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Inside Story

Stephanie Alexander's Epic Speech at De Bortoli

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The World Loves Melbourne was kindly given Stephanie Alexander's speech at De Bortoli (an event we attended), which gives a fascinating brief insight into Australian culinary history as well as her passion for children and healthier eating...

De Bortoli lunch speech by Stephanie Alexander



Thank you to Leanne for inviting Ange and myself today...

Thank you to Adam for being so calm about cooking someone else’s food – can be a stressful experience.

Thank you all for coming.


I thought I would say a few things about food and my life – a topic I never tire of.

One of my strongest beliefs is that nothing is more important in a child’s life than family modelling. Mine was very positive but I continue to think back to how it was and surprise myself with identifying extra connections.

Dad it was  books – research – accuracy – always looking for two sides of every question – avoiding confrontation but advocating rational discussion – a love of travel (although it could bring on great anxiety) – a love of wine – enjoyment of social gatherings and above all a love and deep friendship with my mother.

Mum it was also books, especially social history which led to exploration of foodways. Poetry there too.  Very shy and avoided public gatherings. She painted, she wove, she made baskets, tried lots of things and gave up rather quickly if they didn’t work out (beekeeping, cheesemaking). But she turned the daily task of feeding a family of 7 into a lifelong passion, and we all benefited.  Sought out interesting provedores, established a herb and vegetable garden, invited her children to help if they wanted to – I did.

Skipping a lot of life (my memoir fills it in).

Melbourne really started to become interested in food from the seventies onwards and with economic prosperity really took off in the eighties.

My own experience of the restaurant years during the 80’s was of a dramatic flowering of interest and resources -

  • More people were able to travel and came home with new insights,
  • The food media really took off. First Good Food Guide was as recent as 1979,
  • Global trends understood quickly via food magazines – internet still to happen,
  • Winemakers became more interested in new varieties and exploring methods of viticulture,
  • Some growers experimented with smaller beans and floppy salad leaves etc.,
  • First local cheeses being made,
  • Migration continued apace so there was evidence of culinary difference all around us,
  • The first books about restaurant food – mine was the first in 1985,
  • Cooking classes were very popular.

However if this all sounds utopian it has to be remembered that it influenced a very small if influential percentage of the population.

At the same time there was -

  • an upsurge of convenience and snack  foods in supermarkets,
  • more and more women went to work,
  • takeaway boomed,
  • development and spread of family-style franchise restaurants,
  • lunch boxes included sugary bars and sugary drinks,
  • many people seemed to eat and drink wherever they were,
  • and at all times of the day, the tradition of eating together regularly at a family table with a simple meal shared by all waned,
  • and lo and behold within a generation we have an epidemic of obesity and with it the likelihood of young people developing a range of diet-related diseases.

I took this situation to heart and wanted to do something about it.

So this is the background to the work we do with young Australian children.

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The SAKGF started in 2001.

For the first thirteen years I concentrated on assembling a great team, (Ange Barry our CEO has worked with me for ten years) lobbying for financial assistance from governments, corporate and philanthropic sources, speaking endlessly about the benefits of pleasurable food education, and doing what I could to expand the number of primary schools that decided to introduce our program of growing, harvesting, preparing and sharing into their own curriculum. 

At the beginning of 2015 we are supporting 830 schools all across Australia. There are 830 individual stories of achievement and they are all inspiring.

We can no longer continue to recruit via face-to-face, school-by-school, as financial resources are inadequate and Australia’s distances are formidable, so we are continuing our work by creating a membership program which is more flexible and enables any school to join and to use our resources and training in whatever way suits them best.  This is very new for us and very exciting.  Our new website is only weeks old. Do have a look at it. Every school that joins has its own login to access our resources and activities, written especially for schools.

It is an ongoing journey…

For me ultimate success will be when the government mandates that every child should have some pleasurable food education at some point in their school life.

This is the barest outline of what happens at the SAKGF.  Further questions to Ange.

Thanks very much and enjoy your spring lunch.