This week I had the nerve racking but ultimately rewarding experience of presenting a talk (twice) on The $35 Food Challenge as part of the City of Sydney Library’s ‘Lunches with Bite’. It would be an understatement to say it was a fantastic experience. Once I started talking I found I just couldn’t shut my mouth. And the reason is this.

It is estimated that 2.2 million Australians live in poverty. That’s 11% of us, and that percentage has been increasing over the years. Well may we say that Australia, as a whole, has weathered the global financial crisis and its aftershocks. Well may we say that as a population, we are objectively materially better off than at any time in our history, and yet convinced we’re all hard done by. But for that 11% of us for whom something like meeting a friend for coffee, going to a restaurant, catching a bus, ordering a pizza, recharging their mobile phone credit or even using their heating in winter is something they really have to weigh up, that kind of information brings little comfort, if any.

In fact, it is a slap in the face to every person living in poverty, because if we are so well off, why are those people not being taken care of? Why are Australians in poverty not being given to opportunities the rest of us have? In fact, why is there ONE SINGLE AUSTRALIAN LIVING IN POVERTY AT ALL? Why is there any one of us for whom a visit to the doctor, or the dentist, or an interstate relative is a complete financial impossibility? And WHY the FUCK are there children in this country, IN THIS CITY who don’t have access to the coloured pencils they need to do their homework, or enough food for their school lunch? AND WHAT ARE WE GOING TO DO ABOUT IT??

*Ahem*. You can consider that rant as bonus content. They certainly didn’t get that at lunches with bite.

I can’t thank Ellen Lowry and the rest of the folks at the library enough for having me, I really appreciate having an opportunity to speak on this subject. A huge thank you also to everyone who came out to hear about the Challenge, especially those of you who asked questions, made comments and generally got angry about poverty in Australia and creative about how to navigate your way through the process of going without. When this was just a kernel of an idea, I never imagined it would get anywhere near the kind of attention and uptake it has so far, and it is only growing.

Resources
And on the subject of thank yous, did I tell you there’s a $35 Food Challenge Food Spending Tracking App? You can find it at spending.the35dollarchallenge.com, it is free (you just need a name and password to use it). The app was designed, completely unprompted and at no cost whatsoever, by Jacky Lo of the blog Food Rules, who had the idea, emailed me to ask if it was ok (to which I replied OH MY GOD YES THAT WOULD BE AMAZING SORRY TO YELL AT YOU IN CAPS, or words to that effect) and the rest is history.

I also had a few requests for the powerpoint slides I used, you can download them here. The reports I referred to in the presentation are here and here, however ACOSS (The Australian Council of Social Services) will release their most comprehensive survey of poverty in Australia to date tomorrow, to mark the beginning of Anti-Poverty Week. You should also check out Four Corners’ ‘Growing up poor’ if you get a chance.

*Phew*. So, The $35 Food Challenge starts tomorrow. Are you ready?

It’s not too late to support The $35 Challenge. During Anti-Poverty Week, from October 14-20, you have $5 a day to spend on food. By experiencing poverty for just 7 days, we come to a better understanding of the realities and stresses of living in poverty. By blogging or tweeting this experience, we can raise awareness of an issue so often swept under the rug. And by donating the remainder of the money we would usually spend on food to Foodbank, we can make a real difference. For more info, click here.

Now it’s May, I think I’m safe to tell you what you already know – what’s hot in food from where I sit – smack bang in the middle of inner-city Sydney. There are zero surprises and as many predictions. Read on to find out what’s hot right now.

1. diy/dit

From brewing your own beer and cider to from-scratch sourdough to a beehive on the roof, to pickling, canning and preserving, diy (do it yourself) and dit (do it together) food sprung up post-GFC as part of a wider trend including knitting, gardening and squeezing all your soap remnants into one big ball (ok, maybe not so much).

It’s now cool to act like a Granny and no one will laugh at you for growing your own kale. It’s kinda like how we used to take the piss out of people who ate squid, or garlic, or other ‘weird’ foods in the 70s and 80s, and now you can’t walk into a pub without someone shoving a plate of calamari and aioli in your face. We’re all guerilla gardeners and apprentice artisan bakers these days, but even so, this trend has spawned a whole market of people who would quite like to pickle their own cumquats, but simply haven’t the time. This is why ‘homestyle cooking’ is everywhere in cafes right now. Call me crazy, but if I want ‘homestyle food’, I’ll go to…my house?

2. Every kind of non-espresso coffee (except instant)

Cold drip, siphon/syphon, filter/pourover, french press, stovetop – we’re still loving our fresh ground beans, but espresso just doesn’t have the novelty these other methods do. Add to this the fact that an espresso machine is a pretty pricey (and huge) piece of gear, and low-tech gadgetry becomes a lot more attractive.

People are tasting coffees the way they once tasted wines, and the less milk and sugar the better. It’s fashionable to want to taste the coffee all by its lonesome (well, with water) and all else is considered additive – sugar, milk, cut that shit out right now. We’re all about purity, simplicity

3. locavore-ism

Right now it is suddenly *so important* where your food comes from. Locavore is the organic of 5 years ago, with people growing truss tomatoes on their teensy apartment balconies. We hate Colesworths ‘cause of the pressure they put on food prices, farmers and the waste that results when less-than-picturesque produce is rejected (and yet Aldi is apparently fine?) so we’re jumping on the Farmer’s Market bandwagon like there’s no tomorrow. Which is fair enough, as food security is one of the single biggest issues we face; there may *be* no tomorrow if we don’t sort this shit the fuck *out*. Oh, and heirloom tomatoes. We like those.

4. cocktails and other concoctions

From the old fashioned to the walrus slime parfait (yes, I made that up), cocktails are hot, and the bars that serve them even more so. Signature drinks, mixologists, ‘freestyle’ bars with no menus- it’s all happening. Ok, so a Caipirinha will set you back 16 rather than 6 dollars, but it’s worth it to pretend you’re in Brasil, or Cuba, or an episode of Mad Men, or a Marylin Monroe film or… a really expensive bar. Wake up and smell the spiced rum.

5. ‘Americana’ is still going strong

Anywhere that does a half decent take on South American, Central American, Mexican, southern US or just plain junk food is the place to be seen instagramming on your iphone right now. Hotdogs and Ice cream sandwiches are everywhere, tacos are the word du jour, Brasilian, Peruvian and Argentinean food is more and more common. You can get Chicken and waffles at the Jazz City Diner and burger joints are still going strong. Food bloggers are baking up American candy-flavoured-treats like there’s no tomorrow. Dive bar food and deep fried everything is well and truly on the menu – from The Dip’s Deep fried birthday cake to The Norfolk’s deep fried pickles to the Abercrombie’s deep fried pizza, pubs and bars are dishing up what everyone in the rest of the world thinks Americans eat.

Anyway…you tell me. What’s hot right now in your books? And where can we get it?

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The National Multicultural Festival is held each year in Canberra, and as far as I’m concerned it’s the best food fest in Australia. This year it ran from the 10th to the 12th of February.

Nepalese Momo (dumplings). Some were filled with lamb, some with veggies. The accompanying sauce was extremely hot.

Ethiopian. We had this as our morning tea. There’s a potato and cabbage dish, a lentil stew and I want to say key wat? And of course, blissfully crumpety injera.

OMG, the Sicilian stall! They only sold sweets and I coudn’t resist. We tried this custard filled fried morsel, yum!

All that eating makes you pretty darn thirsy. Luckily there were free water bottles and free water.

Vietnamese drinks.

Sausages on the grill…

…and a sausage dog in a bag!

As you can see, it’s a pretty popular place to be.

The line for the Loukamades (greek doughnuts) is always massive. They weren’t as deliciously crispy as last year though…

A papusa from one of the Mexican stall. A cornmeal based thick tortilla, in this case filled with cheese.

And a delicious chicken tamale.

Which is your favourite food festival?

You can read last year’s post here.

Sydney

For your caffeine hit
Cafe Dov, Potts Point
Bang Bang Espresso, Surry Hills
Becasse Bakery, CBD
Bourke Street Bakery – All stores
Clipper Cafe, Glebe
Coffee Trails, Haymarket
Double Roasters, Marrickville
Gnome Espresso, Surry Hills
Petty Cash Cafe, Marrickville
Raw 101, Castle Hill
Reuben Hills, Surry Hills
Room 10, Potts Point
The Little Marrionette, Annandale

For a bite
Becasse, CBD
Charlie and Co, CBD
El Loco, Surry Hills
Gelato Messina, Darlinghurst
Jackie M, Concord (bookings required, txt 0424 260 494)
Ms G’s, Pott’s Point
Quarter 21, CBD
The Dip, CBD
Toko, Surry Hills
Rockpool Group Restaurants

For a drink
Coogee Bay Hotel, Coogee
Fredas, Chippendale
Wine Library, Woollahra
The Carrington Hotel, Surry Hills

Melbourne

For your caffeine hit
3 Bags Full Cafe, Abbotsford
Coin Laundry, Aramadale
Market Lane, Prahran Market
Monk Bohdi Dharma, Balaclava
Ora Cafe, Kew
Red Door Corner Store, Northcote
Yellow Bird Cafe, Prahran

For a bite
Ladro, Prahran
Rockpool Group Restaurants

Brisbane
Boardwalk Bar and Bistro, CBD
Grub Street Cafe, Gaythorne
The Fishery, Milton

Know somewhere else to eat/drink that’s open today? Comment below and I will add it to the list. Happy Australia Day, chums!

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