A look back at the year that was

18th December 2020 | Alison Turner

Australian food producers deserve one hell of a pat on the back. While lesser folk might have thrown their hands in the air and walked away defeated, our hardworking farmers have stayed the course in 2020, doing their level best to ensure Australia was well-fed and food secure, no matter how many curveballs Mother Nature lobbed their way.

No part of our food industry was left untouched by the events of 2020, but while this year was one that most might prefer to forget, there was still plenty of good food news to go around. We take a look at some of the lowlights and highlights in Australian food over the past 12 months, as we bid 2020 a hearty good riddance.

Hands down

While news of drought-breaking rains and a high-yielding year ahead are welcome tidings for a beleaguered agricultural sector, bumper harvests won’t do anyone any good if there’s no one available to pick them. With seasonal worker numbers way down thanks to COVID-19 travel restrictions and border closures, farmers have been left short-handed, with some even forced to abandon crops altogether. Even with government incentives to lure Aussies to farm work, continued labour shortages are putting our fresh food supply in peril.

Seafood industry flounders

While life on the land has been tough, things haven’t been smooth sailing at sea, either. The seafood industry was one of the first and hardest hit when COVID-19 came calling, with the dramatic drop in international exports and foodservice closures having a significant impact on every link along the seafood supply chain. A national campaign was launched to encourage Australians to buy more local seafood, but just when things were starting to look up a bit, China decided to block imports of Australian rock lobsters – essentially halting a $750 million market overnight.

Please be seated

The past 12 months have also been a dark time for our hospitality industry, with most facing a long road to recovery after months of lockdowns and restrictions left many restaurant and cafe owners struggling to make ends meet. Individuals and organisations were quick to rally behind the industry, with new services, directories and campaigns being created to promote local businesses and encourage consumers to support their favourite eateries. But even with public backing, many restaurants and cafes were forced to find new ways to do business in an effort to stay afloat, while others failed to thrive, and fizzled out altogether.

Silver linings

The pandemic certainly had its downsides – Australians won the dubious honour of being the world’s biggest panic buyers, for one – but there were also a lot of positives to come out of this bizarre year. Many of us have rediscovered the simple pleasures of backyard gardening, and the rewards that can come from growing our own food. We’re also cooking more at home, while potential food security scares have also made us more aware of where our food comes from and less likely to waste food. This increased appreciation of our food supply chain has also made us more generous – with crop-swapping, seed-saving, blessing boxes and community gardens all giving the Australian share economy a big boost.

The power of provenance

Farmers’ markets also had a chance to shine this year, as more Aussies learned to appreciate the benefits that can come from buying fresh local produce direct from the people who grow it. Many of us have also discovered the advantages of buying meat from the local butcher rather than from the faceless meat aisles at a supermarket, while concerns over animal welfare have seen an increasing number of Australians put more thought into how their meat and eggs are farmed.

We’re a creative bunch

In other good food news, Aussie innovation remained alive and well in 2020, creating everything from an apple you can drink, cold smoked eggs and the world’s biggest blueberry to a livestock feed that cuts down cow farts. New Australian developments in sustainable food systems have also made headlines this year, including foods augmented with algae, value-added ingredients made from fruit and veg that would otherwise be thrown out and a growing urban agriculture movement. We can also expect to see more Aussie camel milk products hitting the shelves in the coming year, as well as Australian-made, sustainable plant-based meat alternatives and cell-based meat.

Eativity favourites

What put the biggest smile on our faces this year? Well, apart from the news that chocolate is good for you, we were also delighted by vodka made from sheep whey and lamb sausage rolls. There was also plenty of Australian cheese to go around – which would make anyone happy. In particular, the story of a tiny cheese company in Queensland coming to the rescue of Australian artisan cheesemakers impacted by bushfires and COVID-19 made us feel all warm and gooey inside, kind of like a baked camembert.  

We also gained a new-found appreciation of crickets, sea urchins and fungi; were charmed by a teeny, tiny tomato; and learned that pigs can dig giant holes.

Of course, the Eativity chickens have also been a highlight, and you’ll be pleased to know that all four of them are growing like the clappers, escaping at inconvenient moments and hopefully ready to start laying soon. Any day now…

We’ve loved every minute of bringing the best of Australian food news to you this year. Even amidst all the depressing events of 2020, our food producers continued to inspire and brighten our days, and we hope they did the same for you. The Eativity team wishes you the most marvellous Christmas, and can’t wait to see what the coming year will deliver.