Enriching simplicity with Dr Sandro Demaio


The Enrichment of Simplicity

with Dr Sandro Demaio
CEO of EAT Foundation, Oslo, Norway.

 Big ponderings have taken place in Sandro Demaio’s orchard. Bigger thoughts still have accompanied him through his doctor rounds, throughout his Harvard University fellowship and within the varying landscapes of Mongolia as he compiled research for the Ministry of Health. He has examined the minutiae of our existence and put it into some sort of context that makes sense. As he has discovered, being at one with nature is a good place to be.    

Earlier in the year, Dr Alessandro Demaio appeared on Gardening Australia. He stood out straight away, not only for his dashing good looks, but for his sensible views on food and produce. In a world where we are battered with marketing about the confusing world of health, he was a voice of reason, imploring that we all take it back to basics. 

The doctor who began his career at The Alfred Hospital in Melbourne knows the inner workings of the body well. From the outset he understood the connect between our health and the health of the planet, how the ecosystems of nature entwine with the human condition. They are after all, interconnected.

“The way we grow, process, transport, market, consume and waste food is a major concern for our planet’s health. And therefore for our health, too.”

“We can’t talk about food and not mention climate change and greenhouse gas emissions. The worlds food systems account for as much as 30 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions – more than all transport combined.

Photo credit: Cath Muscat

Photo credit: Cath Muscat

Demaio grew up in Italian family. Naturally food was an interwoven part of his life and livelihood. He said that from a young age he loved spending hours in the kitchen with his parents and grandparents, exploring traditional recipes. His fascination with flavours grew.

“I love the change in season and I find that it’s a good way to slow down, breathe and re-connect with yourself.”

His family began a vineyard on a plot of land in Victoria, but this transformed into a glorious garden. While they liked growing grapes, they enjoyed growing fresh fruit and vegetables more- organic, rambling, pick and eat as you go, cook seasonally, keep it fresh. The old vineyard structure is ideal for veggies and fruit trees as the cascading netting falls just right, keeping the birds and insects at bay. They now have over 200 fruit trees on around an acre of land.

Demaio identifies the aromas and takes note of how they grow and when they are at their best. He appreciates the process and knows therein lies an answer. Food grown and consumed simply removes many other complexities. 

“It’s not simply a matter of methane from cows contributing to greenhouse gas emissions. It’s also about run-off from chemical fertilisers that cause damage to bodies of water, a reliance on fossil-fuel intensive farming methods, deforestation and replacement with monoculture agriculture, salinification of soils resulting for poor farming practices, and overfishing of our oceans.”

There are a lot of components, all of which can seem overshadowing. We are looking for a patch of sunlight to restore the order of things. While it seems like there is only so much we can do, Demaio is eager to reassure people that they can do things to improve the well-being of the planet, which in turn with improve their own health and well-being.

Demaio is the CEO of EAT Foundation in Oslo, Norway. It is not an easy role but he is spreading a positive message, and encouraging change in big and small ways.

The results of our consumption and type of consumption in Australia is staggering. At present, 95% of adults are not eating enough fruit and vegetable in their diet. The increase in obesity is dramatic. The number of obese people were a fraction of what they are now, only a few decades earlier. One in four children are obese and Demaio thinks this number could be more. There is cause and effect. If we grow food and consume food in simplified ways, this benefits the environment. If we eat better, that helps with disease prevention and lessens obesity levels. If we spend more time outdoors, we increasingly appreciate the abilities of nature and want to spend more time in it. A healthy cycle begins.

Demaio is helping to pair it back. Keep ingredient lists short, he advises. Eat fresh. Try and grow your own. Plant trees. Appreciate nature and be part of it. Connect with people over meals. Cook together. Value the connection of it all.

Through experience and research, Demaio presents us with hard facts. It is not fodder. This is a man who has completed a PhD with the University of Copenhagen, focusing on non-communicable diseases, has held a Postdoctoral Fellowship at Harvard Medical School from 2013 to 2015, has worked with the Ministry of Health and is crusading alongside Jamie Oliver to improve the state of nutrition across the world. All in all, he has some good sense. He has done the hard yards studying and investigating far beyond his own back paddock.

He has established a new foundation, the Sandro Demaio Foundation.

“We are looking to launch a project that will offer affordable healthy school meals, including more fruit and vegetables, to Australian primary school children, to improve knowledge of a healthy diet, encourage healthier eating and improve school performance.”

Demaio has an innate passion and drive to make the flowers in the dry patch grow.

There are restorative properties to Demaio’s philosophy, he can see the forest through the trees. He has mapped out a route for us, and as one of the world experts on global health, Demaio holds a great bundle of insight under his arm as he wanders through his orchard.

While changing all variables is nigh on impossible, there is most definitely room to re-educate and remodel our current systems.

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Article by Sinead Halliday