CANBERRA — The history of Australian Aboriginals has been one wrought with social injustice and aggression from European immigrants. Of these injustices, food insecurity and lack of nutrition continue to be leading causes of illness and disease among rural Aboriginal communities.
The inability to access and afford nourishing food poses an enormous threat to the wellbeing of rural and marginalized communities. To be considered food-secure entails availability of nutritious food, access to adequate amounts and an ability to make use of the food including proper cooking and hygiene practices.
The aboriginal community is extremely diverse with a culture deeply rooted in tradition and subsistence. Prior to European immigration, the Aborigines practiced a nomadic lifestyle and relied on hunting and gathering for survival. This method required detailed knowledge of plant and animal species in the area and contributed to a well-balanced diet of meat products, and uncultivated plant foods such as roots, starchy tubers, seeds, fruits and nuts. Despite heavy European influence, many aboriginal eating practices and customs still remain intact.
Improving food security for aboriginals with respect to their unique eating habits continues to be strained by the destruction of native lands and through separation of kinships by European settlers. Without a unified community, traditional practices of hunting and gathering as well as food preparation techniques are unable to be shared among rural communities.
Beyond forced cultural assimilation, the Aborigines suffer from financial hardships, unemployment and a number of other social injustices that halt improvements in food security for Aboriginals. The median weekly individual income in 2006 for an Aboriginal person was slightly more than half of the median income for a non-indigenous Australian, and not nearly enough to cover the cost of buying nutritious food to support a family.
Yet another factor contributing to lack of food security for Aboriginals lies in the fact that many of their communities live in rural northern Australia or other regions far away from supermarkets or fresh produce vendors. As a result, they must rely on frozen or prepackaged food, such as instant noodles and chips, which generally lack nutritional value.
Human Rights Watch and the U.N. have identified improvements in food security for Aboriginals as a human rights issue that must be addressed with the same urgency as other social injustices. The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), a segment of the U.N., has made strides toward a more enabling environment for food security through the involvement of the Australian government and key stakeholders. The FAO predicts that food security will be accomplished once Aborigines practice individual agency, public participation in decision-making and freedom of expression.
In addition to support from international agencies, the Australian government implemented a new program titled ‘Closing the Gap’ to reduce the economic and social gaps between indigenous and non-indigenous communities. The program’s efforts so far have focused on providing the same services to rural communities that those living in the city currently have access to. However, the program has not resulted in the policy changes required for significant improvement.
While non-indigenous Australians have identified social injustice and food insecurity as a problem throughout the country, it is imperative that the government take this concern more seriously. The implementation of programs to increase access to nutritious foods for rural communities has proven to be successful; however, policy changes and government support are necessary to tackle the remaining barriers that perpetuate food insecurity for Aboriginals like economic and social disadvantages.
– Sarah Coiro