Food is our bridge to understanding

  • December 12th, 2019 at 2:21 pm

Did you know that every minute (or 59 seconds, to be precise), a new person settles in Australia from overseas? While close to every two minutes, one person is born here.

This means that around double the number of people arrive from overseas to live in Australia than are born on our shores.

What’s more, in 2016, approximately half of us were born overseas or had one or more parents who were.

It’s clear that Australia has become a land of many different sights, sounds, smells, flavours and people.

Migrants are increasingly arriving from India, China and the UK, and our faith groups are on the move too, with numbers of those who identify as Muslim, Buddhist and Hindu increasing every year.

In 2019, The Scanlon Foundation conducted its annual map of the social cohesion of our society. The survey examined our attitudes to immigration and multiculturalism, in addition to other broader trends.

When it comes to immigration and multiculturalism, it turns out we’re a reasonably welcoming bunch, but there’s still some room for improvement.

Sixty-eight percent of us agreed that ‘accepting immigrants from many different countries makes Australia stronger’, and 85 per cent of people agreed that ‘multiculturalism has been good for Australia’.

But for the majority, a two-way dialogue is required. Respondents endorsed the idea that ‘we should do more to learn about the customs and heritage of different ethnic and cultural groups in this country’, but also agreed that ‘people who come to Australia should change their behaviour to be more like Australians.’

The basis of all great relationships is indeed mutual understanding – to listen and see someone else deeply, as you in turn are understood and valued. It’s no surprise that the desire for disparate people to find common ground at a population level is no different.

Mutual understanding can evolve naturally, but it can also be fostered. The simple act of living next door to someone from another culture, sharing the same train, tram or workplace encourages daily, micro interactions that help us slowly forge a common identity.

But we can also engage in deliberate activities that help deepen our understanding of what’s culturally important to someone else.

Programs like A Taste of Harmony, where for two weeks in March, organisations facilitate the sharing of food between people of different cultures, help bring structure to unearthing what matters to others at work.

For those holding a simple lunch, attendees each cook or bring a dish to work. A recipe card and origins of the dish are displayed and people are encouraged to explain their meal and what it means to them. This provides a great opportunity for active listening and understanding.

Other tools are supplied by A Taste of Harmony to help further facilitate the exchange of knowledge and information. There’s a Spotify playlist with tunes from around the world, flags, posters and even a quiz on the origins of different recipes, all of which encourage group play, interaction and best of all, lots of eating!

Old ties are strengthened, new relationships are formed and most people end up with a few new recipes to add to their repertoire. Importantly, people feel appreciated, understood and the office or team reaps the long-term benefits of increased social cohesion.

Multiply that by the 10,000 groups who participate annually for two weeks of the year and you’re seeing a tidal wave of awareness, understanding, and of course, great tucker!

A Taste of Harmony 16 – 27 March 2020 is an annual event that provides Australian workplaces – big and small – an opportunity to recognise and celebrate cultural diversity. Rigister at