Jonathan Pangu has a bone to pick with chicken nuggets.
“I think processed food is getting out of hand, it’s one of the issues of our time and nuggets are just a really good symbol of everything that’s wrong,” says the father of three. “I’d like to put a bit of a dent in the industrial juggernaut that is processed food.”
That’s why he founded Death to Nuggets, a campaign designed to educate children and parents about better food choices, the harm of bad choices, and why eating healthy need not be a chore.
He’s also fed up with kids’ menus, which he says haven’t changed since the ’70s – it’s still nuggets, fish and chips, and spag bol.
“We need a rallying cry, we need something that’s bold and clear that can cut through – if you look at supermarket nuggets, there’s between 41 and 49 percent chicken in them, so what’s everything else?” says Pangu.
The project’s illustrations – by Melbourne-based illustrator Charlie Lin – are designed to capture kids’ imaginations from the get-go: set against storybook colours, sorry-looking nuggets are depicted being put to death in morbid and cartoonish ways. It’s not subtle, and it’s not trying to be.
According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, roughly 27 per cent of all Australian children are overweight or obese. This amplifies the chances of type 2 diabetes, sleep apnoea, mental health issues and a slew of other weight-related health problems.
Since becoming a stay-at-home dad last year, Pangu – a former advertising executive – realised the pervasiveness of processed foods in our pantries, and the part they play in childhood obesity.
“They’re quick, they’re cheap and they have this magnetic pull on kids – so the thinking was, how can we improve kids’ relationships with food?” he says.
Other campaigns targeting processed foods already exist, but where they fall flat, argues Pangu, is their inability to engage children and show that healthy eating can be an enjoyable experience.
At each monthly Death to Nuggets event – held at South Melbourne’s My Son, Joy – chef Laura Neville designs a four-course meal with a specific theme, focusing on a particular food and ways to prepare it. Neville helped launched Melbourne cafe Code Black in 2012, and has also worked in kitchens in Sydney and London during her 17-year career. The meal costs $45 per head.
“The kids will have a chance to get hands-on with their food – the chefs will come and talk to them in between courses about what they’ve eaten and they’ll have a chance to look in the kitchen,” says Pangu.
“I’m really just focusing on putting on some great events for kids and adults to get some positive momentum going so that they can continue that back at home,” Pangu says.