#WTF2050: Serving up some food for thought

First published in The Examiner, 21 April 2018

Jo Cook and Jess Robbins met while working in the Hobart restaurant trade 20 years ago. Ms Cook is curator of the Dark Mofo Winter Feast and Ms Robbins works for the Global Island Partnership. They were invited by The Australia Institute to propose a “big idea” for Tasmania’s future as part of its #WTF2050 – (What’s Tasmania’s Future?) initiative.

JO COOK: I’ve been living in Tasmania 24 years now, I came down here in 1993 for a two-week holiday. We went straight to Coles Bay and my friends went diving and brought home abalone. I was 23 years old, I had never seen abalone. Then we went down south on a cray fishing boat. That was my first few days in Hobart. I just thought this place is amazing. I’m going to stay. After I had been here a while I took over a restaurant in Salamanca - it was two floors, we had a 24-hour license and that’s when Jess (Robbins) came along and started working in the kitchen with me, that was 20 years ago.

JESS ROBBINS: I’d just turned 18 and this experience was a fantastic education in food and understanding things that are unique to Tasmania.

JC: If you are a respected and a great chef today, you know completely where your food is from. People have a very high expectation of coming to Tasmania and eating what we produce.

JR: In New York, it’s only something that is new and emerging. Coming back to Tasmania, it’s just so much more of a way of life and an institution.

JC: In 2013, Dark Mofo’s Winter Feast was born. My role was looking after local businesses and creating the local food content. We partnered with City of Hobart council and they were helping us facilitate the feast. One of them said to me, “you do realise this will be the end of your career”. Because he thought that my ideas were so out there.

What was so revolutionary? I was setting rules with storeholders that were really quite specific to every single dish. Ingredients had to be from Tasmania and ethically sourced, so it’s about getting creative with what’s available. In 2013, 30,000 people went to the Winter Feast over three nights.

In 2017, we had 100,000 people over seven nights.

Our big idea for #WTF2050 is food education being the norm – specifically that we make it part of our school curriculum. In primary school, you learn to grow it, harvest and then cook it. In high school, you could diversify and offer food marketing, design, production, agriculture and organic farming techniques.

When we think about food, it’s such a huge part of our lives. How it’s produced, the impacts it has on how we manage water, the different species that we’re producing as part of our core diets, and food engineering.

Having that hands-on experience from when you are a kid playing around, growing your first seedlings and getting to taste your first cucumber from the garden, it leaves you with that footprint and then you can accelerate it to university level.

If it was part of our schools, it would be that everyday experience for everybody.