A “mind-blowing” amount of food intended for disadvantaged families is going to waste in Bendigo because many residents lack the basic cooking skills required to prepare it, according to a major food relief provider.
Bendigo Foodshare operations manager Ray Butler said many of the welfare agencies he supplies refuse to take some fresh foods because very few of their clients know how to cook them.
“Sometimes we get really high quality stuff, fennel [bulbs], all sorts of other things, and no one will take them because they say ‘well no one’s going to cook them, no one knows what to do with them, if we put them in a food parcel they’ll just throw them away’,” he said.
“I have direction from the board to target healthy food – the reality out there in the world is they don’t know how to cook it.”
Mr Butler said many of Bendigo’s most disadvantaged children missed out on healthy food because their parents had never cooked a complete meal before.
“I’ve volunteered a few times at the cooking program with adults with their kids, it’s after school, they have a simple recipe, they have all the ingredients and I still remember a woman saying ‘what’s tuna taste like’,” he said.
“And then another one with a one litre pot of water and I asked her what it was for an she said ‘pasta’ and I said ‘well you’re cooking a whole packet, you’ll need a big saucepan’, [she said] ‘oh I’ve never cooked pasta before’.”
Mr Butler said Bendigo Foodshare was forced to throw away about 7500 kilograms of bread each month, despite overwhelming demand, because welfare agencies’ clients either do not want it or do not know what to do with it.
“We average 12,000 kilograms of bread we pick up every month from the three Coles stores in Bendigo, we hand out about 4500 kilograms,” he said.
“Other people collect from Coles as well so it’s a huge amount of waste that they dump or it goes and feeds pigs or cows.”
Mr Bulter said even the simplest food preparation skills which many people took for granted were out of reach for some food relief clients.
“They probably don’t have a bread knife so they can’t slice bread – one of the agencies bought a carton of bread knives at one point but no one wanted to take them,” he said.
“That agency got all their bread donated by a well-known baking chain and it’s not sliced and they get 15 boxes with nine loafs in each box every day and they can’t get rid of it because people don’t know how to slice bread.”
However Mr Butler said there were a number of school programs helping to educate children and their parents about how to cook a healthy meal, which was slowly chipping away at the problem.
“I was at Eaglehawk Primary School on Monday, they have a Steph Alexander garden and kitchen and for students from grade three upwards it’s part of the curriculum,” he said.
“We were there watching them chopping up onions, making salads and pasta and they serve the meals on plates and sit at a table and eat which is a whole new experience for most of them.
“Lightning Reef Primary School is another one that has cooking programs for parents and it runs every Wednesday for six weeks and it’s right down to the basics of how to cook pasta, many of them don’t know how.
“The idea is… to provide food so children can concentrate and learn.”