By Siobhan Hegarty
The average Australian household puts $1,036 worth of groceries in the bin every year. It might be a brown banana here and a sprouting potato there, but our overzealous shopping habits – or forgetful fridge recall – add up both financially and literally, in landfill. Meanwhile, the 2016 FoodBank Hunger Report shows that more than 644,000 Australians, one third children, receive food relief each month.
This gap between excess and insufficiency is one Ronni Kahn has rallied to close for the past 12 years. As the founder of CEO of OzHarvest, she spearheaded changes to state laws, allowing organisations to donate surplus food to charitable causes without fear of liability. Acting as a well-needed intermediary, OzHarvest collects excess food from 2,000-plus commercial outlets and delivers it to more than 900 charities.
Now, on top of these daily deliveries, OzHarvest is opening the country’s first ‘rescued food’ grocer in Kensington, Sydney. Aptly titled The OzHarvest Market, this waste-free grocer will sell – or give – quality surplus food directly to the community. Operating on a ‘take what you need, give what you can’ system, the supermarket intends to reach in-need individuals. That said, everyone is welcome.
“There’s no means testing, no value judgement, anyone can come in,” says Ronni Kahn. “If you can afford it, pay it forward, pay for somebody or pay for something. It’s about only taking what you need.”
In a fascinating case study for how industry can support communities, The OzHarvest Market sits in a ground floor retail space donated by the development group, TOGA. Upstairs, what was once the Addison Hotel, has been transformed into pop-up accommodation for vulnerable youth. Approvals to develop this building were forecast to take one year, so in the interim, it was decided this block should go to a good home.
“The TOGA Group recognised that rather than letting that space sit empty for a year, they’d put in 42 vulnerable youth and young families in need,” explains Ronni Kahn.
Transformed from a Chinese restaurant to a bonafide grocery store, The OzHarvest Market hopes to support the youth living upstairs with its supply of dry and fresh rescued goods. The philosophy behind this market is to encourage people to purchase – or take – a small about of goods on an as-you-need-it basis. This way of thinking inverts the ‘buy in bulk’ mentality promoted at commercial supermarkets. Instead, The OzHarvest Market asks shoppers to consider how they consume and waste food. Strolling through the store, it’s hard not to be struck by the facts and figures that are scrawled ad hoc across cardboard boxes, like this one: “Can you believe 3.7 trillion apples are wasted globally?” (Answer: no.)
Whilst all of the goods in this store are donated or ‘rescued’ from organisations, the offering is far more exciting than what you’d imagine. From fresh bread, fruit and vegetables, to frozen and packaged goods, toiletries and even Qantas meals, it’s a colourful, surprising and ultimately feel-good experience.
“It’s going to generate a huge demand,” says Ronni. “Certainly there are enough people in the area who will benefit, but we think it will also attract people further afield.”
Down the track, Ronni says The OzHarvest Market hopes to serve soup or freshly made food to its customers. In the meantime, though, they’ll be putting a toaster and kettle in one corner for people to use.
Traditionally, the term ‘soup kitchen’ carried a certain stigma, but attitudes are shifting globally as service providers and conscientious chefs recognise the power of a shared meal. In Brisbane, for instance, Club 139 – a homeless refuge operating since 1975 – has shifted its food offering from a canteen to cafe just this month. Meanwhile in New Jersey, U.S.A., JBJ Soul Kitchen offers three-course meals at pay-what-you-can prices in its volunteer-led restaurant.
“Chefs have a role that is much bigger than just serving beautiful food in their own restaurants.” – Ronni Kahn
World-renowned chef Massimo Bottura is another figure transforming soup kitchens. He may be best known for his restaurant Osteria Francescana – which, for the past two years, has taken home the #1 and #2 spot, respectively, on the World’s 50 Best list – but Massimo’s passion for food extends beyond fine dining. Earlier this month he partnered with Ronni Kahn and and a handful of Australia’s best chefs to host a charity dinner, with proceeds going to OzHarvest and Massimo’s own not-for-profit organisation, Food for Soul.
“What was spectacular was Massimo’s commitment to making sure good food feeds hungry people,” says Ronni. “[He shows] that chefs have a role that is much bigger than just serving beautiful food in their own restaurants.”
The origins of Food for Soul date back to 2013 when Massimo, wife Lara Gilmore and director of the Triennale of Design in Milan, Davide Rampello, transformed an abandoned theatre in Milan into an avant-garde soup kitchen. Known as Refettorio Ambrosiano, the art-adorned restaurant is as much about serving high-quality dishes, as it is about instilling a sense of dignity in its diners.
The concept proved particularly impactful during the 2015 Milano Expo, and as such, was recreated in Rio de Janeiro in 2016 to rescue and repurpose excess food from the Olympic Village. With the help of local food charity Gastromotiva, this ‘RefettoRio’ is still in operation, servicing the city’s in-need communities one good meal at a time.
Back in Australia, Ronni Kahn has big plans for the future of food waste.
“I want to solve the problem,” she says. “I want to minimise food waste by 50 percent by 2030.”
“I’m completely committed to putting OzHarvest out of business in the food waste space, and to educate and upskill all of us.”
What about the leftover food from TV?
If you’re curious – or concerned – about what happens to all the leftover food from our cooking shows, fear not. SBS’s brand-new series The Chefs’ Line regularly called upon OzHarvest to collected surplus catering and unused ingredients. Over the course of filming (January to March, this year), the organisation collected 660 kilograms of food from the TV shoot. Astonishingly, that equates to nearly 2,000 meals!