In a time where green is the new black and clean eating is the new wholefoods hash tag, let’s take a look back at Australia’s journey in organic food.
But before we do, let me tell you that I was politely fed canned soybeans and boarding school food so it is no wonder that I embarked on a culinary journey as a child where I grew up at the restaurant table in Melbourne during the gastronomic boom of the late 1970s. Developing my passion for regional Asian cuisine through language and travel, I established my organic cooking school with classes titled “Don’t Panic it’s Organic” in my hometown of Melbourne fifteen years ago and have since run my signature Surf Spa Food consulting for leading hotels and luxury spas from South East Asia to Africa. During this time I have witnessed not just the gastronomic boom that is Australian Cuisine but the birth – or rebirth if you ask a local Byron Bay hippies where I live – of organic food.
In the mid-nineties, Melbourne saw glimpses of organic food peering through the fluorescent haze of supermarkets. On my local strip of Smith Street, Collingwood I co-owned and operated The Grace Darling Hotel from 1990-1998. Here shone a beacon called Friends of the Earth – a co-op that still exists today and where I tasted my first organic apple as a grown-up. It was slightly deformed and had as many blemishes as a teenager but Oh My Stars the flavour that lay beneath the skin was heavenly! It was during this time that I began to flirt with wheatgrass. One litre bottles of organic apple juice were infused with the stuff and the sweet herbaceous taste became an essential albeit tiny component of my week – the remainder belonging to my life as a Publican. Years later Organic Wholefoods opened across the street and still thrives today.
A pioneer of the organic industry is Scott Kinnear who founded his store in the 90’s and is currently the Director of the Safe Food Foundation and I highly recommend you follow him. As the new millennium dawned, the need for regulation of organic food became clear. The early 1990s saw involvement from the federal Australian government following industry requests to establish a national organic standard for production and marketing for export. This was formalised in 1991 and remains today as a bedrock regulation upon which the Australian Organic bases its popular Australian Certified Organic Standard (ACOS). The Australian Organic (formerly Biological Farmers of Australia or BFA) has always been a major force in ensuring that organic standards in Australia remain in the hands of the supply chain.
In 2009 BFA changed its corporate structure to that of a company limited by guarantee. This allows Australian Organic to be recognised as an entity, which is conducting its business nationally, with other benefits including reduced administration costs and greater assistance in operating on a not-for-profit basis.
Another mate, Dr. Andrew Monk has been a BFA member since the early 1990s while being involved in certified organic businesses (farming and food processing) in Queensland and Victoria, maintaining properties and interests in both states. He along with Scott paved the way for organic retail in this country He is currently the Chairman of the Organic Standards Committee, having been CEO of BFA until early 2005.
So bear a thought for the forefathers of sustainable organic produce now widely available in this country as you sip your green smoothie and slice your organic tomato. There’s a lot at stake to keeping our food clean and sustaining the healthy trends and fads that come and go.