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Lettuce Celebrate!

Community gardens and thinking sustainably about food has never been more important.

Among the many milestones on the road to adulthood surely one at the top of the list is becoming a competent cook and green thumb. And yet, our reliance on fast food and takeaway, on which the average Australian spends a third of their food budget, continues to not only pillage our wallet but also in many cases have an adverse impact our health.

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In what is undeniably shocking, the 2012 Census showed that nearly two-thirds of Australians are overweight or obese, with our high-stress lifestyles and time-poor mindsets partly to blame. Most of us know we should change. Some, like myself, buy impressive-looking cookbooks and others will throw themselves into absurd diet regimes.

But thinking ‘food-sustainable’ isn’t just a decision made for individual gain, and nor do we have to damn ourselves to those bizarrely rigorous diets consisting of only orange foodstuffs on Wednesdays. The passionate volunteers at Youth Food Movement (YFM), a non-for-profit which aims to improve the food literacy of young adult Australians, are determined to bring back some of the joy into using and sharing food.

The YFM run education projects and events with an entrepreneurial focus on satisfying the real food needs of young Australians not living at home – many who, like me, often feel confounded by the myriad of contradicting philosophies (Paleo? Vegan? No carbs? Caveman?).

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Noticing just how much little pockets of community gardens are springing up all over this country – not to mention the extent to which home-gardening has become a hot-topic touchpoint in our proudly ‘Foodie’ culture, I visited one of the many YFM branches across Australia to find out more about the skyrocketing growth of food-sustainable thinking and the revolution taking place in our home gardens.

Once I understood what YFM so painlessly provides, it’s easy to see why they’ve changed our kitchens and courtyards alike. Their incredible variety of resources – offer everything from tips on how to read a food label, to basic home cooking classes for home leavers – all presented with an attitude that eschews guilt-tripping and prescriptive “don’ts” in favour of a creative, and always social, approach.

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Other passionate initiatives they run all over the country focus on organic farming, discussions of meat and milk sustainability, interviews with farmers – and a plethora of recipe tips from chefs and foodie bloggers alike. Trust me, you’ll want to throw out all of those cookbooks gathering dust on your shelf!

YFM’s main goal is to help participants understand food sustainability issues in a positive way and, if it brings them fulfillment, to get them involved within their communities to bring about a bigger change.

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The YFM team is undeniably changing the faces (and nutrition) of our communities. In particular, a major focus of the group – in terms of what each individual can do – is food waste. One project, Spoonfed, aims to minimize the amount of food waste Australians dump in their trash every year (in excess of $1,000 per household) by teaching people to use food scraps in ways that they hadn’t thought of before.

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Meanwhile, many other projects, such as ‘Cropfest’ and ‘Reel Food Night’ use film and other media to communicate suggestions about a sustainable food future we can all bring inside our homes.

As Zo Zhou at YFM told me on my last visit, it’s not that hard at all. It’s time, in her words, “to really begin to ‘eat’ the values that you care about”.

Youth Food Movement: Australia
youthfoodmovement.org.au

Words by Ella Whelan

Photography by Nikki To + Julia Grove

This article was originally published in McGrath Magazine: February 18th 2017.

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