No one likes to eat alone and, when it comes to sharing food, Melbourne is a world leader, writes Lisa Smyth.
There are few things Melburnians are prouder of than our status as the foodie capital of Australia. Want vegemite curry? Come to us. Food trucks as far as the eye can see? Any day of the week. Coffee served in an avocado? OK, not our finest moment.
But it turns out that along with our innovative cuisine and world-class chefs we are a city that loves to share our food. SHARECITY 100, a database that covers a hundred cities in 44 countries, ranked Melbourne as the third most active food-sharing city in the world, just behind London and New York and above Berlin and Sydney.
Food sharing, in this case, includes collaborative growing, cooking, eating and distributing of food, as well as sharing food-related skills, spaces and tools. “Food sharing is both old and new,” explains SHARECITY researcher Ferne Edwards. “Many initiatives build on what’s gone before, such as community gardens and food preservation, but our research differs because we’re considering the influence of technology on how people share food.”
According to Edwards, Melbourne’s strong foodie culture, growing sustainable food movement and great climate (well, sure) are all key reasons for the city’s world leading status in food sharing.
AN INSECURE FUTURE
Angela O’Toole from Open Table, an organisation that uses surplus food to share free weekly meals with those in need across Melbourne, sees social media as a natural partner in the food-sharing movement. “When we started in 2013 our Facebook page was pretty popular,” she says. “We couldn’t have succeeded without it.”
Angela was one of a group of friends in Brunswick who decided to meet for weekly dinners to connect with others in their community. Over time, the group refocused its efforts on providing meals for marginalised groups. Donations come from local businesses and organisations such as Second Bite and OzHarvest. Lunches now run weekly in one of seven locations, where a group of five to six volunteers cook and serve meals buffet style for between 30 and 70 people.
“We got quite a lot of attention at the beginning because there weren’t many other organisations doing what we do, but it has definitely become more mainstream,” says O’Toole. “Globally, due to climate change, there is a lot more attention placed on food waste and, equally, food insecurity.”
More than four million Australians – 18 per cent of the total population – have experienced food insecurity in the past 12 months according to the Foodbank Hunger Report 2018. “It does impact across section of the community,” states O’Toole. “The cost of living has gone up and younger Australians and students, especially, are struggling. Food sharing has become a necessity.”
WASTE NOT, WANT NOT
“I grew up in a very waste-conscious family,” recalls Jane Kou, founder and CEO of Melbourne food sharing app, Bring Me Home. “My mum grew up poor, and when she fled China for Macau she struggled to access quality and affordable food.”
Launched in August, the app connects anyone looking for a meal to cafes, bakeries and restaurants nearby that have unsold food they’re willing to part with at a discount. So far, 710 meals have been ‘saved’ from becoming food waste at outlets like Roll’d and Sushi Hut.
When she was 16, Kou worked at a café and saw just how much food was wasted on a retail level. She discovered that more than 250,000 tonnes of perfectly good food from restaurants and cafes is thrown away every year in Australia.
“Bring Me Home is an easy-to-use app that monetises food sharing for retailers,” she explains. “When I began looking into the issue I asked retailers why they just didn’t produce less food, and they all said they needed a shelf full of food to attract customers. There will always be waste, and so we need to find ways to manage it.”
Until recently, food sharing would have almost exclusively been associated with urban farming and confined to a small geographic area. Technology, however, has changed the potential scale of food-sharing projects, and expanded the amount of people who can get involved.
“There are now many online platforms that map where surplus produce can be found for free within a city, such as Melbourne’s 3000 Acres,” notes Ferne Edwards. “There are also groups such as The Welcome Dinner Project and Free to Feed that celebrate multicultural foods and connecting with people not like us. So many of these activities have a very strong social bond.”
O’Toole encourages everyone, not just those facing food security issues, to attend Open Table events. “The best way to get involved is to join one of our lunches,” she says. “Everyone is welcome. Bring a friend and join our community.”
So, next time you head to your favourite café for brunch or have dinner at your beloved local, remember that Melbourne is a world leader in food and sharing, and that is a title worth keeping.
You can search for other food-sharing projects across the city using the SHARECITY 100 database.