Our generation suffer from a chronic lack of food awareness, but they are ripe for change. While 70% of young people know little or nothing about where their food comes from and what it takes to get to our plates each day, 90% of us know that agriculture is important to the Australian economy and that farmers are the most trusted professionals.
Here’s why young people (18-35) are so uniquely important to food and agriculture.
We’re still forming patterns we’ll hold on to for life
Our relationship to food is a deeply personal one, with tastes, consumption habits, and traditions typically deeply held and hard to change. But these consumption patterns and behaviours are formed when we are young, especially in the formative years when we move out of home and begin making our own decisions about what we buy and eat. The consumption patterns young people acquire today will influence their consumption patterns in their adult life and those of their children. This makes the act of engaging young people an incredibly powerful agent for change.
We’re damn good at building communities
We young people make sense of things we don’t understand by creating a community around it. Good social research tells us this. And food is no different, it’s mostly very confusing whether you’re not sure what to buy at the shops, not sure how to peel a potato, not sure where the milk in your milo came from. By creating a community around food, which is what the Youth Food Movement does, we’re attempting to together build understanding for this big, very complex, at times overwhelming thing. Through this understanding we begin to build value, and with this value our attitudes and behaviours change as a result.
Our first big event in Sydney was the Reel Food Nights – a pedal powered pop up cinema in the then Food Connect warehouse. It was cool, and it was early 2013. At the event we gave out free popcorn which doubled as a data collection tool to grab thoughts from the audience about the event, about YFM, and about food in general. The thing we heard loud and clear was ‘thank god you’re here! I care about this stuff so much, but I’ve had nowhere to go to find friends, or find information about Australian food and agriculture!’. And we still hear this today, be it at our volunteer team retreats, through our community surveys or chatting to an audience member after we’ve given a public talk.
We have control over our networks
Our generation is also more heavily peer and community driven than any of its predecessors. Social media has connected us in a way that has never been possible before, but the fragmentation of audiences and a distrust of traditional media sources has made this generation harder for governments and institutions to reach. This makes it difficult for external bodies to mobilise the potential for young people to be a force for change in the food system.
We accept complex realities (the grey)
People tell us that they’re thankful that we share good stories, showcase unknown champions and tell it like it is. People also tell us that they’re thankful we aren’t prescriptive or preachy. And this non-prescriptive approach has been very intentional. It doesn’t make sense to us, or many young people we meet, to see food as good or bad for us. The world isn’t black or white so why should our food choices be? We also believe that a non-prescriptive approach that encourages people to make a decision that is right for them, and them alone, is the more empowering and more likely to lead sustainable behaviour change.
We’re not saying we have all the solutions and we’re not big fans of ‘finger pointing’ either. What we want is to learn more about the food system, create solutions with our peers (young and old) and move forward to create a food system which is diverse, resilient and secure for generations to come.
We take action (and support each other)
Our generation want to take action, we don’t just want to sit and talk. We’re also incredibly values driven, and what we hear from our community is this appreciation that the Youth Food Movement offers people a place for them to act on those values in a positive way and contribute to a society that they are proud to be a part of. This might be from someone who volunteers with us as a way to complement their day job. Or it might from a student we meet who is aspiring to work in the Australian food industry. YFM offers a good opportunity for that alignment to happen in a fun and supportive way.
Beyond this sentiment, we’ve continued to be encouraged by the community support for our work. We sell out events; we have volunteers giving an estimated 100 hours a week to the cause; we are inundated with requests from people across the country wanting to start up a YFM chapter in their backyard (which we’re getting to, we’re growing as fast as our hands, brains and bank balances will allow us)! But we’re also hearing from young people, and not so young people who work in the food and agriculture industries, wanting to co-design projects together for a social benefit. These industry bodies, government departments and corporates are realising the value of connecting with and educating consumers as part of their own business operations. They have opened to door to hear our unique experiences with food, our views and solutions, and are taking strides to do something with this information themselves.
We’re the ones inheriting a broken food system
As a generation, we are set to inherit a food system that is dependent on a dwindling supply of inputs and resources, particularly the human resources needed to keep the industry running. We are also the first generation in history to have a life expectancy less than the one before us, because of the food choices we are making.
In order to begin to address this, we believe a paradigm shift is needed whereby the wellbeing of the community, environment and food producers is at the core of our food system. We think young Australians, both consumers and producers, have a role to play in creating this shift to change the way in which food is produced and distributed here in Australia.
Not only are we brave and willing to challenge the status quo, we bring a number of unique skills and fresh perspectives to the table. Mix this with greater education around food and its production and a transfer of knowledge and skills from older generations, we believe we have a recipe for change.
We believe young Aussies are an untapped resource that has the potential to provide a fresh perspective for the issues we are facing within our food system today. It is important that younger generations are empowered and motivated to take ownership of our food future. One day our parents and peers will ask us to feed the country responsibly, and to do this we need to be equipped with the skills and knowledge, and we need to be included right now in conversations, activities and choices being made about food, so we have the best shot at providing our communities with what they need in the future… and we believe YFM is a step in the right direction to making this happen!