Mount Zero Hero - Emma Stirling, Dietitian

January 31, 2018

For the past year or so we’ve been highlighting some amazing individuals on our blog, in our newsletter and across our social channels. People who share and support our food ethos, people whose work inspires us and people whose work we want you to know about.  We call them our Mount Zero Heroes. They’re a varied and creative bunch of business owners, chefs, farmers, cooks, stylists and more… And today we are thrilled to introduce you to the one and only Emma Stirling.

Emma is an accredited practising dietitian (APD), Director of Scoop Nutrition consultancy and Editor of Scoop Nutrition – a blog designed to promote expert dietitians and credible nutrition news from around the globe. She is also a Senior Lecturer at La Trobe University specialising in food studies, gastronomy and culinary nutrition.

Emma made a big impression on us recently, when she volunteered to assist us with a salt harvest at the Pink Lakes.  During the harvest she shared many stories from her work around the globe and we benefited first-hand from her down to earth, evidence based approach to food and health. We loved learning Emma’s perspective on the health benefits of foods we love, our produce, as well as myth-busting a health fad or two.

Thanks Emma for agreeing to be featured this month and for sharing your wisdom with our readers. We hope to include more food news and fun facts from you in the year ahead.

Hi Emma, can you tell us a little about your passion for food and nutrition and where this has taken you? 

My memories, from a very young age, are shaped by new foods, celebratory dinners and exotic cooking classes. I recall having a lesson at the home of Janet De Neefe from Casa Luna in Ubud Bali 25 years ago. During the lesson, she showed us where (as part of a traditional Balinese custom) the placentas of all her children were buried in the garden.

My lifelong passion for food and nutrition has taken me on some incredible eating adventures around the world and I feel very lucky to have based my career around my passion.

I studied a Bachelor of Science Degree in Biochemistry then a Masters of Nutrition and Dietetics and have gone on to have a successful career as an Accredited Practising Dietitian.

I’ve worked in clinical settings at one of the world’s leading children’s hospitals in London, in media and marketing including for a TV network in Hong Kong, run a highly successful nutrition consulting business and am now in academia as a lecturer and researcher.

For many of us, food nutrition tips come by way of fad diets and media trends. How do you navigate fake (nutrition) news?

When I started my blog Scoop Nutrition seven years ago, a key motivation was the realisation that Dr Google and the digital age posed great threats and opportunities for nutrition lovers.

On one hand most people now have access to a dizzying array of content.  But on the other hand sorting through the nutrition confusion can be really hard, and it’s made even harder with fake news and trends.

My blog is a platform dedicated to credible content. It shares food information in a very positive way and includes information on local produce, farmers, chefs and food festivals and it encourages people to understand and respect food provenance. 

It also focuses on recipes and aims to motivate people to get back into the kitchen and keep cooking skills alive. 

I’m blogging less at the moment, as my focus has been on producing an Australian text book titled Understanding the Science of Food – from molecules to mouthfeel with Sharon Croxford.  But you will find me sharing nutrition news and food finds everyday over on Instagram

In a conversation you quoted Michael Pollan “Don't eat anything your great-grandmother wouldn't recognise as food” – a great line and motivation to buy The Omnivore's Dilemma.  Do you have another favourite quote or author that you would recommend? 

Michael Pollan has made a significant contribution to waking us up to some serious global food issues, and has some brilliant quotes.

However, the older and wiser I get, the more I realise that simple quotes do not solve global, complex food problems.

My best advice would be to choose your food, nutrition news and friends wisely and be wary of people who demonise foods or health messages that sound too good to be true. As Julia Child’s says, “People who love to eat are always the best people.”

What are some of the food staples in your pantry? 

Australian Extra Virgin Olive Oil, canned tomatoes and fruit and veg, especially apricots and figs right now. (Here’s a recent recipe post for a salad using Fig, Farro, Black Lentil and Minted Goat’s Cheese Salad using Mount Zero lentils.)

What is a new or unusual ingredient you’ve tried recently?

Lecturing in food studies, gastronomy and nutrition you’ll often find a hot new product or unusual ingredient!  I’m recently back from camping in the Grampians and I’m enjoying wild smoked eel from the Western District. I’ve also been pondering more about the Gunditjmara people (from South Western Victoria) and their sophisticated aquaculture farming and settlements which disrupt our thinking of Indigenous Australians as hunter gatherers.  I love the look on my students faces when I pull out the eels as our first taste test as part of a gastronomy subject we run on multicultural and ethnic cuisine.

My family arrived in Western Victoria as agriculture workers seven generations ago and we still farm the land. Telling these Indigenous food stories to our students is a small way I try and say sorry about the mistreatment of the first Australians and encourage more research and preservation of traditional land and culture.

You've written about us on you blog. What word(s) do you use to describe Mount Zero Olives?

Love. It’s that simple. I’ve written about my admiration for the Seymour family and the importance of supporting farmers and food producers here on a visit to the Pink Lake Harvest and grove. There’s also my recipe for Pink Lake Salted Anzac biscuits.

We are forever creating a Foodie’s bucket list.  Is there a ‘must eat’ recipe, ‘must visit’ restaurants or food experience you’d recommend?

In 2017 I ate my way through Italy, London and Hong Kong and enjoyed Nopi by Ottolenghi and Rech by Alain Ducasse.  But I also loved local finds and having Carson Luk from Xuan Banh Cuon (232 Hampshire Road, Sunshine) guest lecturer on Vietnamese cuisine and his families migration story. However my highlight was volunteering at Refettorio Felix in London, Massimo Botturas social enterprise to turn rescued food into a dignified, shared meal for the homeless and disadvantaged. You must get the cookbook – Bread is Gold.

And finally, do you have special plans or dream projects planned for 2018?

Too many! My research is looking at global food supply chains and also exploring digital media influence on tracking food and nutrition trends as I work towards my PhD. La Trobe University is also a world leader in Mediterranean Diet Research. But I’m cooking up more mushroom forage tours and other travel, cooking and eating adventures too as I will never stop learning, tasting, exploring and protecting our precious world of food.

Thanks so much for your time and your insights Emma, we look forward to learning more about your research findings as well as sharing them with our readers in the coming months.


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