Growing up in the small rural location of Mt Yarrahappinni on the northern New South Wales coastline I was surrounded by good food growing up the mountain slopes – bananas, mangos, avocados and macadamia nuts. Despite this I clearly remember some students walking to school barefoot, picking up an ice cream or packet of chips for breakfast and getting hot chips and soft drinks delivered for lunch from the local shop some days. Meanwhile large trucks hurtled by loaded with the healthy local produce on the way to Sydney to sell to premium restaurants and markets.
These early experiences shaped my interest in food and cooking and made me aware of the social issues that can prevent people from accessing good food regularly and how that might shape food behaviors and health for life. My mum was a well-travelled adventurous cook and my dad an avid vegetable gardener; this fostered my interest in food and gave me a healthy start and a curious appetite to explore this further.
In high school I learnt about food, nutrition and health, and that lead me into tertiary study in the field. At the University of Wollongong I took on a dietetics degree where I thrived in the sciences and really valued the public health and health promotion subjects which put the science in real life contexts. In particular, a class in Aboriginal health really put into perspective for me how much history, culture, environment and social issues can influence food, nutrition and ultimately the health of whole populations. Following this I travelled to the Northern Territory to practice clinical nutrition at the Royal Darwin Hospital where this issue was highlighted again and again.
My first professional role was a mix of research and teaching at the University of Wollongong’s Smart Food Centre and gave me great exposure to academic role models in a supportive environment with great facilities and experience. Soon after I relocated to Adelaide in South Australia and by chance began volunteering in a nutrition research project with Australian Red Cross. This was the start of something much more for me and I found food security and nutrition within vulnerable groups was something I could really put my heart and mind to. I have since taken on various roles within Red Cross from small local food projects to state team leader managing food security projects in both metropolitan and remote Aboriginal communities.
I currently work as a national food security project officer for the Australian Red Cross, a position that constantly challenges and excites me. My main work involves coordinating and resourcing food projects in many diverse locations and population groups from remote Aboriginal communities to city-based asylum seekers, low-income parents and school children in marginalised communities. The work also involves advocating for changes to improve food policy and helping the Red Cross workforce of predominantly non-nutritionists to work confidently and effectively with such projects. I have definitely found my passion in food security and hope to pursue further study in this area.
I have recently completed the nutrition in emergencies course at the University of Westminster UK and I am eagerly awaiting an experience as an overseas aid delegate with the International Committee of the Red Cross. From this experience I hope to learn from local staff and volunteers in developing countries and provide what value I can from my domestic experience and training.
On a personal level I enjoy working with people’s understanding of ‘good food’ and food ‘myths’ and I have recently embraced social media for learning and sharing this information. This has led me to start a personal food blog called ‘supermouthpopwow’ to share some of my stories around food and nutrition.