Despite being one of the world's biggest foodie countries, Australia is overrun by unhealthy food, with 25 per cent of Australian children overweight or obese.
Fighting back is Melbourne father of three and former advertising executive Jonathan Pangu. Alarmed at the dominance of big companies selling foods high in salt, sugar and bad fats, Pangu is today launching Death to Nuggets, aiming to bring a new attitude to the campaign for healthier diets.
'As a parent, I know how attractive bad food can be to children. Rather than tell kids what to do, Death to Nuggets uses creativity to make healthy food choices interesting, not a lecture or a chore.
'We're starting with monthly food events in Australia's foodie capital, because even here, the kids' menus in restaurants are often an afterthought. We want to inspire kids with imaginative and nourishing food, not send them to sleep with the bad, bland, boring and beige."
Each Death to Nuggets event will have a unique theme and consist of a four-course meal priced at $45 per head. The events are a shared experience for kids and their parents, with a menu designed by chef Laura Neville, to enable kids to get hands on and interactive with food. Neville has over 17 years of experience working in London at Racine and Soho House, and in Australia at Bistro Moncur in Woollahra. She also launched Brunswick's iconic Code Black Café in 2012.
'Positive experiences are the stepping stones to a healthy relationship with food. There will be some exciting aspects of the menu that will take you by surprise, however, it's all about getting in there and giving it a go," Neville said.
The events are supported by and hosted at chef Neale White's new venue My Son, Joy directly opposite South Melbourne Market.
'I love what Jonathan is creating with these events; it's nourishing for the soul. At My Son, Joy, we promote nourishment through our focus on ethical sourcing, allergy awareness and nutrient dense seasonal wholefoods," said White.
Pangu said, 'Both kids and food are highly creative and should be natural friends. We want these events to show off great food and provide momentum for kids and parents to carry on at home. We also want a better food environment, so we will be campaigning for better protection for Australian children from these insidious foods that are making them sick."
Death to Nugget's first event theme will be -The Edible Garden' in August, with two further events already confirmed for September and October.
During the dinner, the chefs will talk to kids about the food they've eaten and how it was presented. Each event will also feature a break-out area for the kids, and select activities to entertain children during the course of the meal and after.
Theme: The Edible Garden
Date: Saturday 5th August, 2017 SOLD OUT
Time: 5:30pm to 8pm
Venue: My Son, Joy, 315 Coventry St, South Melbourne VIC 3205
Date: Saturday 9th September, 2017
Time: 5:30pm to 8pm
Venue: My Son, Joy, 315 Coventry St, South Melbourne VIC 3205
Question: What inspired you to launch the campaign Death to Nuggets?
Jonathan Pangu: Netflix's Chef's Table series was the start. It shone a light on how creative food can be. There were so many great stories of chefs not accepting the status quo and producing wonderful and imaginative food. When I compared Chef's Table to the food that surrounds many of our kids today – beige, boring, and heavily processed – it was like l was observing two different planets.
This seemed like such a missed opportunity. Kids love creative and imaginative things. So I asked myself, 'why isn't someone inspiring them and helping them develop a great relationship with food, rather than sending them to sleep with bad food in their bellies, like chicken nuggets?"
When you look at the statistics around diet and health, you realise it isn't a -nice to do', it's urgent. I was a kid when the Ethiopian famine happened in the -80s and it left a deep impression on me. Today however, more people in the world are dying from being overweight than being underweight. This fact really shocked me. Clearly neither is acceptable but obesity is rising unchecked and I wanted to do something about it.
Question: What is the Death to Nuggets campaign?
Jonathan Pangu: It's a different kind of voice on the side of promoting good food to kids.
Kids don't want to be told what to eat, or what to do (no-one does really!). Death to Nuggets takes a fun, slightly mischievous approach so kids are interested, rather than putting up the barriers. It's a bit sneaky, but good sneaky (not Happy Meal sneaky).
The big companies selling food high in sugar, salt and bad fats have made their marketing fun, colourful and attractive to kids. It's partly what's got us to this place where 25% of Aussie kids are overweight or obese. Meanwhile, it's hard to make the healthier alternative interesting – so that's the challenge we're aiming at.
I remember a Disney exec describing Finding Nemo as a 4-quartile movie. There's stuff there for both kids and their parents to enjoy. We want the same. We want adults to get the positive nature of what we're doing, and for kids to get involved because they want to.
Question: Why is the topic of childhood obesity and the culture of processed food so important to you?
Jonathan Pangu: It's one of the issues of our time.
It's hard to see something clearly when you're in the thick of it but I think we'll look back in years to come and think we got it really, badly wrong.
The data shows the problem clearly, and it's global. The Gates Foundation recently funded research that analysed data from 195 countries. They found that more than 10% of the world's population is now obese, that's 600 million people. Rates of obesity at least doubled in 73 countries from 1980 to 2015 and in many countries the rate is rising fastest amongst children.
This matters because obesity is a killer; it's frightening how this is now responsible for more deaths worldwide than lack of food. It particularly matters for kids because 80% of obese kids go on to be obese adults.
There are good people grappling with the problem, but not many are cutting through to make a significant and sustained impact. Jamie Oliver is one that has – working tirelessly to re-educate people across the UK and to an extent, globally, however he can't do it all on his own. They are also massively out gunned by big companies with big budgets, the top six fast food retailers alone spent $180m on advertising in Australia in the last year.
Processed foods are a frenemy. They're an easy choice because they're quick and cheap. We think they're normal because they're available everywhere and they're advertised heavily. Normal doesn't seem important but normal is huge because it's what we do every day.
We're seeing what happens when you do eat too much processed food. The impact on today's kids later this century has been described as a potential time bomb – we need to do more now to change that.
Question: Can you share with us the main message you'd like to spread with Death to Nuggets?
Jonathan Pangu: We're selling food seriously short by eating as much processed stuff as we are. If we open up to good food we open ourselves up to so much more.
Food is nourishment for the body and the soul; it's social, it's fun, it's a journey of discovery trying new things. It's also a way to understand nature and the different cultures in the world.
Let's put chicken nuggets and their kind into the bin of history and get back to real food.
Question: What types of food nourish a kid's imagination and their health?
Jonathan Pangu: Lots of things!
Food that arrives with a good story is a start. Each of our events have a different theme, each of the courses fit within that and each dish has a name. It's fun, you can guess what you might be getting next. Laura will talk to everyone about what they've just had, where it's from, what's interesting about it and how it was made. It's really engaging, making it much more than something plonked down in front of you.
Presentation is vitally important too. Colour, shapes, how everything looks together. We're all visual creatures, especially children.
Surprises are great. There will be a few in our events. Something that looks like one thing but tastes like another, something that changes, something you haven't tried before, I don't want to give too much away!
Participation goes a long way. Getting hands-on and stuck-in is fun and creates a sense of ownership. Finally, like happy chickens, kids are free range animals, they hate being pent up for too long. A 4-course meal for kids is unusual so we have a break out area with some crafty-stuff to keep them, and by extension their parents, happy.
Question: How can parents use this campaign to help their young adults' kids' relationship with food?
Jonathan Pangu: Parents have a big impact on a child's relationship with food, they follow the example we give them. In the first instance, come along to one of our events. It's about a positive and shared experience between kids, adult and food. It's somewhere foodie kids can be in their element, and where cautious kids can try things in a great environment. It should provide momentum and ideas on both sides to continue on at home.
Once our events are up and running there's so much more we want to do. We'll be campaigning for a better food environment, there is a huge amount of work to do there. We'll also be giving parents creative ideas to use at home.
Question: What is the issue with child-marketed food products such as nuggets?
Jonathan Pangu: We're in danger of raising a generation that don't understand food. That's a shame because of the great things they miss out on, but it's also dangerous. The nutritional content of processed food is very poor and we're seeing obesity spiking all round the world because of it.
Question: How can Australians get involved with Death to Nuggets? Bring your kids to one of our events. Each one is unique, with a theme that runs through four courses created specifically for kids. We have a great venue – My Son, Joy – directly opposite South Melbourne (thank you so much Neale and the team for your support). It promises to be a fun evening with good food at the centre of things. The cost is $45 per head. Tickets and everything we're doing are at www.deathtonuggets.com.au.
The first event's theme is called The Edible Garden, and will be held on Saturday 5th August from 5:30pm to 8pm.
Question: What do you hope to achieve with the Death to Nuggets campaign?
Jonathan Pangu: We hope to excite kids about food. We hope to kick start something that kids and adults can continue at home. We hope to make a tiny little dent in the industrial juggernaut that is processed food (and then a great big one!).
Interview by Brooke Hunter