How culinary storytelling is set to spark a Pacific Islands food revolution

March 17, 2017
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March 17, 2017 Kendra Yoshinaga

By LAUNCH Editorial Team

Chef Robert Oliver has been investigating ways to put food at the heart of discussions to solve the health crisis, an endemic which is very close to his heart.

Pacific Islands Food Revolution (PIFR) aims to instigate sustainable change in attitudes and behaviours towards food in the region, where up to 75% of all deaths are attributed to non-communicable diseases such as diabetes and heart disease.

Robert was born in New Zealand but raised in Fiji, and has a strong affinity with Pacific Island cuisine. Robert shot to fame in the region following the international recognition of his cookery book Me’a Kai: the food and flavours of the South Pacific, receiving the ‘Best Cookbook in the World’ at the internationally acclaimed Gourmand World Cookbook Awards in 2010, and has presented a number of regional cookery shows broadcast across the region.

“There’s so much more to food than what’s served up on a plate,” Robert says. “Cuisine has a matrix of connections to identity, economics, tourism, health, and the environment, which is one of the reasons we’ve put it at the heart of our campaign. Food is a way of nourishing your body, but it’s also a celebration of culture. Our challenge is to reignite pride in Pacific Island cuisine and create effective and long-lasting change.”

“In my experience, television is a great way to connect with people in the Pacific Islands. I’ve recently worked on a show called Real Pasifik, in which I worked with chefs in different countries in the Pacific Islands, with a specific focus on tourism,” Robert says. “Around 70% of the food served in restaurants and tourist resorts across the Pacific Islands is imported, so it was a great hook to begin exploring the colonial hangover. I’d seen the real-life impact of the show, with people replicating what they saw on the show in their own homes, and so we’re aiming to achieve similar results with the new show we’re working on as part of PIFR. I don’t want to give too much away, but it’s going to feature local personalities, delicious food and a good dose of competition!”

Tash Tan, of creative technology agency S1T2, is taking a like-minded approach to changing behaviors around food and nutrition in the Pacific. As the first innovator selected as part of the LAUNCH Legends challenge*, Tash is using emerging technologies, such as virtual reality and 360° video, to inspire communities to reconnect with their Pacific culinary traditions. An immersive storyteller with a wealth of experience in the field, he understands the importance of finding a balance between substance and style.

“As storytellers in emerging technology we have a duty of care to create a culturally authentic experience that respects the tradition and history of the Pacific Islands. In the same manner that food is considered a driver of culture, technology can be used to empower cultural learning,” Tash says.

Having already begun sharing ideas and learnings from one another, Robert and Tash will continue to draw on their collective knowledge and expertise in the pursuit of a healthier, prouder Pacific. Their collaboration is indicative of the holistic approach required in order to change public behaviour and halt the growth of non-communicable diseases in the region.

Keep up to date with news from the LAUNCH Food innovators here.

This is the first in a series of blogs on LAUNCH Food innovators that will be shared in the coming months. 

*LAUNCH Legends is a program supported by the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.