Walking around a Cambodian marketplace recently, my travel buddies and I almost came undone at the sight of pig heads neatly stacked in a row across endless wooden tables. “Avert your gaze from the ground, Dilvin!” one of my crew warned too late as I clocked many more sitting in boxes awash with blood under the tables themselves.
It didn’t matter where we looked in this marketplace, the view was devastating. Hundreds of whole chicken carcasses laid out in the sun, catfish jumping out of buckets to try and make a quick getaway and people selling slabs of red meat hanging from their very own backs.
One of the younger guys in our crew increasingly grew pale before insisting we get out of there immediately. “You don’t understand,” he told us later as we were hightailing it back to our hotel. “I just pick up my phone, order my meals through Uber Eats and my food just arrives at my door,” he said. “I’ve never really taken the time to think about where it all comes from or what’s in any of my dishes because I’ve never really had to.” That’s right, once we got into the nitty gritty of it, he admitted, he’d never once made the connection between his chicken curry and an actual, flapping chicken.
It would be easy for non-millennials to smirk at his naivety of course, but the fact is that he’s far from alone in his disconnect from food. Research from comparison site finder.com.au has found Australians now spend a staggering $2.6 billion each year on food and drink delivery through meal delivery services such as Uber Eats, Menulog, Deliveroo and Foodora, amounting to 68 million online food orders each year.
He’d never once made the connection between his chicken curry and an actual, flapping chicken.
But our national obsession with a one-touch food delivery system that magically brings ready-cooked meals to the front door means we’re also increasingly losing any connection we once had with agriculture.
In a survey commissioned by the National Farmers’ Federation, it was discovered that 83 per cent of Australians would describe their connection with farming as ‘distant’ or ‘non-existent’. The question is, aside from the odd Cambodian marketplace freak-out, what does this mean for us moving forward?
The trend to outsource meals wherever possible is a huge concern, says Louise FItzRoy, founder and director of From Paddock to Plate, an online educational platform that brings real-life farming experiences into classrooms for students who are unable to visit farms themselves.
“Cooking less at home can mean that the younger generation have less opportunity to connect and learn about food."
“Greater accessibility to fast food outlets and food delivery services encourages people to cook less at home, limiting their opportunities to interact with fresh, wholesome ingredients and talk about where these ingredients come from around the dinner table,” she says.
“Cooking less at home can mean that the younger generation have less opportunity to connect and learn about food and cooking and it’s important to know where the food we eat comes from so they can make more informed decisions about what they eat and where they source that food.”
FitzRoy believes education for our younger generations should begin at school. “Programs like From Paddock to Plate should become an integral part of every school curriculum in Australia,” she says, explaining that since their schools program began in 2014, they have recorded a significant increase in food awareness in our kids.
It's never too late to make the connection
But why miss an opportunity to learn along with your kids? Yes, time is precious and yes, food delivery services are convenient, but it’s possible to find that balance and get the best of both worlds. Perhaps these ideas will work for you:
• Start a weekend vegetable patch project with your kids
• Visit a working farm and take an organised tour to learn about production
• Drop by a local growers’ market and speak with some of the stallholders about their work
• Have regular, honest discussions about our food and where it comes from
• Cook the odd meal together as you Google the various growers of products you use, to get a better understanding of what has gone into the meal you’re about to enjoy
• Visit a Cambodian marketplace just before lunch. Yes, the way we grow, process and sell our food is a little different here in Australia but, believe me, if that doesn’t give you the simple, honest truth about what goes into our meals, nothing ever will.