Why Australians need to stop cooking alone

We're not going to change culture by standing alone in our kitchens.
We're not going to change culture by standing alone in our kitchens. Photo: Shutterstock

COMMENT

It's pretty hip to have an opinion on dinner parties right now, whether you're Annabel Crabb furiously liberating us from the ponce of traditional entertaining with her cookbook Special Guest, or Penny Flanagan calling time on the modern day dinner party in a recent Age and Sydney Morning Herald opinion piece, "The dinner party is no longer serving its purpose".

So I'm nailing my flag to the mast here in defence of the humble dinner party. While they might be sponges for the cooking and social anxieties lurking within us all, dinner parties themselves aren't the problem. Our problem is that we've been messing with the formula. Any passata-making Italian nonna can tell you what that is: we're flying solo in our kitchens.

Tomato times at Youth Food Movement's passata day.
Tomato times at Youth Food Movement's passata day. Photo: Nikko To

I find it interesting we've decided that cooking is the pursuit of the individual. We might eat together and declare our love of food because it "connects", but at the end of the day, many Australians cook alone. Our dinner parties are pumped out of the kitchen by a lone cook with at best a vision and at worst a death wish and this means Australian cooking culture is missing out on the fabulous, messy, joyous effects of collaborative cooking.

I come at this from the perspective of a young person fiercely aware of the problems facing our food system. Sadly, we Millennials are also doing our part to create those problems. We know that 18- to 25-year-olds are Australia's highest food-wasting demographic, with new research commissioned by Sustainability Victoria finding that 18- to 23-year-olds report throwing out a whopping $115 of food waste each week. Baby boomers reported just a 10th of that.

Organisations such as Youth Food Movement are challenging young people to do dinner parties differently. A Salvage Supperclub is a lo-fi dinner party where you bring friends together and challenge yourselves to make dinner solely with the existing ingredients in your collective kitchens. Championed by the likes of City of Melbourne and Inner West Council, this kind of dinner party eradicates the role of the host, and your meal becomes a reflection of whoever was in the room at the time rather than Ottolenghi's test kitchen.

We might eat together and declare our love of food because it 'connects', but at the end of the day, many Australians cook alone.

Having staples in your pantry is key to any collaborative cooking feast. You can play with whatever ingredients your friends bring to the table if you've got items like chickpeas, pasta, rice and eggs at hand. With Christmas coming up, you could even host a yuletide-themed salvage party where everyone brings the stuff they know is going die over the festive season when you're eating out so much. Christmas cake and mince pies are new desserts waiting to happen, while the remains of a cheese platter can be made into frittata or spreads.

The Salvage Supperclub concept works because the point is to have a good time with the people you love while tackling the global food waste problem, which manifests in your fridge each week. Sure, it might not be the most polished meal your kitchen has ever produced. But, when there are six people in your kitchen and no single person is responsible for the end result, the pleasure is in the process of throwing out the rule book. It's all about lessons learnt, and who really cares if your vegies became super mushy by accident? Call it a mash and move on.

Food waste isn't simply an infrastructural problem or a policy one. It's inherently cultural and we're not going to change culture by standing alone in our kitchens. It's time to step up to the bench.

Thea Soutar is the chief executive officer of Youth Food Movement Australia.