Coming from Southern India I grew up celebrating Pongal, an auspicious festival to appreciate the work that farmers do, giving thanks to the land, to the Sun God Surya, and for a good harvest that puts rice on everyone’s plates. It was an ideal occasion for city kids to reflect on where their food comes from. Rice paddies which looked like giant grass were part of the scenery during the childhood train journeys through the country side. Milk cows wearing little brass bells around their neck would wonder the streets and I got to pat the cow (I even named her Lakshmi) whose milk I was drinking throughout the year. But now, I, like the most urban rice eaters know rice only in their processed and polished form in glossy package at the Grocery store. I buy milk in cartons from the supermarket. The story of food starts at the grocery store and ends in the bellies. We, along with our children, are becoming more and more disconnected from the source.

I watched a program where Jamie Oliver, stood in front of a classroom of six-year-olds to find out if they really did know what fresh food looked like. Holding up some tomatoes, Mr. Oliver asked: “Do you know what these are?” The Kids struggled to identify and one little boy shouted: “Potatoes”.  As a concerned mother of 2 children, I started asking the big questions- How we as a nation can raise intelligent, well-balanced, tech-savvy children when they don’t know where their food comes from. How do we support our children to make healthy choices for their future? It is no secret Australia has a major problem with childhood obesity. 25% of Australian children are now overweight or obese and are on track to have shorter lives than their parents. When we know the quality of life is strongly dictated by the state of our health, isn’t it a mystery why more emphasis isn’t placed on educating our children about nutrition and diet. Why isn’t there anyone teaching these things during school?  Jamie Oliver’s TED talk also got my attention – I was fired up and inspired to join the generous Food Revolution in that wish to create a strong, sustainable movement to educate every child about food, inspire families to cook again and empower people everywhere to fight obesity. Trained as a Food Scientist, I knew it was a calling and a privilege to be able to deliver unbiased food education to the community.

Since embarking on my Food Revolution journey, I have delivered a series of fun and engaging food education sessions at Aubin Grove Primary School based in Perth. I have built good relationships with Woolworths and Trandos farms who donated their most beautiful fresh produce for children to indulge their senses and I kicked off my first Food revolution day on the 20th May 2016 with the Family Tree Early Learning Centre. We made beautiful vegetable rainbows as a simple way of reminding the kids that a variety of fruits and vegetables in the diet will get them the vitamins and minerals they need. We learnt to make Jamie’s Hummus with Australian chickpeas as the hero ingredient. AustraIia grows some of the world’s best pulses but ironically we consume the least pulses compared to people in other countries. I am so pleased to share that my recipe for Vegetarian pancakes inspired by Australian Sweet lupins which is impressively the world’s richest source of combined protein and fibre with negligible starch has just been published in a beautiful national cookbook called “Australia Cooks”. It is a celebration of a people, place and precious produce that make our food culture unique.

I have also started an exciting initiative called a “20 Foot Journey” to bring the neighbours together through a Food sharing revolution. This platform is intended to recreate the social aspect of cooking, sharing and eating. Every month a theme inspired by our local produce is chosen and together we prepare a plate and share food that is unpretentious, fresh and real and have real conversations like the good old days when we did not have to eat only with our eyes and like them on Facebook.

They say “Rome wasn’t built in a day, but they were laying bricks every hour” And it’s true. It takes time — sometimes years — to create change. In essence, becoming an Ambassador has taught me that it is not about building everything I want today, but I do have to find a way to add another brick. As I write these words, Ambassadors around the world are passionately laying the bricks of food literacy in schools, homes and workplaces. It is all about using the magic of food to transform lives. Isn’t that fantastic!

Here’s to the Food Revolution and to the younger generation “Live Long and Prosper”. 

About Dr. Shyamala Vishnumohan

Dr. Shyamala Vishnumohan lives in gorgeous Perth in Australia with her husband and two kids, a fish tank and a beautiful garden with olive trees, curry leaves, lemon and lime trees and kumquats. Raised as a vegetarian in India, she is very passionate about plant based foods. She is a Food Scientist, Registered Nutritionist and an Ambassador for Jamie Oliver Food Revolution with a mission to empower, educate and engage as many people as possible to love and enjoy good food. She is also a recipe developer, consultant for the Food Industry and an Adjunct Associate Lecturer in the department of Food Science and Technology (UNSW).