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Rosemary Ann Ogilvie meets Ronni Kahn, the powerhouse who created OzHarvest.

OzHarvest is built on four pillars: food rescue, environment, education, and engagement. By engineering changes in legislation, Ronni has grown OzHarvest into a national organisation that, since its inception in 2004, has delivered over 40 million kilograms of food to the vulnerable.

Your lobbying changed legislation that previously prevented food donation. How? This was crucial, because while small donors and smaller businesses were fine, supermarkets couldn’t come on board because of liability concerns. The challenge was implementing the change in NSW, because once that was in place it set a precedent so we could go to the other states. Really, it was the extraordinary combination of pro bono lawyers and lobbyists who worked with us.

Talk about the United Nations Environmental Program on the Think. Eat. Save. Campaign. When I heard about Think. Eat. Save. (www.thinkeatsave.org) about four years ago, I made contact with the UN. They weren’t dealing with any organisations in Australasia – and they loved the fact that everything OzHarvest was doing was in alignment. We held the first Think. Eat, Save. event in Sydney, where we produced meals from rescued food and gave them away free to the public with the objective of raising awareness about food waste. It was based on an event that started in the UK and we’ve grown it – last year it became national and regional. This year we gave away over 12,000 meals in every state. In return, we ask people to pledge to commit to minimise food waste.
In alignment with this, on World Environment Day we went to Parliament House and produced meals from surplus food for the Minister for the Environment, the Shadow Minister for the Environment, the Greens, and about 70 parliamentarians. We asked our nation’s leaders to set a target to minimise food waste by 50 percent by 2025; they have agreed and we are working on best practice and how to make this happen. We also have a partnership with Woolworths, which has committed to minimise food waste by 2020. It’s exciting because this is a conversation that has to be had. However, conversation is not enough: action needs to follow the conversation.

Does the public get the association between food wastage and climate change? In Australia, $10bn worth of good food is wasted every year. We produce enough food to feed 60 million people, yet two million people still rely on food relief every year. So yes, much needs to be done to explain the association between food waste and climate change – and also between food waste, poverty and hunger. One aspect that contributes significantly to food waste is expiry dates, and it’s something we want to lobby about. People need to be educated about the difference between ‘Best Before’ and ‘Use By’: ‘Use By’ should be heeded for safety, but ‘Best Before’ means the food is safe to eat beyond the designated date. We also need to see whether we’ve over-legislated in that date.

How many restaurants and food outlets do you have as suppliers? Over two thousand. However, if readers know of businesses that produce or serve food where there may be surplus produce, please let us know! For example, every year one farmer calls us to pick his beautiful oranges. The supermarkets reject them because they’re different shapes and sizes, yet I’ve never tasted fruit like this. Our yellow army of volunteers can go anywhere in Australia to pick produce.

OzHarvest is surely a barometer for economic health. What is it telling us? We should be aware of investing in our country, our food, our farmers: This is the most important fact because we’re selling our country off cheaply and we’re going to kill ourselves with lack of food, water and basic supplies. We can grow everything in Australia. However, we need to grow with care and nurture our land; this may mean reducing beef consumption because it costs so much to the land to hold cattle.

Where to from here? We’re very focused on our three education programs. In addition to Think.Eat.Save., we have: NEST (Nice, Easy, Simple Tips or our Nutrition, Education, Sustenance Training) program, managed by Nick Johnston. We created this for vulnerable people to understand how to link what they eat to their health and wellbeing, and to show it’s possible to live a healthy life even with very little money. This program is also valid for teenagers leaving school, young professionals who have never learnt to cook, and older people living alone, so we are growing it and bringing it into community. Then there is our Nourish project, which this year will see 26 kids from vulnerable backgrounds supported through a mentoring, life-skills and hospitality program that gives them a Certificate II in Hospitality and a job, thereby breaking the cycle of intergenerational poverty.

How can Nature and Health readers help? By letting us know about sources of excess produce that would otherwise be wasted; by volunteering: a huge part of our role is engagement with the public through volunteering, through corporate volunteering, through people finding purpose in their lives via the work we do and then helping us; and donations, which are highly appreciated as OzHarvest is completely philanthropically funded for everything we do. Every dollar enables us to deliver at least two meals. And of course by taking the pledge to reduce food waste. I don’t want OzHarvest to last forever. I want us to eliminate poverty and hunger, and to stop wastefulness. I want us to do ourselves out of business!

Chef Trav’s tips to reduce food waste

* Love your veggies and store them well.
* Preserve in-season fruit and vegetables by: freezing; drying in the sun, an oven on low heat or a dehydrator; or turning them into jams and chutney.
* Make pesto and salsa verde with leftover herbs.
* Save vegetable trimmings in a zippered plastic bag in the freezer; when there’s sufficient, make stock.
* Make flatbreads, pizza or tartines as a vehicle for leftovers.
* Eggs - as quiche and frittata - are another great vehicle for using leftover veggies.