Hi! My name is Jessica Webb, and I’m a nutrition and dietetics student studying on the beautiful Sunshine Coast.
I recently had the opportunity to experience a 7-week placement in the Maranoa region, where I lived and worked in Roma. Having been a ‘Sunny Coast local’ since the day I was born, the slow-paced, sun-soaked beach days are all I had known. Secretly, I was terrified to hang up my togs and live away from my cosy coastal life for what seemed like it was going to be the longest time.
I had never worked rurally before and had no idea what to expect. I arrived in Roma with my placement partner, Jasmine Light, who luckily for me is a local here herself, and she was quick to help me settle in and introduced me to the Roma way of life.
Our first day of placement was one filled with nerves and excitement as we were yet to learn what the next seven weeks had in store for us. The community nutritionist, Rohan Ballon, was our supervisor for the time we were here, and he gave us the incredible opportunity to run our project in Mitchell.
After doing some initial research, I was shocked to find out that very remote regions such as Mitchell experience a higher burden of disease and social disadvantage than inner regional and major cities across Australia. I was immediately invested in the project and wanted to learn more.
Our project was to immerse ourselves in the Mitchell community, find out what their nutrition needs were, and what the community wanted. We ventured into town to gain a first-hand understanding of what Mitchell had to offer, making our first stop at the famous Mitchell bakery for coffee and cake.
Safe to say it lived up to expectations!
We were able to speak with people within the community as well, whether in the local businesses or the friendly passer-by on the street and had a good chat about the types of nutrition issues they believe their community faces.
When I got chatting with a newly arrived local, she shared with me that she is amazed that for a place with such rich agriculture, the cost of the meat is still sky high. I noticed the same trend when I went to look at what fresh produce was available; it was surprising to see that some vegetables cost up to double the price of back home, where we can often get a whole week’s worth of fruits and vegetables for less than $20.
The most significant shock to me was to learn that not everything that people need is readily available in the town. Back home, there is such an abundance of every type of food you could imagine right at your fingertips — from weekly farmers markets, multiple grocery stores in every suburb, and even a whole festival dedicated to celebrating food and wine in Noosa. Coming into a town where there are limited healthy groceries available was an eye-opening experience. Engaging with the residents of Mitchell gave me insight and meant that I was able to experience first-hand some of the hardships and realities that people in the bush face.
The main findings were that Mitchell residents felt that their barriers to healthy eating are related to the high cost and limited availability of healthy foods, poor quality of the produce, and having no time to prepare healthy meals.
While some may see a whole lot of problems, we saw a challenge! To gain the full, authentic experience, Jasmine and I decided to challenge ourselves to cook a quick and healthy meal, but there were conditions:
1. We couldn’t spend more than $20 on the ingredients
2. We had to include vegetables
3. It had to be cooked in under half an hour
4. It had to be enough to feed at least a family of four
Classic spaghetti bolognese was the meal we decided to tackle. We purchased all of the groceries from the local FoodWorks, where we spent a total of $17 and managed to include four different vegetables, quickly ticking off our first two criteria.
It just so happened that Jasmine’s Aunty Bev lives in Mitchell and she was kind enough to let us use her kitchen to create and film our process. We also had the helping hands of her little cousin, Max, who acted as the star of the show, partaking in the majority of the food preparation.
Everyone got involved in the preparation and cooking. To top it off, we managed to pull together the entire meal in under half an hour, with enough prepared to serve about six adults! Being in someone’s home cooking with them was a completely new experience. It showed me that when a person is in a comfortable environment, it allows for a relaxed style of conversation to flow around food, healthy cooking and healthy eating, and it allows for everyone to feel comfortable sharing information about themselves that they may be otherwise resistant to sharing in a more intimidating setting, such as in a clinic office.
My time spent in Roma and Mitchell has opened my eyes and given me a deeper understanding of remote communities. While there may be a scarcity of foods, I want to show the community that it doesn’t matter where you are, you can still eat well without breaking the bank!