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Harvest heroine | The West Australian

OzHarvest founder and chief executive Ronni Kahn had no qualms about being the focus of the new documentary Food Fighter, which follows her efforts to reduce food waste in Australia and abroad.

Kahn wasn’t worried about being in the spotlight because it wasn’t her idea, nor the original concept of the film.

“Oh no, not only was it not my idea,” she said by phone from Sydney. “I was totally committed to them looking at food waste — that is how they pitched the idea to me.

“It was only somewhere along the way that they said, ‘actually, we think we will just tell the story through you’.

“To be honest, I had no idea what the intention was. Only really at the first editing did I understand what it meant, that they followed me, filmed every word that I said and were then about to use it.

“I didn’t think it was a film about me, it was really only in the past six months that I had to come to terms with this very chilling reality,” she laughed.

That “chilling reality” shows Kahn discovering food that should have been donated to the needy instead of at the bottom of a dumpster, winning the support of the Duchess of Cornwall for the launch of UK Harvest, not entirely seeing eye to eye with Jamie Oliver’s people ahead of a major joint event and travelling back to her native South Africa to meet her mentor and set up a food waste program there.

Filmed across two years and four continents, it depicts Kahn as a won’t-take-no-for-an-answer crusader, whose every waking moment is tracked in a packed calendar by her loyal personal assistant.

Throughout the film, Kahn, who established OzHarvest in 2004 (it started in WA in 2014), lobbies government and big business to do their bit towards reducing food waste, while also dealing with a personal loss.

Since it was established, OzHarvest has delivered more than 83 million meals to more than 1000 charities and saves more than 100 tonnes of food a week from more than 3000 donors including Woolworths.

Woolworths in WA last week celebrated rescuing more than 2 million kilograms.

“I am still banging my head against a wall,” she said of her attempts to get the Federal Government to commit more money to the campaign to halve food waste by 2030.

Food waste costs the Australian economy more than $20 billion each year and results in more than five million tonnes of good food ending up in landfill.

During the film, OzHarvest commissioned a graphic illustration of just how horrifying it would look if that amount of waste was dumped in Sydney Harbour.

OzHarvest has created this image of what $20 billion of food waste would look like if piled up in Sydney Harbour.
Camera IconOzHarvest has created this image of what $20 billion of food waste would look like if piled up in Sydney Harbour.Picture: Christian Debney

On World Environment Day on Tuesday, OzHarvest launched the Fight Food Waste campaign aimed at Australia’s biggest food wasters — consumers, who waste more than supermarkets, restaurants, manufacturers and farms combined.

“What we really have to push for is personal commitment, to join the movement to become food fighters themselves,” Kahn said.

“We want people to go to fightfoodwaste.org much like the slip, slop, slap campaign when we wanted to change behaviour around skin cancer.

“We have four simple actions: look, buy, store, cook and we want that to become the mantra.

“Look what you have in your fridge and in your cupboard, buy what you need, store your food properly and cook what you have.

“ Eat it up, use the leftovers because that is going to make the biggest difference to Australia achieving its goal to halve food waste by 2030.”

Kahn said the most wasted products in the home were bread, milk and leafy greens that got to the bottom of the crisper and turned slimy and mushy.

OzHarvest founder Ronni Kahn
Camera IconOzHarvest founder Ronni KahnPicture: Bruno Kataoka

Do people approach her in public for advice on how to stop wasting food?

“They totally do, the first thing, honestly, I know it sounds silly, but knowing what you’ve got and making a list when you go shopping is going to save significant money for your own hip pocket and means that you’ve got less in your fridge that needs to get thrown away,” she said. “And then, of course, using leftovers, so many people aren’t good at using leftovers but they make the best meals the tastiest, and cooking enough for another meal just makes so much sense.”

Kahn is happy the ABC TV series War on Waste helped spread the word and change attitudes.

“Absolutely, definitely, we have been doing our work consistently, then you get a peak,” she said.

“We don’t have the resources to have put together a show that reaches millions of people, so that was brilliant for us.

“And the timeliness of the film, it is an escalation of awareness, an escalation of action and it is very exciting because I think we are reaching a tipping point.

“This is exactly where we can start seeing a movement like fight food waste can absolutely amplify the message and start the downward trend, hopefully.”

Ronni Kahn will be in Perth for a Q&A session of Food Fighter at Event Cinemas Innaloo on Sunday at 6.30pm. The film then screens June 16-20 at Event Cinemas Innaloo.

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