Tasmania may be known as Australia’s food bowl, but there is a significant proportion of the population that cannot access fresh produce.
A study from Edith Cowan University looked at how vegetable consumption by children living in regional and remote Western Australia needed to improve, but a Launceston nutritionist said Tasmania was the same.
University of Tasmania food nutrition lecturer and dietitian Sandra Murray said she had conducted similar research in Tasmania with correlating results.
This study looked at the cost and availability of fresh food in Tasmania’s regional areas, focusing on the location of food outlets, the price of food and access to fruit and vegetables.
Ms Murray’s study followed a 2014 Anglicare report, called the State of Launceston’s Children, that showed 27 per cent of children in Launceston did not have access to good food because of where they lived.
“There are significant challenges with people living in regional areas because of access. If you don’t have a car or access to public transport or supermarkets then you will find it very hard to buy vegetables,” Ms Murray said.
“There are ‘food debits’ where people live [in Tasmania]. There might be food around, but not healthy food, for example in some parts of the North-East, like Dorset.
“Even in areas of Launceston, such as the Northern suburbs of Ravenswood and Rocherlea, if people have no car or public transport it is hard to get your food home to cook, but there’s lots of takeaway food outlets,” she said.
Since these studies were published social enterprises started operating to improve geographical and financial access to fresh food, there is more work still.
“We’ve moved a long way in 6-8 years and now have lots of food security,” Ms Murray said.
“There’s a lot that can be done,” she said.
Some of these initiatives include the Northern Suburbs Community Centre setting up a vegetable box scheme and community gardens.
Eat Well Tasmania established a project with IGA supermarkets, as well as other collaborations with Fruit Growers Tasmania, Tasmanian Hospitality Association, Tasmanian councils, food tourism operators and the Cradle Coast Authority.
“We saw an opportunity to partner with a smaller supermaket to make fresh fruit and vegetables available to the community. Making these structural changes will help improve access,” Ms Murray said.
Another factor affecting access is food security, which has been a focus for the Local Government of Association’s Better Councils, Better Communities initiative.
Central Coast Council started a food security strategy for the region and looked at ways to support the community, such as making farmer’s markets more available, Ms Murray said.
“The local government association started playing a really serious role in food access for lower socioeconomic areas,” Ms Murray said.
“Community gardens are a great way to help support people, with education on how to grow food that can be used at home too,” she said.
Another area Ms Murray suggested was working with farmers on “nature’s grade produce”, which might have going to waste but was given a second chance through organisations like Second Bite.
“Maybe those organisations could create meals then the community could buy them, rather than giving produce away all the time,” Ms Murray said.
“We produce more than three times what we need in Tasmania,” she said.
Fresh fruit and vegetables are protective factors against diabetes and heart disease, Ms Murray said.
“If we can increase our consumption even by 1-2 serves it can decrease our chronic health problems,” she said.
Ms Murray said she wanted to run a similar study every five years.