Meet Julia, an amalgamation of many of the stories we’ve heard from the young people in our community.

She grew up and still lives in Sydney, in the suburbs. She was born in 1990 which means she has never known the world without the internet. She usually consults Google when trying to figure out what to cook for dinner each night.

She has just finished her degree and is now working in marketing and PR. Growing up, she came from a pretty regular meat and 3 veg suburban family. All of their food came from a supermarket and up until the age of 20 when she started getting a few physical and mental health problems, Julia never really thought much about her food, where it came from, and what impact her decisions were having on her health.

Two years ago, the supermarket is as far as Julia ever thought about her food.

For her, food magically appeared on supermarket shelves in uniform precision in colourful packages from nowhere in particular. All types of food were available 24/7, 365 days a year. And the most thought she gave to what she was going to buy is what’s on special.

And she isn’t unique. Research recently highlighted this disconnect and how completely unaware many young Australian adults are about their food. A whopping 77% of Australian teenagers know little or nothing about farming and food production, with a little less knowing how food gets on their plate. 1 in 5 have never even been to a farm.

It can be difficult for the average city dweller to know where their food comes from because they have been so physically removed from it. The image on the packet is generally all you have to go off.

About 2 years ago things started to change for Julia. Her health wasn’t so great, late nights dancing and drinking and 2am runs to McDonalds eating a lot of processed food meant she wasn’t in tip top shape. She saw Jamie Oliver on TV talking about food in schools and how that affected kids in the UK and she started making the connection between her own well-being and the food she was putting in her mouth every couple of hours.

After doing some reading online she decided to grab a mate and do something outrageous.

She went to a farm.

She’d never met a farmer before. It was the first time she saw tomatoes on a stalk. The first time she realised that when you put a potato in the ground, you magically get even more potatoes a couple of months later.

This simple act changed profoundly changed the way Julia saw food. It changed the way Julia saw agriculture. Over time, Julia sought more information and food and farm experiences which translated into very different food choices at the check-out counter.

Now when she shops she thinks about:

1. Provenance – Where do you source your raw materials? Are they locally grown?
2. Quality – What cuts of meat do you use? Do you use fresh or reconstituted products?
3. Myths – Is “100% Aussie beef” a company or brand name? Is there pig fat in your shakes?
4. Additives – What additives are in your food and why?
5. Animal welfare – What are your procedures?

Through our work at the Youth Food Movement, we know that there are thousands of Julias popping up all over the world who are asking more questions about where their food comes from and redefining what it means to make a healthy choice. And this new definition is all about agriculture.

Healthy is no longer about the individual. A healthy choice is one that is good for me, for the people that produced, processed, delivered and sold me my food, and good for the environment and generations to come.

Industry is noticing. McDonalds are now giving their customers answers to the questions they’re asking, they’re trying to debunk some of the assumptions around the organisation and its supply chain in order to build a more relevant organisation for the changing consumer landscape. They are doing this because they see the way the consumer trend is going.

Imagine what would happen if we could fast-track and mainstream experiences like Julia’s. Imagine how quickly innovations would be adopted by whole populations and how quickly the landscape could change because there exists a consumer base ready to champion the changes that we all are creating.

There is no doubt that, for the moment, Julia is part of a minority. I am not naive enough to think that this is the way that all young people think about food and make their food choices.

But if we work together, invest on both sides of the table, we can change the current normal so that we have engaged and active food citizens who are part of ag – not separate from it. Who see farmers issues as their issues.

This is our vision and we’d love you to join us.

Image taken for Cropfest.

Alexandra Iljadica