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Obesity in Australia

CHAIR —Welcome, Mr Kronborg. Although the committee does not require you to speak under oath, you should understand that these hearings are formal proceedings of the Commonwealth parliament. Giving false or misleading evidence is a serious matter and may be regarded as a contempt of parliament. On that note, I will ask you to make a brief introductory statement before we proceed to questions.

Mr Kronborg —Thank you very much for enabling me to appear before you today. What I would like to do is give you a brief background on Slow Food and what Slow Food does. As I have seen from the parliamentary website, you have had submissions from a number of organisations in what you might call the fast-food business and also the major supermarket chains, and some of the information that we at Slow Foods would like to talk about relates to the opposite side of that same coin.

Slow Food Perth is what is called a convivium, or a branch, of Slow Food, which is an international not-for-profit organisation established in 1989 to counteract fast food and fast life, the disappearance of local food traditions, people’s dwindling interest in the food that they eat—where it comes from, how it tastes—and how our choices affect the rest of the world—that is, people, communities, animals, plants and the environment. It is based in Bra in north-western Italy. It has almost 100,000 members in 132 countries.

In Western Australia there are four convivia of 36 that exist in Australia, and Slow Food Perth, to give you an example, has about 200 members. They are made up of families, producers, retailers, winemakers, scientists, food merchants and the like. All of our activities are coordinated by volunteers, so a lot of what we do is very much under the radar. None of the funds that we raise and the work that we do is supported by government as a general rule, except where we might approach government to assist us on occasion.

Slow Food’s key philosophy embraces the tenets of good, clean and fair—that the food we eat must taste good and be good for us; that it should be clean and produced in a sustainable way and not affect the environment in a harmful way; and that those who produce it or create it should receive fair reward for their effort. In essence, the organisation is very much a grassroots organisation, if I can use that phrase, and it fosters and builds awareness of local food and the people and communities that produce it. It encourages consumers to make informed choices about the foods they buy and eat, and the success of this strategy enhances food diversity, competition, demand.

It is particularly important, from our perspective, in small rural communities. I can give you an example. In Nannup in the south-west of Western Australia a former policeman and his wife, who is a lactation expert, have in the last nine or 10 years developed Western Australia’s only sheep dairy, and that sheep milk cheese now has an impact in the market. They are now employing four or five people in their business, besides their family.

Mr BRIGGS —It is not the only one. There is one on Kangaroo Island.

Mr Kronborg —I am talking about Western Australia.

Mr BRIGGS —Sorry.

Mr Kronborg —It is very much targeted at the small producer or what you might call the artisan end of the market. There are national organisations of Slow Food in numerous countries around the world, and they are listed in the document in front of you. Slow Food Australia has recently been approved for establishment by Slow Food’s international council, and it will be developing a range of projects, not least of which is one involving school and community gardens.

Slow Food itself internationally has a number of programs and participating organisations that support its mission. One of these is the Foundation for Biodiversity, which is an organisation with subsidiary national committees—there is one in Australia—called ark commissions, which identify foods at risk of loss and work with local food communities to develop and maintain production and markets. Interestingly, in the 20 years since that program was established by Slow Food, something like 500 foods around the world in small communities, ranging from one of the parents of the strawberry in Chile through to, for example, the black Gascogne pig in France, which were at risk of loss to those communities, have been saved and now markets have developed for those products, again benefiting small rural communities.

It also runs a program called Terra Madre, which is a biennial event held in Torino, Italy. It is a world meeting of food communities. The 2008 edition has just been held. That brought together more than 5,000 producers from throughout the world—cooks, scientists, chefs—to exchange information about the local challenges that they face in producing food and in marketing that food; environmental challenges; concerns with government policy on food. It builds a network to enable those producers then to exchange that information across the world and hopefully apply that information that they pick up back in their local community.

It also runs Salone del Gusto, which is the world’s fair of artisan foods, which showcases those foods and again provides a market for them. It has established the University of Gastronomic Sciences in Pollenzo in Italy, and there are several Australian students at that university, which offers graduate, postgraduate, masters and doctoral degrees across the range of food related disciplines: botany, horticulture, food economics and the like. In Australia, Slow Food Australia will be developing a series of programs related to all of those projects.

One is called Dirty Hands, which is a school and community garden development program supporting local communities and collaborative organisations such as the Kitchen Garden Foundation, to enhance school communities’ food, health and ecological knowledge and awareness. Heliculture is another, which extends that program into universities to provide undergraduates in horticulture, nutrition and food related fields studying at university to bring their peer skills and knowledge into schools where kitchen gardens are being established. A third one, called Bush Know-how, is a collaborative project with Aboriginal communities across the country to try to sustain and extend knowledge about bush tucker and enhance the cultural diversity and the exchange of information between communities. That is briefly what Slow Food does, in a nutshell.

CHAIR —Before we proceed, the committee agrees to accept your submission as evidence to the inquiry. One of the things that we have seen in this inquiry during our many visits to different cities and different areas around Australia is that, because of busy lifestyles and a whole range of factors, we have lost the art of nutritional cooking.

Mr Kronborg —Yes.

CHAIR —And certainly in some communities more than in other areas around Australia. How does Slow Food get out to those people? What can we do to assist those people?

Mr Kronborg —It is a good question, Mr Chairman. As I said before, a lot of what we do is in a sense under the radar; it is not necessarily obvious. Wembley Downs Primary School in suburban Perth is a very good example of what Slow Food tries to do. There, a few years ago, there was a teacher who was very interested in cooking and there was another teacher interested in worm farms, and a number of parents in the school community who were keen to encourage the kids to learn about the source of what you might call real food, I suppose—where food comes from. Anne Evans, who is the teacher at the primary school and who helped set up the project, got the P&F together. They had a block of land on the school site in which they could develop a garden, and someone there approached Slow Food Perth for some funds to help. Slow Food Perth came in and helped to provide the irrigation for the garden and some contacts in the nursery business. We got some seeds for the kids. That has now extended to the point where Slow Food Perth provides from time to time—not as an annual gift, but from time to time—funds that we have raised voluntarily in the community through our events, to help those kids build that garden.

The effect of that—and I guess I am talking in a generic sense now—is that instead of children in a family coming home and being told that there is a pizza in the freezer, getting it out of the freezer, putting it in the microwave, sitting down and eating it in front of the television, they are now bringing home—and you would have heard this before, I am sure—the produce from that garden and in effect working with their mother or their father as the case may be, or their parents, and telling them about how they grew it and how they have cooked it at school and prepared it, ‘Can we do the same thing here tonight?’ The kids all become involved in the preparation of that food, and that really goes to the heart of what Slow Food is about, too: that convivial development of awareness of food and where it comes from.

Ms HALL —On that, you are aware of the federal government’s program with the Stephanie Alexander Kitchen Garden?

Mr Kronborg —I am, Ms Hall. Yes, indeed. It is a fabulous program and Slow Food is very supportive of what Stephanie Alexander has done. If there is a concern that we would have, it is that one size does not fit all, if I can put it that way, and Wembley Downs Primary School again is a good example. They do not have kitchen facilities, although they are trying to develop them themselves, whereas the Kitchen Garden Foundation program is very much a garden to table approach. We know of numerous school garden projects throughout Australia which do not involve so much in a formal sense the table end of the strategy but it becomes more an outdoor learning experience about food and nutrition, and healthy food.

Ms HALL —Tell me a little bit about your members, the way you raise funds and how you publicise your activities. I must say I was unaware that you existed and what you did. Is it only in Western Australia?

Mr Kronborg —No.

Ms HALL —Is it spread throughout Australia? Give me a little bit of background. Make me understand about Slow Food.

Mr Kronborg —There are 36 branches throughout Australia and, of course, they are predominantly on the east coast. The greatest number of branches would be in Victoria, and not just in Melbourne but in rural Victoria as well. Anyone who applies for membership and pays their money can be a member of Slow Food, basically.

Ms HALL —Is there a membership fee?

Mr Kronborg —There is a membership fee. It is $90 for a single and $110 for a couple. It attracts a diverse range of people, and this goes to something that your inquiry secretary asked me on the telephone when we spoke about me appearing before you. I think there has been a view in Slow Food, perhaps on the east coast, that it tends to be quite an elite organisation, and I think it has been. In its early stages in Australia it did have that reputation because it attracted people from the demographic of those who were interested in the finer end of food. That has changed substantially now in Australia, and particularly in Western Australia.

For example, to come back to your question, we do a lot of work with the food distribution charity Foodbank. A good example of that collaboration was only recently—a few months ago—at the Mundaring Truffle Festival in the Perth hills here, a major two-day event which promotes the blackPerigord truffle grown at Manjimup. Without going into why it is held in Mundaring—that is another story—it attracted I think, over two days, more than 10,000 or 12,000 people to it. Slow Food Perth, for example, set up a marquee there and on one day we had what we would call a long-table lunch promoting the truffle, and so the truffle was used in every course.

These lunches are very accessible in terms of the cost—$60 or something like that for a four-course lunch—and help to educate consumers about what is available and what is seasonal. On the second day, that marquee was transformed into an exhibition that involved the Country Women’s Association, where we promoted the sponge cake because of the importance of food heritage and people being aware of what the Country Women’s Association does in helping to maintain food traditions, and we brought Foodbank in. The cooking demonstrator for Foodbank here did demonstrations with kids on how to cook really simple and healthy food.

We had kids’ tasting sessions where we had a nutritionist, a dietician, come in. She prepared a whole range of foods for children to taste, and there were blindfold taste tests. It is about helping to educate kids to understand what different foods taste like. For example, olive oil: there was one fresh, virgin olive oil, a rancid oil, all of those things that kids might not necessarily be interested in tasting but do get a taste of. Those are some of the things that we do. We raise funds through events. Slow Food Perth has events once every month and those are open to the public. They are advertised on our website. We do get a little bit of publicity in the local press. Last year, for example, through those events we raised about $24,000. Some of that money goes into projects like the Wembley Downs Primary School.

Ms HALL —I am looking at the address on the front of your submission. It has got a web address for Perth and an international one. Is there one for Australia?

Mr Kronborg —Not yet. There is about to be.

Ms HALL —So it is either Perth or go to the international?

Mr Kronborg —Yes, in about two months time.

Ms HALL —Thank you.

Mr COULTON —We have seen the school gardens.

Mr Kronborg —Yes.

Mr COULTON —I have got some communities that are interested in building a community garden. Where I come from they are all quarter-acre blocks and people can have their own backyard vegie garden. Have you had any example, either in Australia or with your organisation overseas, as to how successful a community garden is? I am talking not just for the sake of the healthy food but also the social aspects and intergenerational contact and things like that. Have you had experience in that?

Mr Kronborg —Mr Coulton, that is a good question. We have had direct experience and I think you ought to see some of that this afternoon at West Leederville. In your own state, in Bega, there is a major project that I think involves about six communities now. I have referred to it in the document. It is called the Bega Valley Community Gardens project, where a group of people have got together. It has grown to encompass six gardens. They grow their own fruit and vegetables. They save seeds, they distribute those seeds throughout the communities for use on the quarter-acre block, for example, and they provide farmers market outlets for any surplus produce. It is a great way of helping people, particularly children, to recognise the source of food. It does not just come off a supermarket shelf.

Mr COULTON —You have mentioned food grown sustainably. Does that necessarily mean organically?

Mr Kronborg —No. Slow Food has a view but not a formal one at this stage on genetically modified food, but in slow food terms, provided food is produced in a good, clean and fair way, it can be conventionally farmed. A lot of the producers that we interact with are conventional farmers. To come back to your question for a moment: to go to the other extreme, from Bega to San Francisco, there has just been a major slow food event in the United States called Slow Food Nation, which was a play on words in a nation which, I guess, is known most for its fast food. That involved a demonstration project where the entire concourse in front of San Francisco City Hall was not ripped up directly but planted out with food crops for about six weeks, from seed right the way through to harvest, with things like radishes and beans, things that grow quickly. If I recall correctly, something like 4,000 people were involved in the development of that, so the whole community. I think on the two days that they had the harvest, which was a weekend in early August, something like 45,000 people turned up to help harvest that produce. Of course, not all of them could.

But the message that Slow Food USA was trying to get across was that, basically, with a packet of seeds, some good dirt and some water, you can grow your own food. You do not always have to rely on the supermarket to provide it for you, and it can provide much greater choice in the food.

CHAIR —Thank you very much for your submission.

Ms HALL —It is a really interesting concept.

CHAIR —I was just trying to think where they would have grown anything in front of city hall.

Mr Kronborg —What they did was bring in huge planters and had them sitting on the concourse. There is a Slow Food USA website. That will tell you all about it.

Mr BRIGGS —I think I should say that my electorate would have the best slow food, because we have the best food and wine and so forth in the country.

CHAIR —I now declare this meeting closed. I thank everyone for their attendance—the witnesses, the public that attended in the gallery and, of course, Hansard.

Resolved (on motion by Mr Briggs):

That this committee authorises publication, including publication on the parliamentary database, of the transcript of the evidence given before it at public hearing this day.

Committee adjourned at 12.57 pm