On Saturday, a giant food fight will be taking place in Bigge Park in Liverpool, western Sydney. Costumed "food warriors" will be battling it out in a theatrical event featuring "flying fruit and soaring spaghetti" – all in the name of highlighting the very serious issue of food insecurity, a threat to many who live in western Sydney.
"There is a real food fight happening in Australia," says artist Diego Bonetto. "The struggle is real."
Through the performance, Bonetto, along with artist duo Branch Nebula and designer Genevieve Murray, hopes to raise awareness of the two million Australians who are struggling to feed themselves.
The performance is the centrepiece of a wider project, Food Fight – The Battle for Food Security, developed in partnership with the Museum of Contemporary Art's C3West program and Liverpool City Council as well as the Casula Powerhouse Arts Centre to draw attention to the barriers to accessing affordable, nutritious food.
"Food security is the elephant in the room," Bonetto says. "There is [an idea] that Australia is a thriving country. But in reality, there's an incredible disparity of wealth."
Tony Gatt, business development manager of Foodbank NSW, one of the project's sponsors, says, "We need to raise awareness that in such a prosperous country, two million people don't know where their next meal is coming from – and half of those two million are kids under 12."
Foodbank, a non-profit organisation that links the food industry with the welfare sector, provides 170,000 meals across Australia every day but is still struggling to meet demand. "We could do with three times the amount of food we have," Gatt says.
"Imagine Sydney Football Stadium stacked three metres high with food – that's how much we ship in and out every day. That's 33 million kilograms of food a year."
"The situation is getting worse. Imagine Sydney Football Stadium stacked three metres high with food – that's how much we ship in and out every day. That's 33 million kilograms of food a year." And yes, he says, they still need more.
Gatt says while Foodbank has always helped to feed people who are homeless or unemployed, often due to issues such as mental illness or disabilities, the past 10 years has seen the growth of the "working poor": people who have a roof over their heads and are working, but not enough hours to earn a living wage.
Doing it tough
People in the Liverpool area have been hit hard by the global financial crisis. "Liverpool and south-western Sydney have one of the highest concentrations of vulnerable people who, through no fault of their own, have tried to climb the ladder of opportunity and the rungs have fallen off," Gatt says. "They're doing it particularly tough."
In the past year, Foodbank has supplied 430,000 meals to people in the Liverpool area and Gatt says about 40 per cent of the disadvantaged schools in Foodbank NSW's Breakfast Club Program are in Liverpool.
Economic hardships also place huge emotional stresses on families. Gatt says the shame people feel over their inability to feed their families has driven the issue of food security underground. But events like this help to break the stigma associated with food relief.
They also help to direct people to other community services such as counselling, which they may not know they can access. "They will go away with the knowledge of where to get help or how to help themselves," Bonetto says.
The event aims to be "engaging and inclusive", says Bonetto. "We want to welcome people, not preach to them. Food is the perfect way to engage people."
The evening will include a market with local food stalls, cooking demonstrations, music and a banquet designed by the artists and cooked by the local "food heroes" of the Liverpool community – the people who run the area's soup kitchens and youth charities as well as local chefs and home cooks. There will be performances by costumed "food warriors" and "roaming food security guards".
"We want to celebrate the everyday heroes who fight for food security in the local area, one meal at a time," Bonetto says.
He says the choreographed finale will be "fantastical and spectacular". "It will be a theatrical event. We'll throw some food around, we'll cook some food, we'll eat some food."
Most importantly, Gatt says when people come to events like this it helps them realise they are not alone. "Food brings people together," he says.
Lead image by Anne Loxley. Food Fight: the Battle for Food Security is commissioned by C3West on behalf of the Museum of Contemporary Art Australia (MCA) in collaboration with Liverpool City Council and Casula Powerhouse Arts Centre.