In Food + Drink

TEDxSydney: How To Feed 5000 People Sustainably

Last month, TEDxSydney staged its ninth incredible local installation of the worldwide phenomenon. More than 5,000 people filed into the International Convention Centre at Darling Harbour to hear from the 2018 speaker line-up, which including the likes of Magda Szubanski, Eddie Woo and Ian Strange.

 Talks are punctuated by visits to The Hub, an exhibition hall-sized space that brings an interactive element to the event, gives guests a chance to mingle, and most importantly, be fed and watered.

Part of the TEDxSydney 2018 Hub. Photo: Jean-Jacques Halans

The mantra of TEDxSydney is explore how to do things better, a conversation that extended out to the food offering. As a member of the food team this year, I got to explore: how can we make this sustainable, waste-neutral, and to most of all, to spark conversation?

Feeding 5000 people breakfast, lunch, morning and afternoon teas and party canapes all in one day is no mean feat. Doing it TEDx-style adds a whole other level. In line with the 2018 theme of Humankind, we started to think about that will face us in the future and assembled some amazing businesses that are already tackling them.

With the help of reusable plastics company Globelet, we were able to wipe out single use water bottles and coffee cups and keep everything reusable – a massive task given that between Little Marionette Coffee and Tippity Tea, more than 10,000 hot drinks were served.

Joe Cook from Riot Wines Photo: Richard Walters

Booze at the after party had a sustainable rift, too. As well as cans from Young Henry’s and Sparkke Change Wine, wine was served on tap by sustainable start-up Riot Wines, who utilise kegs to reduce preservatives and sulfates in the wine making process while also reducing bottles and transport costs (ergo, fuel used in transport as well).

Other local brands chipped in as well; Brasserie Bread showcased different kinds of local wheat from around News South Wales, and Pepe Saya taught people how to hand-churn left over cream into home-made artisan butter.

Thinking ahead to the future and our depleting water resources, we bought in  Aqua Botanicals – a company that turns fruit and vegetable waste products into premium water, and has great plans to scale their tech out to third-world countries for free, providing both a new income source and a waste-product solution.

Churning butter Photo: Catherine Elhone

To add to the discussion around red meat and its environmental impacts, we looked to explore alternate sources. Instead of a typical red meat lunch, we offered a free-range chicken salad beefed up with quinoa. Skye Blackburn from the Edible Insect Store also came along and chatted to thousands of people during the day, slowly coaxing them into trying her cricket hummus, gourmet iced green ant matcha tea and chocolate crackles with meal worm.

Pocket City Farms and Wormticklers Nursery helped to source hundreds of pots of herbs for punters to pick their own garnish from, and also offered small space gardening advice to punters keen to add a little greenery to their own spaces at home.

All single-use items at the event – napkins, or lunch boxes – were made from paper or cardboard, ensuring that subsequent waste was of the biodegradable variety. Single-use plastics are killing the environment. If you don’t care about the environment, at least think of your health. We’re seeing trace amounts of plastic show up in the flesh of wild-caught fish, and yet people are wildly complaining about a supermarket ditching plastic bags.

If a non-for-profit event for 5000 people can go without straws, plastic cups and bags and other single use items, hopefully the rest of us can start to change our ways, too.

Sharnee Rawson is the founding editor of The Upsider, and also worked as Food Editor for TEDxSydney 2018. 

Published 03 July, 2018