The other day the Fair Food packing crew organised our first outside of work outing – a picnic at Edinburgh Gardens. It was wonderfully unremarkable; there was food and talk and kicking footy and our kids eating too many sweet things. And during a lull in the conversation as we all ate pieces of a very large triple layer banana cake with pink iced roses it occurred to me that we’d reached a milestone at Fair Food.
I’ve written before about the importance of that crucial first job in Australia – of how hard it is to get one without contacts or a work history or good English, of how that job lets you take care of your family, meet friends, learn about local culture, save for a house deposit and give something back to your new community. What I didn’t say, and what the picnic showed me, was when you’ve been driven away from your country, your family and friends how important it is to find something to belong to again. To be part of something normal. And there it was in the park amongst all the other picnics; the comforting, mundane act of sharing each other’s food, throwing frisbees badly, dusting off fallen over kids and then packing up at sunset and saying, “See ya on Monday.”
One of the driving forces behind the picnic was Ameen, he’s a leading hand at Fair Food (that’s him above in the “make out not war” t-shirt). Ameen is 27 years old, he escaped war in Iraq and lived underground in Iran before seeking asylum in Australia. He is intelligent, hard working and has that formal Iranian/Iraqi politeness that’s slightly old fashioned. I like Ameen, he has an infectious optimism and a sense of gratitude not often associated with someone so young. Alone in Australia he has embraced his workmates like we are his family and we him. When I look at Ameen I see Fair Food’s and Australia’s future and yet his profile as a young Muslim man from the Middle East would make many people in our community fearful of him.
Through the decades amidst this kind of fear there has always been the odd human interest story taking a deeper look at whichever migrant group of the day that’s making mainstream Australia feel fearful. Be it the Chinese, Greeks, Italians, Yugoslavians, Vietnamese, Indians, Somalis or lately just “illegals.” And at the end of the story it’s funny because we always seem so surprised that on closer examination the people we were afraid of always turn out to be human beings.
In Fair Food’s Rewiring the Food System campaign we are fundraising for software that makes it easy for anyone to shop at Fair Food – but one of our ulterior motives for doing this is that we want to give more people like Ameen that crucial first job in Australia. If you’d like to learn more about Rewiring the Food System you can find it on our StartSomeGood page.