Having fun and working with OzHarvest

OzHarvest sign

What a great day I had yesterday. As a freelance food stylist and food writer I am always interested in new challenges and I’ve found a brilliant new area of work that I’m loving and felt I needed to share the love! I’ll apologise right now, this is quite a long post, so sit down with a cup of tea and read on. It’s worth it.

I’ve started doing some work for OzHarvest. For those who don’t know who OzHarvest are, they are an Australian charity that rescues quality excess food which would otherwise be discarded. This excess food is distributed, at no cost, to charities providing much needed assistance to men, women and children. (Yes that was taken directly from their 2012 annual report – but I couldn’t have written it any better!)

Here are some amazing/shocking figures:

  • Since they began operating in late 2004 they have delivered approximately 21 million meals, diverting more than 7 million tonnes of GOOD FOOD from landfill.
  • Australians throw away food worth $7.8 BILLION which equates to about 178 kilos of food per person each year.
  • On average people throw away 1 in 5 of every shopping basket-worth of food they buy.

OzHarvest sign

I am getting involved with their “Cooking for A Cause” programme. This is a brilliant progamme because it engages the corporate community, but not just in terms of money, in terms of people too. Teams of volunteers from corporate companies either come to the OzHarvest kitchen (donated by Goodman+) or they prepare and serve a meal at one of the charities that OzHarvest delivers to. The volunteers then get into teams and cook up some of the food that has been donated. The menus are planned around what has been donated that day or the day before, so Travis, the head of Cooking for a Cause, is constantly having to come up with brilliant dishes that are nutritious, delicious, interesting to make and easy to transport. This programme is fantastic in so many ways – it teaches new cooking skills, provides volunteers with time away from their corporate environment, teaches them about food excess and how to prevent it and really importantly at the end of the day several hundred meals have been cooked.  These meals are then quickly whisked away to one of the many charities that benefit from OzHarvest.

The logistics of this charity are phenomenal. In Sydney they have a team of drivers, driving 12 refrigerated vans constantly on the move ready, as the phone calls come in about available food, to pick up and deliver to over 500 recipient charities. Charities that include women’s and children’s refuges, homeless shelters, church missions etc the list goes on. Using this system the majority of the food is delivered directly to the charities without having to be stored by OzHarvest.  The van drivers are also educated in food safety and will check the food to ensure the food is suitable. I must stress that the food that is ‘rescued’ isn’t food that is bad or going off, it is just excess. Maybe a corporation has hosted a barbecue and they rather over-catered and have 60 kilos of sausages and buns leftover – so who you gonna call “OzHarvest” of course. Top Sydney restaurants, fruit and veg shops, hotels and catering companies, businesses like Bourke Street Bakery, Thomas Dux, Harris Farm and Lindt Cafe to name a few examples, all donate their excess food. Many TV cooking shows (Masterchef and My Kitchen Rules) also donate all that beautiful food that is used in those stunning sets but is never used and where possible food photo shoots are helping too.

OzHarvest sign

So back to my day! Yesterday was a little bit different again, I was involved in Cooking for a Cause, but this time not only did it involve a corporate group, it also involved a group of 13-15 year old indigenous kids who are part of a scheme being run by the University of Technology Sydney called ‘How big are your dreams?” The kids arrived, got aproned up and after a few quick lessons on general kitchen safety and knife skills were straight into cooking fabulous meals. My role isn’t to cook, it’s to guide and encourage. Two boys were allocated to making pizzas for everyone for at the end of the session and what great guys they were.

Pizza makers OzHarvest

The pizza was fabulous and although I’m not sure they’re going to be making pizza every night, they did seem genuinely proud of what they had achieved. We also made beef kofta which the kids squished and squashed and formed into hundreds of patties and we made flat breads from scratch, vegetarian kofte from donated lentils and a huge pile of vegetable couscous and masses of chicken salad wraps. With just a very few exceptions all the ingredients had been donated.

Lentil kofte

lentil kofte

I also learnt something myself, a cool trick for how to get pomegranate seeds out easily. Bash it all over with a wooden spoon, then slice it open over a bowl and bash the seeds into a bowl – how cool is that – so much easier than picking them out one by one!

Pomegranate

In chatting with the kids it became very clear that most of the kids cooked at home on a regular basis for their brothers and sisters and I was hearten to hear most of them say they enjoyed it.

Here’s a pic of what we achieved. As I mentioned, this day was slightly different to others as its aim was also to engage the kids and show they what they can achieve, it wasn’t just about producing hundreds of meals – but in actual fact we did both.

Cooked food from OzHarvest

I’m so pleased I’m involved with this charity as I’m very aware of how fortunate I am in life and this charity it a perfect fit for my love of cooking and education and my hate of food wastage. Saving and distributing excess food has been something I’ve been doing for a long time. Way, way back when I worked on a London magazine I used to package up food (and plastic knives and forks) leftover from recipe testing and hand it over to homeless people along the River Thames. It wasn’t always easy nor were my meals always accepted but I couldn’t bear throwing the food away. I also remember the sheer joy on my 8 year old neighbour’s face when I handed him a 10 litre tub of ice-cream left-over from an ice-cream shoot!

So next time you go to throw away some food think twice and see what you might be able to do with it. Only buy what you really think you need and if you absolutely have to throw away fruit or veg at least put it in a compost bin or worm farm and nourish the ground if you can’t nourish your body!

If you want to find out more about OzHarvest go to http://www.ozharvest.org/index.asp or contact your HR department and see if your company is already involved and if you can get involved too.

And lastly I will leave you with something to really get you thinking – every day in Australia 1 million children go to school without breakfast or to bed without dinner. OzHarvest is helping to change this and maybe you could too either as a volunteer or as a corporate sponsor.

2 Comments

  1. Great story. And a great reminder to think carefully before I shop. If I go without a list I always end up throwing food out. So wasteful when people are going hungry in this land of plenty.

  2. Such a great blog. Thanks Katie.

    At the Mission where we rely on generosity, we can’t thank Oz Harvest and it’s employees and volunteers enough. Around 80% of the food we need to serve over 700 meals a week to the disadvantaged, come from Oz Harvest.

    Those individuals and families that need support deserve to eat healthy, nutritious and delicious meals and this is exactly what Oz Harvest and those that support them offer and for that we are very grateful.

    The injection of your time and love into the food you prepare is evident!

    On behalf of those who enjoy the end results at Newtown Mission, thank you.

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