Ever hear mob say, “look here at this proper BlackFulla feed” when they’re referring to devon, hot chips, sauce and a big bottle of Coke?
Over time, this so-called “Aboriginal feed” has been accepted by Indigenous people across Australia, not so much as a basic food source, but a glorified meal.
As someone working in the fitness space, primarily in Indigenous health, my team and I feel this notion needs to be brought to light for discussion within our community.
Not long ago, we called out our mob’s damaging relationship with devon and white bread— i.e: simple carbs, trans fat and sugars —on social media. Unsurprisingly we received mixed responses. Many were quick to point out factors such as cheap food and low socioeconomic status, to the forced adoption of food practices. What might seem like a basic snack actually has a lot of politics behind it.
Recognising our history with the humble devon sandwich is important, as treatment of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in this country is not only dark, but has shaped who we are today. However, there’s a fine line between recognising the social determinants of our people and reclaiming bad food as “Aboriginal food”.
As Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people we should be aware of the self-suppression we have on our own people when we “joke” about a food derived from poverty and hardship – i.e: rations used in lieu of payment, for negotiation and as influence on our people to persuade them into abiding by forcible laws placed on them.
This type of food is full of terrible nutrients that are proven to lead to early death. Chronic diseases such as obesity, diabetes, high cholesterol and high blood pressure that assists in reducing our life expectancy and increases the health gap between non-Indigenous and Indigenous people in this country, is not a joke.
Devon, hot chips and sauce is processed, boiled in oil and largely compacted together with unhealthy fats, refined sugars and chemicals. It has no positive relationship to our culture or our cultural food practices connected to our Aboriginality or our Song Lines. We have an endless menu of Indigenous foods in our backyards, in the parklands or along the rivers banks or beaches. When we think ‘traditional’, we should be referring to the food our people thrived on before white settlement - emu eggs, acacia trees, fresh fish, kangaroo, flowers, berries, yams, the list goes on.
Traditional Aboriginal food (Bush Tucker) also involves you and the mob heading out gathering/hunting the food, traditionally preparing it and sharing that knowledge to the younger generation (or whoever you wish to share with). This gives families and communities excitement which connects them back to the living culture that has always been there. Doing this gets the family out on the weekend and involves physical activity, and it’s much more accessible than people think— not to mention it’s free. If blackfellas are going to celebrate any kind of food practices, it should be this one.
So how do we beat this? It’s not going to be a quick fix and of course people are going to eat something rather than starve. We understand that there is a huge problem in this country where healthier foods are often the more expensive grocery options, especially with freight-costs impacting those (namely Indigenous people) in rural and remote communities. It’s a shame that our food industry further burdens our communities with poor food influences because of cost and availability.
When we called out our community online, the post did exactly what we set out to do: get people thinking about what they were making a light-hearted joke out of and the negative connotations that promoting an unhealthy, poverty-derived food has, and continues to have, on our people today.
We need to begin to think about encouraging our mob assist in Closing the Gap here in Australia. It’s in our interest to fight against poor diets, not promote them. It not only negatively impacts our own health, but the ideology of Aboriginal culture.