Where is our Michelle Obama, or our Jamie Oliver? Where is Australia's healthy food hero?
Inspiration and leadership can be magical forces when it comes to making big leaps forward. Given that Australia (like so many other countries) is facing high rates of overweight and obesity, and a rising incidence in obesity-related health problems - particularly in children – it strikes me that inspiration and leadership on these issues is desperately needed in our country.
Over in the US, First Lady Michelle Obama has had a busy few months. She's released a cookbook, American Grown, showcasing the fresh fruit and vegies grown in the White House garden and using them in healthy recipes. Last week she popped up on the national (and international) news agenda again, this time supporting Disney's move to restrict advertising on its TV networks and children's websites for foods that fail to meet minimum nutrition requirements.
These are the latest efforts in the Let's Move campaign to improve the nation's health, which has become Michelle Obama's biggest focus. Using her significant resources and the media attention she attracts as First Lady, she has said she wants to inspire national conversation "about the food we eat, the lives we lead, and how all of this affects our children". In her efforts to capture people's attention on this front, she has put in the hard yards, appearing on TV talk shows doing everything from push-ups with Ellen DeGeneres to dishing up a vegetarian pizza for Jay Leno. She's showing that this is a real passion, something she really believes in and is willing to put her name and energy towards. Whether you agree or disagree with her views on specific topics, she's pushing the healthy food agenda in a way we don't really see here in Australia.
Over in the UK, the original reality TV chef, Jamie Oliver continues to steadily plug away at his nation's growing obesity problem, also using his significant resources and star power. From hitting the streets to rally people to his cause and teach them how to cook healthy meals; to his TV shows revealing the sorry state of school meals; and lobbying the UK parliament to provide legislation and funding for healthier school food options for kids, he is another national 'food hero', hell-bent on getting people in his country interested in, and armed with the skills needed for, healthy eating.
Again, you may or may not agree with Jamie Oliver's approach on all levels. But he is someone willing to fight the fight, to lead and inspire better eating habits for the sake of our own and our children's health. Of course parents, schools, government, food manufacturers and marketers, and environmental factors are all hugely influential. But sometimes you need a figurehead to stand up the front of the crowd and push the way forward.
You can probably guess the point of this column by now. Where is our Australian 'healthy food hero'? Who is leading by shining example, doggedly pursuing the goal of inspiring and educating Australians to eat more healthy food and less junk; to move more, and to learn about their health?
This is not to discount the many amazing, hard-working and inspiring people in Australia who are working for the greater public good on this front. There are some fantastic organisations, foundations and individuals who work hard every day to improve our relationship with food – Stephanie Alexander's Kitchen Garden Foundation does incredible, important work in schools right around the country; local community-driven efforts like farmers’ markets are great for educating kids about where 'real food' comes from; and individual dietitians and health experts all do fantastic work with private clients and in the media.
But I can't think of an Australian equivalent to Michelle Obama or Jamie Oliver. There's no one, inspirational food hero who's highly visible, has the megawatt star power to attract people's interest (and trust, which is vital, too), who can influence government policy, and is plugging away consistently in the media with a clearly spoken aim and agenda.
So – who do you think should be our healthy food hero? Or maybe we don't need one after all? Comment below or email me at email@example.com