Crusading against food waste

OzHarvest founder Ronni Kahn at a rubbish tip in Thailand. Photo: Bruno Kataoka

WITH signature tortoise-shell glasses, bold beaded jewellery, unwavering passion and a can-do attitude, Ronni Kahn – founder and CEO of the food rescue charity OzHarvest – is one fearless food fighter.

Kahn has taken on the big guys from Coles to Woolworths and Qantas, butted heads with Jamie Oliver, confronted the federal government and partnered with the United Nations in Bangkok, all in the name of helping the needy and saving the planet.

Founded in 2004, Kahn and her team at OzHarvest collect surplus food for free and deliver it to the homeless, helping to feed the poor and preventing food from ending up in landfills.

“How can you argue against that proposal?” remarks award-winning filmmaker Dan Goldberg, who has spent the past two years following Kahn’s ­movements across four continents, chronicling her passion project along the way for the documentary Food Fighter.

Food Fighter will premiere in Sydney on Sunday, followed by screenings at cinemas around the country. Its release coincides with World Environment Day on June 5.

In one key scene in the film, a computer-generated image captures $20 billion of food being dumped into Sydney Harbour.

“I have to tell you, it’s not pretty,” warns Kahn. “The issue of food waste is so enormous … there is enough food globally, but a third of it is going to waste.”

If food waste were its own country, it would be the third biggest emitter of methane and carbon dioxide, after China and the United States, adds Kahn.

“Food waste is literally costing us the earth and we all have the capacity to shift and change that.”

Goldberg, a former AJN editor who is head of factual at Mint Pictures, hopes that people will become more aware of their food choices after seeing the film.

Ronni Kahn and filmmaker Dan Goldberg, who directed Food Fighter.
Photo: Richard Piscioneri

Kahn might be leading the movement, but others can be food fighters on a smaller scale too.
“We have created a movement called Fight Food Waste so that everybody can become a food fighter. The purpose of the movement is to raise awareness and for people to take action,” says Kahn.

“We will be sending tips and hints on how to live a more sustainable life.”

During the two years of filming, OzHarvest made huge inroads, taking to the international stage when Kahn realised her model could be replicated in South Africa – her homeland – and in Britain.

At first glance, Food Fighter might seem like a documentary solely about OzHarvest’s development and the pressing issue of food waste, but it’s also an in-depth character study of Kahn, exploring what it takes to be a change-maker.

“We can all dream up wonderful ideas like Ronni, but there is a huge difference in being able to dream it and in being able to execute it,” says Goldberg, who produced the 2014 Walkley Award-winning documentary Code of Silence.

Kahn possesses many admirable traits that make her a successful change-maker, notes Goldberg, but there is one standout feature.

“She’s got a sh**load of chutzpah! She has no qualms about phoning anyone from a homeless person to the prime minister … she has a singular mission and she is so passionate about that mission,” says Goldberg. “It takes a lot of courage to not be scared to shine the light and to bang the drum.”

Profiling a complex change agent with her own personal struggles, Food Fighter also delves into Kahn’s past, exploring her firmly held belief that she lacked the “courage” to stay and fight Apartheid in South Africa.

Kahn, nowadays so passionate about minimising food waste, once ran a successful events company.

“I was doing bar mitzvahs, weddings and corporate events, and at every one of them I made sure there was extra food because it was a beautiful way to showcase generosity and abundance, success and a way to welcome guests,” says Kahn.

But her strong moral compass and Jewish values, particularly of tikkun olam (repairing the world) guided her on a global crusade against food waste.

“I grew up with values that are so intrinsic to who I am, and my goal is to live them,” says Kahn.

Food Fighter premieres at the State Theatre, Sydney on June 3, and also screens at the Rivoli Cinemas, Camberwell on June 7. Both are followed by a Q&A with Ronni Kahn and Dan Goldberg. It will have a limited release at the Rivoli and Event cinemas. Enquiries: www.foodfighterfilm.com

SOPHIE DEUTSCH