Healthy, vegan, local – these days, the LOHAS ideals seem virtually omnipresent. In the hip parts of the city, the news stands are full of health magazines, book stores flog organic cookbooks, and supermarkets advertise with vegan meat alternatives. But this omnipresence quickly reaches its limits when it comes to the practicality of day-to-day life. Even if you don't have ecological or social expectations of your food, it is often far from easy to find the right products or restaurants. It's even harder once you leave your home stomping grounds. Anyone who has ever searched in vain for a take-away snack not packed in Styrofoam or fruit that has not been flown in from half way around the world will feel sympathy with Paul Hellier, the founder of the Fair Food Forager platform.
Paul launched Fair Food Forager in October 2015 to help people in exactly these situations. The platform connects users with the food businesses around them that come closest to meeting their expectations. On the website, consumers and businesses can list restaurants, cafés and grocery stores that serve fairer food: environmentally friendly, healthy, fair trade, organic, chemical free, locally sourced, vegan, vegetarian, and/or ethical. The platform highlights how each business performs based on these criteria, so you can choose what is most important to you. This gives foodies a selection of fairer food businesses at their fingertips, and businesses receive recognition for their efforts.
Paul says he loves eating – and enjoys talking to restaurant and shop owners, as he often finds that they are doing much more for the environment or charity than is obvious from the outside. In just three months, he has already included more than 200 businesses from all around Australia. We talked to him about Fair Food Forager’s first months.
Paul, what inspired you to found Fair Food Forager?
Working in environmental education, I noticed that the majority of faces at environmental events were always made up of the same core group of people. I knew that in order to reach a wider audience, technology had to be part of the solution, but I just wasn’t sure how. Then one day while travelling away from home and searching without success for a sit down cup of coffee that wasn’t served in a takeaway cup, it came to me. “What if there was an app or website that could help me find not only good food, but ethical and sustainable food where ever I was?” I believe we are responsible for the well-being of the planet and if many of us make lots of little smart choices on a daily basis to just create less waste collectively, we will have a major impact.
Are many Australians interested in environmentally responsible, ethically produced food or lifestyles in general?
With endless media channels of information on health, nutrition, chemical additives in food and animal cruelty in the food industry, Australians are becoming more aware of the importance of knowing what they put into their bodies and where it comes from. In general, we are an active sporty people and judging by the popularity of activities such as crossfit, boot camps, and personal training, I would suggest the healthy lifestyle is a growing area in this country. This is fantastic because caring about your health means you are more likely to be eating fresh, unpackaged, in season, local produce. That automatically means the environment wins and so does your health.
“I believe we are responsible for the well-being of the planet and if many of us make lots of little smart choices on a daily basis, we will have a major impact.”
What requirements do businesses have to meet to be registered on Fair Food Forager?
We have a list of possible sustainability categories within the site's terms. That is not to say that businesses must be achieving everything on our list in order to qualify for the site. This is as much about encouragement and the recognition that they are giving it a go as it is about being an example of perfect sustainability practices. We stipulate that a business is not serving takeaway food in Styrofoam, but other than that they can be doing anything from using local produce to chemical-free produce, donating to charity, or ensuring all animal products are cruelty free; they may encourage vegan or vegetarian meals, purchase fair trade, or use zero plastic. The idea is that if you are faced with a large selection of places to eat, the app helps you find out which one most deserves your money. As far as I am concerned, that is the one who cares enough about people, animals or the planet and shows it by acting in a responsible way.
When a business joins voluntarily, who ensures that they fulfil these standards?
In these early stages, we are using three basic controls. The first is the honesty system. The second is that at this moment every listing comes through me. The third is that users can easily report or supply feedback on every listing with the click of a button. As you can imagine, this will be streamlined as we grow.
What feedback do you get from your users?
So far feedback has been extremely positive with people saying they wished we had been around on their last holiday or road trip around Australia or the world. The site is heavily designed towards taking on the feedback of users and I am quite happy to pivot areas of the site based on the user experience, satisfaction and feedback. The basic premise is that it should be as simple as possible to find, add, comment and share the most ethical food options. So all feedback is most welcome.
How many people are using FFF so far?
In only three months, we have reached 1,000 Facebook likes and Instagram follows with decent traffic to the site putting the search “Fair Food Forager” at number one on Google. However there is still a long way to go. We need ongoing conversations with our listed businesses to give us the traffic we require to really make a difference in global food waste. We already have 200 businesses listed within Australia and that number is growing everyday. Shortly we will be in New Zealand and our goal is to have the site globally ready within 12 months.