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Community-led solutions are key to improving food and nutrition outcomes for Aboriginal communities in Victoria

Alison Barrett writes:

The Victorian Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation (VACCHO) is calling for all levels of government to increase funding and support for community-led solutions to improve food and nutrition outcomes for Aboriginal communities in Victoria.

VACCHO’s Executive Director of Population Health Abe Ropitini told Croakey, “we want stronger backing for community gardens, community-based food relief and sharing initiatives, and community-based cooking education programs” – some of the key community-led recommendations in a new report focused on food security and policy.

Ropitini said VACCHO is “looking forward to having meaningful, robust discussions with all levels of government about getting this support into Communities as soon as possible”.

Highlighting the importance of a multi-pronged approach for addressing food security and “nutrition gap”, the Food Policies for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health (FoodPATH) Community Report also recommends governments should ban junk food marketing, mandate nutrition and cooking education in schools, and make the Health Star Rating labelling mandatory on all packaged foods.

The FoodPATH report – the result of community workshops with VACCHO and five of its member ACCOs – also recommends that governments should keep GST off fresh food, and implement set limits on the amount of sugar, salt and saturated fats allowed in packaged food.

Cost of living pressures

Access to, and affordability of, healthy food is of real concern, according to the FoodPATH report.

Ropitini told Croakey that many people are concerned “about what that means for the health and wellbeing of their kids, Elders and families”.

VACCHO calls on all levels of government to “be bold and brave” in tackling the cost-of-living challenges that Aboriginal Communities are facing, “especially when it comes to food security”.

Decisive action is needed to keep food prices from spiralling further out of control, and to ensure Aboriginal families have realistic access to healthy food options, Ropitini said.

National strategy

The FoodPATH recommendations were released the same week as the Albanese Government announced funding for a range of infrastructure projects to improve food security in remote Aboriginal communities in Northern Territory and New South Wales.

The Federal Government also committed $11.8 million to develop a National Strategy for Food Security in Remote First Nations Communities.

Minister for Indigenous Australians Linda Burney said in a statement the Government is supporting these initiatives as “food security underpins the health and wellbeing of First Nations people living in remote communities”.

Positive impact

Ropitini told Croakey the FoodPATH report has been well-received and resonated with other Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities, including in Far North Queensland.

“The positive feedback we’ve received since launching the FoodPATH Community Report is truly heartening, and underscores how urgently these solutions are needed.

“I hope governments pick up the FoodPATH recommendations and work with us to translate them into tangible actions,” he said.

Community-based research

The policy recommendations and final report are the culmination of workshops in five member ACCOs in Victoria – Rumbalara Aboriginal Co-operative, Njernda Aboriginal Co-operative, Bendigo and District Aboriginal Co-Operative, Moogji Aboriginal Council and Wathaurong Aboriginal Co-operative.

Ropitini said that through the research, Aboriginal Community members shared their “food-related aspirations” for their families.

“Among these were the desire to have realistic access to healthy food, to teach kids how to cook up a feed that’s both healthy and delicious, and to have more knowledge and reliable information about the nutritional value of food options.

“I am excited about the potential for community-based research initiatives to drive positive change,” Ropitini said.

Complex factors

During workshop discussions in each community a visual system map was created that showed the complex factors “contributing to food choice in the Community and how they relate to one another”, the report states.

While each of the community workshops were different, several recurring themes were identified across the communities, that eventually resulted in the development of priority actions and the ten policy recommendations, according to the Report.

Themes included food access and affordability, access to junk food, diet and disease, nutrition in schools, traditional foods, family, Community and Culture.

The workshops highlighted that the number of fast-food outlets are increasing in many communities. When combined with convenience, affordability and availability, buying unhealthy food is made “more tempting”, according to the report.

Access to nutrition services and support – particularly when Aboriginal-led – was also considered important by participants.

For example, they identified a positive cycle where community members with cooking skills may be more likely to cook healthy meals, participate in community food sharing and “pass down knowledge to younger generations” to ensure healthy food and cooking skills were maintained within Community, according to the report.

Another key theme is the value of traditional foods. Western foods and farming practices and ongoing impacts of colonisation have caused “cultural destruction and reduced access to land”, the report said.

If connection to Culture and Country were able to be increased, “this would counter some of the impacts of colonisation”.

VACCHO collaborated with Deakin University’s Murnong Health Research Mob on the FoodPATH project, which was supported by funding through VicHealth’s Impact Research Grants Initiative.

* Read the FoodPATH Policy Statement here

Artwork story

The article feature and report image is titled ‘Thanampool Marr’ – Woman and Man in Gunditjmara, by Shakara Montalto, Gunditjmara

Montalto writes, in the FoodPATH Community Report:

“This artwork represents the significance of the whole tribe working together as one, in the important task to gather food and water. The two symbols sitting in the centre facing one another represent a man and the other, a woman. The circle in the middle of them represents them coming together, to work as a collective, to gather food to feed the entire tribe.

“The sitting symbols on the outer represents the whole tribe and the importance of everyone playing a role in either hunting, preparing or cooking food. The brown and orange colours represent the traditional Aboriginal land, which our people cared for and maintained, to ensure a healthy food supply, all year round for thousands of years.

“The curved paths have walking tracks which represent the tribe going out to look for bush tucker. The blue circles represent the rivers, oceans and waterholes and the importance of water for our people. Collecting, preparing and cooking food was such a crucial part of our tribes’ daily tasks. This ensured survival for many thousands of years, eating a nutritious well-balanced diet.”


See Croakey’s archive of articles on cultural determinants of health

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