The Importance of using native ingredients respectfully

Here at Attica, we believe an ingredient's cultural context is as important as its taste.

Our constantly evolving understanding of native ingredients is made possible by the First Nations friends, suppliers and mentors we work with. One such organisation is Warndu, who use native plants as a vehicle for restoring cultural heritage.

Alongside Warndu’s native produce, you’ll find resources to culturally engage with ingredients. This made founders Damien and Rebecca the perfect people to speak to about the growing interest in native ingredients – and the role they can play in having a fuller, richer conversation about what food means to Australia.

What was your goal when launching Warndu?

Damien: Warndu means ‘good’ in the Adnyamathanha language, it’s very much built around celebrating diverse Aboriginal nations and their cultural history through food. Our body of work is around cultural restoration – we’re hoping to work with Aboriginal nations respectfully to collect the in-depth story and language attached to food.

We know food is a safe place because everyone loves delicious food, so that’s a way of getting them through the door. Then, it's providing access to information like the traditional name for it, the country it’s from and promoting the wild harvester or grower, whether they're Aboriginal or non-Aboriginal people.

Why do you think there’s more interest in native ingredients than ever before?

Rebecca: People want to be more environmental, more culturally respectful and they want to eat healthy, delicious food. They also want to eat new and different foods – even though these are some of the oldest foods in existence, they’re still new to people.

People [are] realising you can't say you eat local food if you don't eat native. That was my huge ‘aha moment’. I'd worked in the local food movement for almost my entire adult career, then I met Damien and went, “Shit, I'm such a hypocrite. I don't even know what truly local food is.”

People being aware of native ingredients is one thing, but getting them to use them is another, right? Is accessibility a factor?

Rebecca: It's not just high-end restaurants using natives anymore. There’d be a cafe in almost every neighbourhood using native ingredients now. Everyone is trying their best. As much as I hate big corporate multinationals, the fact of the matter is, McDonald's, Connoisseur, Kettle chips – those places are getting native ingredients in front of people.

Even if, dare I say it, some of them don't have much integrity by way of taste, they're using words like wattleseed, and people are then asking questions about it. 10 years ago, I would've been furious at that. But our mission to grow the industry and not see it fall is way more important than who's using it. Just as long as they don't do it as a token thing for a week.

How is that changing the native foods industry?

Rebecca: It’s grown to the point where demand now outweighs supply, and we need more growers in the industry. Ingredients are now accessible every day ­– there are amazing businesses out there like Sharon Windsor and Indigiearth with products in Woolworths in Sydney. It’s becoming more and more common, which is what we want for the industry.

But if people don't know how to cook with it at home – there is no industry. If someone doesn't know how to take lemon myrtle home and use it as a spice or use pepper berry in the right way or know what a bush tomato is, then there is no industry. We want literally every Australian pantry to be filled with native spices.

Damien: We can celebrate that food product and encourage someone to engage in an authentic experience. I mean, why haven't we been learning the true history of our country? Why are we learning languages from around the world before our own? How can there be change for our young change agents? Let's start from a place of authenticity and integrity.

Rebecca: We’ve seen our son Mallee, who's not even three yet, run around at day care with quandongs saying, "try my Urti,” which is the Adnyamathanha word for quandongs.

Watching these kids experience something that most adults don’t understand is amazing. Kids' palates are way better than ours, so they're eating something healthy that's delicious, that's fun and they're learning about culture at the same time. I think that's the most important message here – food is a safe place and we can use food as a way to engage with indigenous people and culture.

What’s your advice for someone who wants to ensure they’re engaging with native ingredients authentically?

Rebecca: Personally, I’d say don't be afraid of asking the wrong question. I think it's better to say the wrong thing, be corrected and learn rather than not ask questions and live in a world where you don't understand the rich culture that exists within your own backyard.

Damien: It comes down to accessibility, exploration, being a conscious buyer, and then, when you are experiencing it, going in with an open mind and an open heart. Because we all can be agents of change within our circle of influence, and that's ultimately the key.

Rebecca: When we buy these native foods, let's really think about where they've come from and how extraordinary it is that we've got the oldest continuous living culture in the world with these resources and people who can share amazing stories with us. We should all be super proud of that.

You can shop native ingredients ethically from Warndu. We also recommend their second book, ‘First Nations Food Companion’, a valuable addition to every cookbook shelf.