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Deakin University is well placed to help Victoria take a prominent place in the Asian Food Bowl, according to Thinker in Residence, Professor Martin Caraher.
“There is definitely a role for Deakin,” said Professor Caraher, who is making is second visit to Deakin under the University’s successful Thinkers in Residence scheme.
“The University could play a part in agriculture, you’ve already got the medical school and a whole lot of excellent people involved in chronic disease, and in law.
“These are all areas that will be important to linking Victoria to the Asian Food Bowl, so I think Deakin could carve out an area for itself.
“One of the dangers with the Food Bowl is that we simply transfer a lot of problems like obesity associated with Western Society to Asia.
“So we need to look at regulations, ethical investment and ethical production of food.
“There is a need to prepare health professionals who can work with the various industry groups.
“Deakin is already very good at that.”
Professor Caraher said that Deakin could also look to working closely with organisations such as the Global Foundation, the organisation which promotes high-level thinking within Australia and cooperation between Australia and the world.
“The Global Foundations works with government and institutions, the private sector, academia and the community, to help shape longer term solutions to great challenges,” he said.
“It is leading Australia’s involvement in becoming the Asian Food Bowl.
“What Deakin adds to the agenda is knowledge of the health situation in South East Asia.
“They can help companies change their food offerings and processing in line with healthy eating guidelines as well as offering a valuable resource to national governments on the development of chronic disease.
“This can be achieved through existing Deakin structures such as the WHO Collaborating Centre for Obesity Prevention.”
Professor Caraher said he felt privileged to have had not one, but two trips to Australia to be part of Deakin’s Thinkers in Residence program which aims to fast track the development of young researchers’ careers by allowing them see at first-hand how celebrated researchers go about their work.
Professor Caraher easily qualifies as a celebrated researcher. He is Professor of Food and Health Policy at City University, London.
He has worked on issues related to food poverty, cooking skills, local sustainable food supplies, the role of markets and co-ops in promoting health, farmers markets, food deserts and food access, retail concentration and globalisation.
While on his second trip to Australia, he was intrigued to learn that a McDonalds Restaurant in Australia had begun providing customers with not only the customary hamburgers, but plates and cutlery.
“I would like to try that while I am here,” he chuckled.
Professor Caraher is a long term watcher of the fast food leviathans
Part of that was being on the organising committee for the London Olympic Games, LOCOG.
“We knew who the sponsors were, and we had no control over them, companies like Coca Cola, McDonalds and Cadburys,” he said.
“But there was also this desire to have the most sustainable Games ever, and we achieved that.”
Such that McDonalds UK is becoming the most sustainable company in the world.
“This is an interesting development,” Professor Caraher said.
“They have free trade coffee.
“They source all their beef in Britain and Ireland direct from the farms, hence the reason why they have been untouched by the recent horsemeat scandals in Europe.
“They recycle their oil.
“It’s not all about image. I think they can see a cost benefit.
“For example, they’re using the recycled oil in their trucks.
“The core audience would be much the same, but they are attracting a new ancillary audience into their restaurants because of the changes.
“They’re now even introducing couches and free wi-fi to encourage people to stay longer and make better use of which is pretty expensive space, particularly out of rush hour.”
Professor Caraher believes McDonalds is using the UK as a testing ground and may soon roll its new sustainable strategies out around the world.
Other big name companies under observation by Professor Caraher seem to be trying to live down previous reputations.
“We have Starbucks opening up coffee shops again, but without the Starbucks branding,” he said.
“And in England, the supermarket chain Tesco’s is opening a string of coffee shops fronted by three Australians, but they too don’t have any obvious branding.”
The combination of regulation, ethics and common sense might just be beginning to have an impact in Western Society.
Deakin’s researchers, particularly those involved in preventing obesity, have long been advocating all three.
That expertise, further enhanced by Professor Caraher’s Thinker in Residence stints, has the University well-placed to helping Victoria become a major player in the Asian Food Bowl.