What you missed at MAD Sydney

Author: Nicholas Jordan
Photography: Prudence Upton

Will the food of the future need to be less delicious to be more sustainable? It was just one of the questions MAD Sydney left in the minds of its sold-out audience at the Opera House on Sunday. The theme for the day of talks was Tomorrow's Meal, and while there was some concrete discussion of ingredients and dishes from Kylie Kwong, Peter Gilmore and visiting Italian chef Massimo Bottura, most of the questions, like that posed by Momofuku's David Chang, were about what goes on at the table in more of a societal context. How are we going to feed a growing and changing world population in a way that's socially, economically and environmentally responsible? Where does culture sit in this conversation? And what role can food play in bettering our society as a whole?

MAD (Danish for "food") is a not-for-profit organisation that was founded in 2011 by René Redzepi of Noma, and the event at the Opera House, the first MAD symposium to be open to the public, and the first to be held outside Copenhagen, was a fitting end to Noma's residency in Sydney, which concluded on Saturday. Guests included Chido Govera, a Zimbabwean activist farmer, and Australian social researcher Rebecca Huntley, but it was the chefs who held the floor for most of the day, speaking to an audience that included a sizeable contingent of hospitality professionals. Chefs, Redzepi argued, can play a vital role in shaping the meal of tomorrow. "People that work with food are becoming opinion makers in food and they have a role to play in education," he said.

Chef Bottura, of Modena's acclaimed Osteria Francescana, spoke of the need to create meals with ethical value, detailing his work with the Refettorio Ambrosiano, a soup kitchen he founded in Milan to turn food waste into meals for the disadvantaged. "If we change the way we think about ingredients, nourishment and community," he said, "if we stop throwing away our food, if we revive ethical practices in the kitchen, this can be the start of a new culinary tradition."

Huntley talked about the need for change within Australia - about how the elderly, migrants and indigenous Australians suffer from poor access to food. To a great cheer from the crowd, she called for a greater role from government in shaping food policy and ensuring food security for all Australians. "How we plan our cities, how we build our homes, how we structure our curriculum at schools - everything has an impact on our ability to eat well."

Huntley, Redzepi and indigenous chef Clayton Donovan, who opened the day's talks, all spoke about the possibility and benefits of schools working with Indigenous groups to teach students about seasonality, produce and food. "We need to re-educate our children. We need a whole new educational system where food is a big part. As important as maths and reading and writing," Redzepi said. The essential need to engage personally with our food, with how it's produced or cooked, was highlighted time and time again as a vital step to ensuring a better meal for tomorrow. "We need more chefs who know about soil and more farmers who know about food," said Bottura. The best way to start giving food the value it deserves is to spend some time cooking, said Huntley, and spend some time growing it. "Although," she quipped, "given our obesity problem in Australia, maybe our food should be less tasty."

Which brings us back to Chang's question: whether the meal of tomorrow will end up tasting worse to be better for us. Speaking from the perspective of someone who had saved herself from poverty through farming mushrooms in Africa, Govera offered an opposing view: "Tomorrow's meal has to inspire famers in what they do. It has to empower farmers to go to market with a level of pride and with the level of respect they deserve in our communities," she said. "We sitting here have to find a way to make food more delicious to get people excited about doing it."

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