paper and gave everyone a texta and asked them, ‘what keeps you up at night when it comes to food?’. From there half of the group became our first volunteers and it grew from there.

3. What kind of projects are you working on at the moment?

We just wrapped up SpoonLed, a workshop series all about food waste which combined practical food hacks (for example how to sniff test your food to know if it’s edible or binable) with leadership (how to talk to your housemates about this stuff without sounding preachy).

The Brisbane team are just about to roll out What the Food a walking and tasting tour around Brisbane to delve deep in the growing food scene. People will be getting their hands dirty with some DIY workshops as well as meeting local food champions and entrepreneurs.

We also have an exciting project in the works which we can’t reveal too much about, other than it will be a celebration of the stuff ups we’ve made when it comes to growing and eating food in Australia.

4. Do you think we live in a culture that doesn’t appreciate the value of food?

Our relationship to food is a deeply personal one, with tastes, consumption habits, and traditions typically deeply held and hard to change. But these consumption patterns and behaviours are formed when we are young, especially in the formative years when we move out of home and begin making our own decisions about what we buy and eat. The consumption patterns young people acquire today will influence their consumption patterns in their adult life and those of their children. This makes the act of engaging young people an incredibly powerful agent for change.

Our generation and the millennials coming up behind us, suffer from a chronic lack of food awareness but they are ripe for change. While it is true that approximately 70% of young people know little or nothing about where their food comes from and what it takes to get to our plates each day, it is also true that 90% of us know that agriculture is important to the Australian economy and that farmers are the most trusted professionals.

5. What can twenty-somethings do in order to become more conscious of their waste?

First things first, is don’t feel bad about being a food waster. We all have a food waste confession we’re not proud of (for me, it is the pile of bread ends that never get eaten in my freezer), but that’s what makes us human. Laugh at what you do and know that even your super eco-conscious friend has a food waste confession.

Next, start with small wins. A little bit of positive reinforcement goes a long way. Then, loop in the people you live and cook with.

  1. What are your five handy tips for ethical eating?

  1. Go buy ugly! When about 30% of food doesn’t make it to our shelves because retailers know we won’t buy it, we know we have a problem on our hands. You can show your retailer, local grocer, and farmer’s market that there is a market for this stuff, by buying it!

  2. Ask someone in the know. You know the butcher, the fish monger, even the supermarket shop assistant. They are a wealth of knowledge and will help expand your repertoire and taste palette. They’ll also fill in the mysterious blank that is the story behind the ingredient - where it came from, who grew it, how long it lived. And who doesn’t want to know that about what they put in their mouth.

  3. Don’t let a recipe be the boss of you. It’s easy to cook to a recipe, but what’s more creative and better for the environment, is making use of what you already have. And if you’re having a mind blank, chuck a bunch of the ingredients you have into Google images and voila, instant meal ideas.

  4. Go on a fridge hunt. A lot of things go off in the fridge simply because they’re hiding in the crisper dish or behind a bottle of milk. When you get home each day, go through the fridge right to the back and see what is there that is crying out to be eaten.

  5. Make stuff from scratch. When you realise it takes 3 days to prepare the dough for a croissant, you’ll savour every last bit of the thing you shove down your throat with a coffee each Saturday. Taking the time to make something from scratch helps us to see the time and effort behind food, which helps us to value what can seem easy peasy.

For more on the Youth Food Movement head to their website here.

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