Welcome to our first WYZA WARRIOR, a person or group doing outstanding work in the community. We will be calling out for nominations soon, enabling you to suggest someone in your community we can interview.

Ronni Kahn – Food Fighter & WYZA WARRIOR

If there is anything Ronni Kahn would like to convince you of, it is her ordinariness.

While she is anything but, she does have a point. You may not even know who she is, though you might have heard of the charity that she is the face — and heart and soul — of.

The 65-year-old founder and CEO started OzHarvest in 2004. The national organisation collects excess fresh food (that would otherwise be wasted) from supermarkets, restaurants, businesses, and other enterprises, and redistributes it to Australia’s two million vulnerable people — the homeless, the poor, and the disenfranchised.

Kahn believes we are — pardon the pun — hungry for information on what we can do to be more responsible environmental citizens, though we often feel powerless about effecting change. She says her story shows that we can all make a difference,

“I am an ordinary person who chose to do something,” she says. “If I can get one person to change the way they do things, then that is success for me.”

After working to reduce food waste for more than 14 years, Kahn says there is a small, active demographic in Australia who knows and cares about the issue, but “we haven’t reached a tipping point yet”. Too many of us still throw food out: for every five bags of shopping we buy, one ends up as food waste.

Food wastage is a big problem. On average, Australians throw out more than four million tonnes of perfectly edible food each year, costing the economy $20 billion per annum — much of it destined for landfill which harms the environment by creating greenhouse gas emissions.

If we admire Ian Kiernan for what he has done to encourage us to pick up rubbish with the high-profile Clean Up Australia campaign, we ought to admire Kahn for similar reasons. Yet she is not a household name.

So, who is Ronni Kahn? You can find out in Food Fighter, a new documentary on food waste that covers two years of her life and shows what she has achieved. “I like to live a life with purpose,” Kahn tells WYZA.

We are pleased to present her as our first WYZA Warrior. She is charismatic, charming and warm, though some may find her an acquired taste — a former events management business owner who adores the colour yellow, Kahn knows how to work a room, mixing with royalty, celebrities, and government ministers alike. She acknowledges that it goes with the territory that she will “piss people off” to achieve results.

Why do we have so much food waste? Kahn says we live in a society which offers us abundance — our supermarkets and food stores are often open from early in the morning until late at night, and we can buy perfect-looking food whenever we choose. Many of us think nothing of piling our unwanted food into a bin.

Her mantra is that anyone can make a contribution, believing it’s all about good old-fashioned people power. “Join the movement,” she says. “If you see the documentary or you look at the figures in relation to food waste, and it upsets you, do something about it.”

Kahn says we can all write emails to government; we can all reduce food waste at home; we can all share information on food waste with family, friends, and acquaintances; and we can all keep the issue alive.

“I am proof that each of us can effect change — it really was people campaigning the governments and supermarkets to stop single-use plastic bags that saw that being changed,” she adds.

The documentary pulls no punches and it won’t be popular with everyone. “The government won’t like it,” Kahn says, as the film makes no bones of the fact that so much more could be done to reduce food waste, and politicians are often slow to act.

The feature, by first-time director Dan Goldberg, gives audiences a fishbowl view of modern-day activism, laced with poignant, surprising, and humorous moments.

While it portrays Kahn as a crafty campaigner, the documentary also reveals her vulnerable side. We learn that she recently lost her beloved daughter-in-law Jo to cancer, and it is clear she is making the film during a period of intense grief. It is very touching.

Kahn says there is plenty each of us can do around the home to reduce the amount of food wastage, including:

  • Be a food fighter yourself.
  • Avoid mindlessly throwing out food.
  • Take stock of what’s in your fridge and pantry before you buy groceries.
  • Make a shopping list and stick to it. (Try not to impulse buy!)
  • Use effective storage to keep your food fresh as long as possible.
  • Cook cleverly, using all the produce from head to tail.
  • Try to plan your meals every week.
  • Embrace leftovers.
  • Compost your food scraps.

Kahn encourages everyone to get involved with any issue that they feel passionate about.

“If you’re not happy having your fruit and veggies presented to you wrapped in plastic and packaging, for example, what are you going to do about it? How are you going to let supermarkets know it’s not what you want? If we all stopped buying products presented like this, I bet the supermarkets would change how they do things in an instant,” she says.

Food Fighter will have a national cinematic release at Event cinemas in June. Tied in with the documentary’s release, there will be a “call to action” on World Environment Day on June 5, where Kahn will be asking us all to become “part of the solution”.

How much food waste do you have? What changes are you inspired to make?

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