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The dirty secrets that give Ronni’s food crusade its bite

Dan Goldberg
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Published: 11 June 2018

Last updated: 4 March 2024

“THEY TRIED TO kill us, they failed. Let’s eat!”

It’s a timeless Jewish joke served with self-deprecating humour – but it’s all about the punchline: food.

Food is in the DNA of our tribe. It’s at the epicentre of our cultural rites and rituals. Recipes are much more than a list of ingredients – they’re repositories of stories and memories, a culinary chain that probably stretches back to the first bowl of chicken soup or cholent.

Today, we live in an era of abundance, a culture of surplus, an airbrushed world in which food must look like a supermodel – perfectly shaped and blemish-free – or be destined for the dumpster.

I have spent the last three years making Food Fighter, a feature documentary on food waste that follows the indomitable Ronni Kahn, founder of the food rescue charity OzHarvest, in her crusade against the global scandal of food waste – namely, that we bin one-third of the food we produce globally. This, when some 895 million people go hungry every day, according to the United Nations.

And here’s the rub: food waste is a disaster on three fronts. Economically, it is costing the Australian economy $20 billion a year, according to the federal government. Each household is turfing out between $1000 and $3000 annually.

Socially, our fellow human beings are starving – more than three million Australians have suffered from food insecurity in the last year, according to recent research.

And environmentally, food waste produces methane gas which is more than 20 times stronger than carbon dioxide, thus accelerating climate change.

To convey this lose-lose-lose catastrophe, I needed a protagonist prepared to bang the drum and blow the whistle. Ronni agreed to participate on one condition: that the documentary would be about the issue and not about her.

I now concede that I succeeded on the former and failed on the latter. Food Fighter is most definitely about food waste, but it is also a character study into the type of person – and personality – it takes to be a change-maker.
Ronni agreed to participate on one condition: that the documentary would be about the issue and not about her. I now concede that I succeeded on the former and failed on the latter. 

Ronni is no shrinking violet, admitting in the film that she has “an enormous amount of chutzpah” that she’s prepared to use “to the nth degree”. And we see that in spades, as she unashamedly requests donations, reprimands food wasters and riles government and big business in her bid tries to drag them towards a waste-free world.

But taking on government and big business requires more than just chutzpah. It takes courage and conviction, a singular vision and stubborn determination.

After more than two years of filming, accruing some 250 hours of footage, we showed a rough cut to Ronni. While she saw its virtues, she was also somewhat dismayed, and understandably so – it is about her, her Eureka moment in Soweto, her guilt at leaving South Africa and her fight to end food waste.

But what rattled her most were the confrontational scenes in which she was fighting to save good food – exposing Qantas, risking her partnership with Woolworths, standing up to Jamie Oliver’s juggernaut and clashing with Environment Minister Josh Frydenberg.

She worried, with some legitimacy, that these sequences would risk her relationships with these key powerbrokers. I argued to the contrary: in the context of the 86-minute film, these scenes underscore her total dedication to the cause – that regardless of how powerful or political the person, her commitment to saving surplus food is sacrosanct.

That’s where the real power of social impact documentaries lies. By exposing some inconvenient truths on camera, the audience witnesses the dirty secrets that government and big business would rather we didn’t see.

And so, the film reveals Ronni at a dumpster full of perfectly edible food from Woolies, despite OzHarvest being in partnership with the supermarket giant since 2015.

She emerges from Qantas Catering with video evidence of yoghurts being binned, despite the civil liability laws having been changed, legislating that Qantas – or any other food donor – is not liable.

She clashes with Jamie Oliver’s chief executive who suggested Jamie would rather feed teachers and nurses than homeless and hungry people, despite the fact they’d agreed to co-produce the CEO Cookoff, a gala event which Ronni created precisely to enable captains of industry to feed vulnerable people.

And she was outmanoeuvred by Frydenberg in front of TV cameras after he pledged a pittance to fight food waste, despite Ronni doggedly chomping at the heels of government.

There’s an age-old axiom – “Journalism is what someone, somewhere doesn’t want published; all the rest is advertising.” Plenty of people didn’t want some parts of Food Fighter to make the screen. But it’s precisely these scenes that not only distinguish documentary from hagiography but give this film its grunt.

Admittedly, it took some time for Ronni to come to terms with that, and it took courage to do so given the risks. But it was telling that the official premiere at Sydney’s State Theatre was opened by NSW Environment Minister Gabrielle Upton and Woolworths CEO Brad Banducci – government and big business making a public statement.

Food Fighter is now on limited national release, and a TV version will screen on Foxtel later this year. But the one screening I’m anticipating most is at Parliament House in Canberra at the end of June. To his credit Josh Frydenberg, despite the onscreen showdown, has given his support for the screening.

I’m unsure how it will play out on the night, though I’m sure of one thing: I won’t be filming it.

Food Fighter is screening nationally at Event and Village Cinemas from June 16-20. Go to www.foodfighterfilm.com for screening times. To join the movement, go to fightfoodwaste.org.



About the author

Dan Goldberg

Now a documentary filmmaker, Dan Goldberg was editor of the Australian Jewish News from 2002-07. He was also a correspondent for the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, The Jewish Chronicle and Haaretz.

The Jewish Independent acknowledges Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples as the Traditional Owners and Custodians of Country throughout Australia. We pay our respects to Elders past and present, and strive to honour their rich history of storytelling in our work and mission.

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