Shepparton Culture Kitchen cooks up healthy communities

By John Lewis

Access to arts and culture will be made easier for Shepparton's migrant communities through a new project with a focus on food.

Shepparton Culture Kitchen is one of 12 initiatives across Victoria to share in $1 million of VicHealth funding as part of its Art of Good Health program aimed at increasing the participation of people from different cultures in story-telling and social interaction through food.

The project is being delivered as a collaboration between Multicultural Arts Victoria and Greater Shepparton City Council.

Iraqi-born Eman Al Abbassi was one of eight Shepparton district women from diverse backgrounds who met earlier this month with Melbourne-based artist Jamie Lewis, of European-Singaporean descent, to talk about ways of moving the project forward.

“It was great to meet these other people from different cultures and share our stories. It's about food as a connector and a way to come together to improve our lives,” Ms Al Abbassi said.

She said for her, the aim was also to promote healthy eating among younger generations.

Tongan-born Ane Fotu said it was a great opportunity to share her culture and meet other women from across the world.

“I met other ladies from Syria and Iraq who didn't know where Tonga was - so that made it even more important for me to share my culture,” she said.

A mother of four who has been in Shepparton for three years, Ms Fotu said as part of the Culture Kitchen project she hopes to be able to make her own reality-style television show.

“I'd love to go back home to Tonga and cook there and tell people about our organic, home-grown food and our fish and coconut milk,” she said.

MAV chief executive Veronica Pardo said the project aimed to explore issues of health inequality and disadvantage through the diversity of food cultures.

“Artists and cultural practitioners are an untapped resource in the fight for health equity. What they need are resources. We are thrilled to be a conduit for community self-determination and look forward to learning from this project,” Ms Pardo said.

VicHealth chief executive Dr Sandro Demaio said the project was designed to encourage more people from diverse backgrounds to engage in creative social experiences.

“In the midst of coronavirus, it is more important than ever to support our community to feel socially connected and included,” Dr Demaio said.