In a significant event at Dumbo Feather HQ in St Kilda last week, the women behind the group The Sustainable Table joined forces with the magazine and Pope Joan owner/chef Matt Wilkinson in the inaugural Reader's Feast, an event highlighting issues surrounding food sustainability by focusing on how every day actions can make great changes.
On arrival, each guest was invited to eat dinner from a table abundant with local Victorian produce – cheeses, salmon, beef, vegetables, honey, dips, mustards and oils – delicious. As a condition of entry to the event, each guest was asked to bring a local, seasonal ingredient, either from their garden, local shop or market. This saw another table piled high with fruits, vegetables and some cheeses – and was where Wilkinson came in. The table of donated ingredients was his mystery box and he cooked four dishes, all the while entertaining and informing the sell-out crowd.
“I had in my head what most people would bring,” he said after the event. “I was expecting nettles – I was expecting things that were found a bit more – but the guy that brought the turnips, he didn’t know how to cook them so he brought them because he might have a chance to see how to use them. That’s good.”
The evening’s discussion moved from produce, heirloom vegetables and farmers markets, to how to tackle supermarkets and cook particular ingredients. But the fundamental issue always came back to the consumer and how the choices we make determine what’s on the shelves.
Dumbo Feather editor Patrick Pittman says “Food is such a basic, such a fundamental, and the changes we need to make, when it comes to food, are pretty obvious and straightforward. There are a lot of basic steps people can take to make a difference in their own life and in their immediate environment.”
Cassie Duncan, from The Sustainable Table, also backed up the idea of empowering the agency of the consumer. “Food is something that you make a decision about every time you go to a shop or a restaurant, and once people recognise that and start to learn that, it’s the first step and once you recognise you have that power to change, then you can make progress.”
The plan is that there will be more events like this, more discussion and lots more questions. As Pittman stated, “The bottom line for Dumbo Feather is to really open up questions about what it means to live an ethical and sustainable and meaningful life and that’s a different thing to everybody.”