On a hunger strike, food becomes a weapon. To an athlete, it's power. But how does food look when you're living off just $1 a day, or eating only what others throw out?
Melbourne University student, Pano Russo, 19, makes ends meet by 'shopping' in supermarket dumpsters twice a week. While the free food is a hit with housemates, Russo says decreasing his impact on the Earth's resources is his goal.
"When I think back to my childhood, I don't think it's that much of a stretch that I do what I do to get my groceries. I grew up in bushland in rural Tasmania with ex-hippies for parents who not only grew most of their own fruit and vegetables, but shot the odd wallaby for meat so we had very limited household waste. I guess it was through watching them that I realised the importance of reducing your environmental impact by making some educated decisions.
I first started dumpster diving after a friend of mine - another dumpster diver - presented me with wheels of gourmet cheese she'd picked up from the bins. I'd just moved out of home to start university so obviously budget - or lack thereof - was initially my biggest issue, but also I couldn't believe these supermarkets were throwing out tonnes of perfectly good food. When I went on my first few dives in Hobart, I came across more waste than you can imagine - bagsful of baked goods, kilos of perfectly good mangoes, and more often than not, boxes of items such as gourmet honey where perhaps one jar in a pack of six had a small crack in it, yet the supermarket decided just to throw the whole box out. I quickly discovered that this food is thrown out for two reasons; it's on or close to its 'best by' date, or there's something wrong with its packaging. Simply put? They're perfectly fine for humans to still consume. It doesn't just end with food either - many department stores have dumpsters and I've been able to pick up items such as a six-piece outdoor setting, cutlery sets and brand new speakers to kit out my home. If you look hard enough, you'll often find a receipt with it which reads, 'Customer changed mind'. When you're so aware that we're all living in a world that cannot sustain our current human population as it is, it blows your mind that this is even happening.
Obviously there are many upsides of dumpster diving but there the downsides too. My Greek grandfather cultivated within me a great love and appreciation for good food, yet while this passion has never waned, I can't just rifle through some recipes and turn up to the dumpsters with a shopping list; I need to plan my often-creative meals based around what I find. Suburban supermarkets tend to be the most high-yield and through the major chains, I can get most of my staples such as pasta, meat and cheese, while I turn to smaller grocery stores for baked goods, fruit and vegetables. I've never had a problem with food poisoning but since finding items such as cheesecake and doughnuts is common, I really have to practise willpower otherwise I start to pile on the weight.
Perhaps the most interesting thing about 'ethical' dumpster diving is that it can make you really wasteful. When you're in a position where you're coming home with such large quantities of food you haven't paid for, you can bin it without a second thought. I guess it's just a smaller version of the same wastage that takes place on a national level in Australia; we have so much, that the value of food decreases. I still believe I'm doing the right thing - the less I consume straight off the shelves, the more other people in need receive, but believe me, the irony isn't lost on me."
Sydney painter Murtadha Ebadi, 31, fled his native Iraq when he was six years old and spent much of his adult life in detention centres across four countries. In 2011, he was one of a group who went on a much-publicised hunger strike on Christmas Island.
"It was only after we heard about the suicide of one of our friends that we decided to go on a hunger strike. Our friend had felt helpless - he'd just had his plea for asylum rejected and he was frightened about what was going to happen to him - but we, his friends, decided we weren't going to be helpless too. I'd been held at Christmas Island for seven months by then, and it was already clear to me that the Australian Government didn't care what had happened to him or what was happening to any of us, so that night 250 of us gathered to talk about what we could do to make some noise so that ordinary Australians could see and hear what was happening to us over there. Serco [the security company employed to run the detention centres] don't care for humanity, but we knew that by law, they had to keep us alive and fed. When someone mentioned going on a hunger strike, it seemed to make sense. In a place where we didn't have any rights, refusing to eat was the only power we had over them and we thought if we could frighten the guards enough, they might then push on the immigration ministers and hopefully change our situations. It was better than doing nothing.
We stopped eating and drinking immediately but then we realised the Australian media were soon reporting that the hunger strike was over and that we'd gone back to eating and drinking, which was not the truth. So ten of us decided to prove to the media that the hunger strike was continuing by sewing our lips shut. I was one of the ten to put my hand up for the job.
Having my lips sewn together wasn't easy; you couldn't open your mouth without the thread pulling and getting all bloody and I didn't eat any food or drink any water for three days. The first day I didn't think about food, the second day it was all I could think about and on the third I was surprised to find while I no longer felt hungry, I felt a lot of pain around my rib cage. To help us forget about our situation we joked about how bad the detention centre food was anyway and how this was a better option, and I smoked to help suppress my appetite. It's not the easiest thing placing a cigarette between the thread and inhaling, but it seemed to help.
In the end I went without food and water for three days and without food for a further six. After many promises from the Australian government, our hunger strike was called off and for the first time in nine days, I had a small meal of juice and noodles which I vomited straight back up. Still, although the experience was painful, our strike must have had some effect because two weeks after the strike ended, I was transferred to a detention centre in Darwin where I stayed for a month, then onto Sydney's Villawood for another two years. I was released at the end of 2012 and I've been working on building my life ever since.
One of my favourite discoveries about Australian life is how many different cuisines are [readily] available to everyone and I've been having a great time trying them all. Sometimes I have unpleasant surprises - I had red rice in an Indian restaurant recently and I had to drink 123 bottles of water straight afterwards, it was so hot! But on the other side, I've also discovered Thai food and that has been a revelation! I could eat it five or six nights in a row, no problem! I only wish my friend could be here to enjoy it with me."
Sydney-sider Joshua Clarke, 21, is currently training for the Rio Olympics in August and says eating the right foods (and avoiding the rest) is an important step in his strategy.
"I was born into a sporty family that took both diet and physical exercise seriously so I don't know that my lifestyle now is that much of a shock. My dad is a high school PE teacher, and from a young age, I was into soccer, rugby league and rugby union before I decided on athletics when I was 15. At the moment, I'm training ... for the Rio Olympics later this year and everything I do and eat is geared towards making that happen.
Diet-wise, I was always the same as any teenage boy. Although my dad loves to cook and was quite disciplined with both portion sizes and making healthy food choices, I ate what I wanted - including any old junk when I was out with mates. Although I loved my sport, I guess I was still at an age where didn't really think too much about how the food I was eating was affecting my movement and performance. I just saw it as something to be eaten when I was hungry.
It was only when I was 18 that my coach pulled me aside and suggested I see a dietician to help me tweak my diet to get the very best out of my body. Initially I was sceptical that it could make a difference, but I was blown away in the change in me and what I could suddenly achieve. I was already eating most of the right foods - plenty of clean proteins, fruits and greens, but my portion sizes were all wrong - not only was I not eating anywhere near enough, I was eating at the wrong times of day. Together we worked on new eating schedule and I haven't looked back.
Today I follow a strict schedule. When I wake up, I have to eat a bowlful of Weet-bix, oats or something carb-based within 30 - 40 minutes of getting out of bed. I'll avoid food straight after training but I'll go for a protein or carb shake within five minutes of finishing up because that's its best chance of getting into the system and become absorbed into the muscles quickly. Once I get home, it's a substantial meal of protein and rice, followed by a similar dinner and a carb-based snack just before I go to bed. It's the kind of diet where you may not notice a difference if your lifestyle is sedentary but when you're in training? It's unbelievable.
The great thing about eating the way I do is that you never have to think about what you're going to eat next and it makes grocery shopping a breeze. Obviously because I'm eating the same foods day in, day out, I'm no longer getting the same enjoyment from eating I once did, but that's ok because I know I'm working towards a goal and I can't allow crap in my body to interfere with what I'm trying to achieve. Fortunately, most of my friends are athletes too so we're all on the same page. It takes the pressure off; being a young male there's often a pressure to go out drinking or eat whatever's put in your path, but when we get together for our weekly dinners, we eat healthy and avoid alcohol. I'm not saying I'm a saint - I'll enjoy the odd ice-cream if I want to treat myself - but at this point in my life, eating food for pleasure rather than for performance is going to have to take a back seat for a while."
American filmmaker and entrepreneur Chris Temple, 26 travelled to a rural village in Guatemala to live as the locals do for two months - in abject poverty. The result? An award-winning documentary, Living on One Dollar, and the birth of a non-profit to shed light on pressing global issues.
"I was fortunate enough to grow up in a well-to-do family where food was never more than an afterthought. Like most kids with a limited perspective, I was interested in candy and sugar and figured where my next meal was coming from was something for my parents to worry about. I probably only realised just how lucky I'd been when I began studying economics with a focus on development and poverty, but even then I had a hard time understanding how someone could budget $1 a day for all of their expenses including food, water, shelter, medicine, education and even businesses for the future. Of course we know that this is the case for so many people, but when you're not in it yourself, it's hard to comprehend.
Eventually, my friend [and now business partner] Zach [Ingrasci] and I came up with the idea of travelling to Guatemala to live alongside some of the poorest people in the world and set ourselves the budget of $1 a day. While we knew we could never replicate extreme poverty, the immersive element of living on this amount was meant to get us as close to possible to that reality so we could walk in the shoes of so many for whom this is their daily reality. We moved into a small mud hut in the rural village of Pena Bianca where we worked in the fields as radish farmers and set about living as the locals do.
The community leaders taught us that a corn-based diet was the cheapest way to gain calories, but the challenge with eating nothing but corn tortillas - occasionally with rice and beans - is that it provides almost no nutritional benefit. I quickly discovered how painful and exhausting it is to be hungry all the time and how difficult it is to work 10 hours in the fields when you have next to no food in your stomach. I not only thought about food constantly but filled my journals with pictures of foods I'd been dreaming about such as smoothies, and basically anything fresh. Only consuming 900 calories a day - mainly from the same old tortillas with salt - I became weak and contracted E-Coli as well as a number of parasites from the lack of clean drinking water. I was in great physical shape when I'd first arrived in Guatemala but by the end of the two months, I'd lost 22 pounds and felt sick all the time. It was a massive learning curve.
I'm happy to say I've retained a few good habits from my trip; these days, I rarely find anything I won't eat, and I will never leave a scrap on my plate uneaten. I think the thing that's changed the most with regard to my relationship with food is my astonishment at our ease of access to it in the Western world. In Guatemala, each meal would take - from the picking of corn kernels to cooking the tortilla over the fire - three to four hours so now I find I stop and take a deep breath whenever I walk into a grocery store or even if I'm just waiting for something in the microwave.
Zach and I have now dedicated ourselves to creating films and videos to raise awareness and money for displaced and impoverished families around the world. It was my choice to live like this for two months, but for billions of people around the world, it's not a choice to live with less. At the end of the day, whether rich or poor, all seven billion of us are all the same."
To learn more about Chris's work, visit livingonone.org
Perth dad Rob Nixon, 32, left his corporate job to start what would become Australia's first cooking vlog. Eight years later, his videos have been viewed over 160 million times and Nicko’s Kitchen was recently voted one of YouTube's most popular cooking channels.
"In my earliest memories, I'm cooking at our kitchen table with my mum and my nan yet I'm barely tall enough to see over the bench. I lost my father suddenly at the age of three, and I think as a result, the influence of the women in my family had a very strong effect on me. Nan has a tin filled with handwritten recipes from her own nan and I loved - and love still - watching how food trends changed over the decades.
Although I continued to cook as a weekend hobby while I was at school, I hid it from everyone around me. At the time, men who cooked voluntarily were seen as sissies and I was frightened of what it would do to my reputation. In fact, it wasn't until after my then-girlfriend (now wife) and I bought our own home and I started inviting people around for dinner parties that I let people see this other side of me. Rather than take the piss, my mates would be sitting around, wolfing down my food, going, 'Jeez, where'd all this come from?' That's when I realised not only did I have a passion for cooking, but quite obviously, a talent for it.
I picked up a camera one day and started filming myself cooking spaghetti and meatballs one day out of sheer boredom. I was working four days at week at Qantas at that time and cooking for fun at home the other three, and I just decided to upload it onto YouTube for a bit of fun. Quite quickly, I started getting messages from people around the world telling me how much they enjoyed it so I made and uploaded another and the same thing happened. It was only when I posted my third video making lamingtons that I had what I call my 'Isaac Newton' moment. I received an email from a family in Iraq who'd made my lamingtons and loved them so much they wanted to thank me. I saw then that food really has no divide and that if I acted quickly, this could turn into a global movement.
It only took five months of posting videos for me to quit my job and work at making my online channel, Nicko's Kitchen, my full-time business. I'd already started generating a decent income that was beyond what I was earning in my regular gig, so I was confident there was money to be made but I had an interesting time trying to convince the guys at the tax office! Remember, back in 2008, vlogging wasn't a 'thing' and they didn't even know which industry bracket to put me in. I posted three videos a week on YouTube and additional daily content on Facebook, and the numbers grew and grew. While the money initially only came from ad revenue, eventually big brands such as Coles, ANZ and Virgin began reaching out and the opportunities - and bigger dollars - soon followed.
When you love food as much as I do, you do have concerns about what turning it into a business will do to your passion. Will food become just a job? Will you grow to detest it? Fortunately, for me, it has been the opposite. Over a million people subscribe to my channel and over 160 million people watch my videos each week and so I'm aware that I'm sharing this passion with a global audience.
Sometimes I look at what I've achieved and compare it to that little boy cooking with a handful of handwritten notes and I'm amazed. But then I realise that it's actually not so different - what I do is a similar concept to what my great-great-grandmother was doing all that time ago, except rather than putting everything in a tin for my family to enjoy, I put mine online for everyone to see. People will always enjoy food, it's just a different medium that we're dealing with."
When Melbourne scientist Belinda Appleton, 40, and her daughter Sophie, were diagnosed with lactose intolerance, they turned to goat's milk for their dairy needs. Little did they know that a couple of years later, their farmstead, Moriac Farmstead Dairy, would be supplying local stores and restaurants with their gourmet products.
"My journey to what I do for a living certainly wasn't what you'd call traditional. I grew up in suburbia and worked as a scientist for 15 years before my brother died and I suddenly got a whole new perspective on life. With two small children [son Caleb check – photographer says this is Cadel is 10 and daughter Sophie is 6], I realised I wanted to do something where I could be there for them and be readily available as a mother yet still be able to put food on the table. There was a lot of soul-searching that year.
The business idea grew organically. My husband and I bought a block of land back in 2002 - mostly so I could ride my horses in it, but also something that we could possibly use one day. When my daughter and I were both diagnosed as being lactose intolerant, we got our first goat and soon she was giving me four litres of milk a day - far more than our family could ever consume! Consulting books, I took the milk and started making it into yogurts, cheeses and ice-creams - all of which were a huge hit. That's when I thought, "Well, I think I've found what we can use the land for" and Moriac Farmstead Dairy was born.
Being a scientist, I couldn't just jump in so I tested recipes for two to three years and did a cheese-making course in South Australia before I got serious. I took my products to the local growers market in Torquay once a week and eventually I became so confident in both my abilities and direction that I quit my job and decided to focus on the business. We've only been operating since June 2015, but I've never looked back. We make pasteurised goats milk, yoghurt, keffir and a variety of cheeses and not only do we sell at the local growers markets, but we supply to local restaurants and small stores in the area. We're growing day by day but it's mostly through word of mouth.
When I first got into this business, I declared that I didn't hope to become a multi-millionaire but that I only wanted to make quality products people would enjoy, and the there for my kids - and it's just as well! I don't think people realise that to produce nine kilos of hard cheese - that's around three wheels - it will use 100 litres of milk, take a whole day to make and a further three months to mature. You're not in the business to make lots of money, you're here because you love what you do. It really is a hard slog and when you're a small operator with only 30 milkers which means we probably only get 100 litres of milk a day, there's only so much product you can make. Of course, the pressure to make sure the product that you can get out there is nothing short of perfect. And as the milk is different every day depending on what the weather is doing or what the goats have been eating, it's my job to predict what the milk is going to do next and try to work around that. Now that I think about it, it probably helps that I'm a scientist!
Now that I'm in this business, my own shopping habits have changed. I know what other producers go through to get their products on that shelf or table so I try to mostly buy from other boutique producers at farmers markets rather than from supermarket chains. I just tell myself, I know the pressure I put on myself to make sure my products are perfect - why would they be any different?"
Italian-born Flavio Carnevale, 38, has been serving up what he calls his 'childhood memories' to enthusiastic diners at Sydney's Popolo restaurant for the past four years. And with hundreds of years of regional history behind every dish to work through, happily, he's only just getting started.
"I think I knew I was different to the other kids when I realised I didn't see sheep, cows and chickens as pets, but as endless possibilities. Growing up in Rapone [a small village in the Basilicato region of Southern Italy], my parents had both a farm and a smallgoods business so I grew up in full view of the relationship one had with the other. In the evenings my father and I would go out at night to bring in the animals - we had around 200 sheep, 200 cows and 200 chickens at the time - and I remember being amazed that you could take these cows in the fields and transform them into what mama put on the table for dinner. It was endlessly fascinating to me.
Recipes from our region are steeped in hundreds of years of tradition and from the moment I learned to cook by my mother's side, I felt it was important to integrate them into whatever I was doing. Fortunately both my grandmothers lived nearby and while my mother's mother was more modern and taught me many of the newer techniques, my father's mother lived on a farm and often cooked on an old copper stove where you could taste the difference of an open flame. And with a mother who used to be a chef in Zurich for many years, it was like I had the holy trinity of Southern Italian cooking all around me.
I think the older you get, the closer you become to your origins - particularly if you move away, and that's certainly been my experience. I trained as a chef and moved to Australia in 2001 were I worked in a number of restaurants. Although I picked up many skills from the chefs that I worked with, always in the back of my mind I kept thinking, 'How can I put my family history into the food that I serve?' I had such a happy childhood that I dreamt of the idea that I could transfer some of these memories of my heritage to diners with a single bite. This is how the idea of Popolo [located in Sydney's Rushcutters Bay] started to form.
One of the biggest challenges of modernising our traditional family recipes which are between 200 and 300 years old is time; one of my favourite recipes for example is a cornflower and dry grape cake that is cooked under ashes for four hours which is served as bottom layer of a soup that has also been cooked for hours. When you're trying to run a commercial kitchen, having dishes that take the better part of the day to make is difficult, but at the same time I need to be true to my dream that when I present a dish, I'm not just giving customers a meal but a reflection of not only my mother and my grandmothers, but everyone who came before them. It's a deeply personal experience.
For some people, food is food, but for me it is simply everything. It's what I think about from the moment I wake up to the time I go to bed and when I cook, my link to my family and my heritage is never far from my mind. Am I excited about food? Excitement doesn't even being to describe it."
Dr Rebecca Reynolds, 36, battled bulimia for 15 years before reinventing her relationship with food from one of fear to that of celebration. She lives and works in Sydney where she is a nutritionist and lecturer.
"I was ten years old the first time I looked at my thighs and thought that they looked terrible - like they belonged to a grown-up woman's. It was not long after that, I suppose, that I started secretly high-fiving myself if I got through the day without having had junk food. Looking back, that was probably when the obsession with food took hold. I was still a baby.
To this day, I'm still not sure how it all started. Good food was something that was always appreciated and treasured in our house, and my mother always took great care to cook healthy meals that were free of preservatives, but by the time I hit 14, things had turned terribly sour. Food - or controlling my intake of food rather, was all I could think about and I leapt from one crazy cabbage soup-style diet to another or I did Weight Watchers. When I looked at food, I could no longer envision taste or enjoyment; all I saw was calories and if I accidentally consumed more than 1400 a day, I would become inconsolable.
Things really took a downward spiral when I went to India and Vietnam for my gap year after school and promptly got dysentery. I lost a huge amount of weight and looked (in hindsight) sickly, but everyone kept remarking on how great I was looking and I quickly became hooked on that feeling. When my parents announced around that time that they were leaving our native England to move to Australia, I felt traumatised and so I began to force myself to vomit immediately after eating. The way I saw it, not only was it a handy way of keeping my weight down, it also made me feel like I still had some control over an area of my life.
The next five years are a blur to tell you the truth. I remember I felt hungry and sick all the time and because I was living with all of these self-imposed rules about what I could and couldn't eat, I would think - and dream - about food all the time. Sometimes I would be so hungry that I would start binging and I wouldn't be able to stop and then I would make myself sick. Then I realised it was just easier if I only binged on foods that were easier to vomit back up and that's what I did. Eventually I hit rock bottom and opened up about my illness to my parents who quickly moved me over to Australia to help me rebuild my life.
When you're battling an eating disorder, the recovery process is slow. I started seeing a psychiatrist who not only put me on meds, but gave me a star chart so that I could put up a gold star if I didn't vomit that day. In the beginning, there weren't a lot of stars going up but we worked together and slowly, I began to see food as fuel for our bodies and something to be enjoyed rather than as 'the enemy'. I'd been studying medicine back in England and with my new-found positive interest in what food can do for your body, I figured I'd go back to university and study nutrition. Somehow, it just made sense.
It took the better part of ten years, but today I'm happy to report I have a very different relationship with food. Rather than thinking about calories, I listen to my body and react accordingly to whether it's hungry or full - it's as simple and as complicated as that. That's not to say there hasn't been curveballs - I'm currently pregnant with my first child and because I've had such terrible morning sickness, I often have to eat when I'm not hungry and that hasn't been easy for me. That said, I'm now a firm believer in the healing power of food, and while I know my relationship with food may never be perfect, I'm okay with that because my relationship is great."