Not all food is equal

Julie Sheldon and her son Oliver Forsman.
Julie Sheldon and her son Oliver Forsman. John McCutcheon

YOU are what you eat, as the saying goes.

And for Sunshine Coast mother Julie Shelton, eating fresh, organic fruits and vegetables is not just a weightloss fad, it's a life choice.

Before co-founding the annual Real Food Festival, held in Maleny each year in September, Julie was an organic farmer for 10 years.

"I realised just how lucky I was to have fresh food at my fingertips and that a lot of people didn't have access to home-grown foods and vegetables," she said.

Julie continues to whet the appetite of festival visitors by showing alternatives are available to foods found in supermarket and chain stores.

"I started the festival so that people could come and taste what was on offer from their local farmers and grocers," she said.

The festival highlights home-grown, raised and produced foods from Sunshine Coast farmers right through to cottage-industry businesses and cafes and restaurants striving to ensure only the freshest, healthiest, best foods appear on their menus.

Julie said the short-distance, paddock-to-plate philosophy behind organising the festival had come from discussions with regional farmers who were having trouble selling their produce against the strong commercial market.

She found many were actually living below the poverty line with very little income coming in from their efforts on the land.

"The thing with the major grocery stores is that the fruit and vegies are grown to suit their system," Julie said.

"The food is grown hybrid and designed to travel great distances before reaching our plates which compromises flavour, vitamins and basic nutrients.

"Instead of salad leaves that were fresh that day and eggs that were straight out of the coop like what I knew from my own farming experience, these commercial products are ripened too quickly, stored for weeks and ultimately stripped of their natural goodness.

"I'm not saying that everyone should buy only organically home-grown products, but it's important shoppers are informed so we can all make good choices about what we eat."

Stephen Jeffers, founder of local grocer Jeffers Farms and Markets, is a long-standing enthusiast of the Real Food Festival and has been involved every year since it began in 2011.

"It's a very authentic atmosphere and I love being a part of it," he said.

Julie advises anyone wanting to take the first steps towards eating better foods to be as informed as possible.

"Be empowered, don't be afraid to ask questions and don't be afraid to seek advice as to how best to prepare your food to ensure maximum nutrition," she said.

At this year's festival on September 7-8, the program will feature a series of cooking demonstrations, presentations and talks from nutrition experts and food-growing advisors.

Some of the topics to be covered include climate change, fossil fuels, genetically modified foods and environmental awareness.

The weekend will also include presentations about how best to prepare your food, food and spirituality and where to find the best fresh food options on the Coast, as well as a variety of stalls and displays.

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