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A lucky dip - SBS focussed

"SBS was founded on the belief that all Australians, regardless of geography, age, cultural background or language skills, should have access to high quality, independent, culturally-relevant Australian media, and be able to participate in public life." SBS website

We are blessed here in Australia with the SBS television service - now like the ABC under increasing pressure from the current Australian government with diminishing budgets and 'official' criticism.

SBS stands for the Special Broadcasting Service and is the media standard bearer for multiculturalism here in Australia. Possibly a little less these days than when it began in 1975 with experimental radio stations set up to explain Medicare to those who did not understand English.

Briefly - the television service began experimentally in 1979 and then officially in 1980 - as Channel 28. Most of its content was from overseas, subtitled, and it was the only channel to really have a World News service rather than a local one. If you wanted to know what was going in the world this is where you found out. In 1991 they introduced advertising - prior to that it had been sufficiently supported to not require ads. At first there were just a few between programs. Now there are many more, although the gaps between ad breaks tend to be less than on the commercial channels.

I think SBS can be held directly responsible for the growing popularity of soccer and cycling - through its broadcasts of European and world soccer - most notable World Cup broadcasts, and also the Tour de France and other European cycling championships. The World News continues to be really the only real World News, and it has many excellent programs from both here and overseas. I think Scandi Noir, for example was introduced to Australia on SBS. And now that we have the World Movies channel you can see the best that world cinema has to offer - and the worst too of course. Plus there is NITV a channel by and for the indigenous Australians, who may have enormous problems but who are also enormously talented.

Now it has multiple channels, and one of these is dedicated to food. Food has always been a feature of its content, and Maeve O'Meara has been at the forefront of this focus. She began with Joanna Saville touring around Australia and presenting The Food Lovers Guide to Australia. In many ways it began the trend towards artisan producers, ethnic food, fusion food and home cooking. When Joanna Saville left Maeve O'Meara continued with the Food Safari series which focussed each program on the food of one particular cultural group. You were introduced to the basic ingredients of that culture, some recipes, some home cooks and some restaurateurs. Once almost every possible cuisine had been exhausted we had whole series dedicated to France and to Italy, followed by the Fire, Water and Earth series. Where to now I wonder? In between there has been an Australian version of River Cottage, a few series from Matthew Evans, Adam Liaw and Luke Nguyen and many others too. Name a multicultural cook and he or she has probably presented a program or two on SBS.

Somewhere along the line SBS began publishing a foodie magazine called Feast. This is the first issue with the now famous Luke Nguyen on the cover. It had regular contributors such as Matthew Evans who represented the local produce strand, and there would be a focus on a particular cuisine, travel articles with a foodie focus, visits to immigrant kitchens, and so on. I used to buy this every now and then, well actually fairly regularly for a while, but alas it only lasted for 40 issues because not enough of us bought it. Maybe it was because it was so authentic, and therefore, perhaps, sometimes a bit daunting. Maybe sometimes getting it right is just a step too far, although O'Mara and SBS were, I think genuinely committed to authenticity:

“We’re really food-interested, and I think we want to get it right. I don’t think we want the dumbed-down version of a pad thai or whatever. [We] want the real deal and want to somehow connect with those cultures." Maeve O'Meara

Today I was feeling so overwhelmed with Christmas that my brain had room for nothing else - let alone food, partly because I'm fasting I guess. I was totally uninspired, and so I resorted to the lucky dip. I confess I also cheated a little bit here by focussing on a small group of mini books that I have acquired over the years to pick a book. I did not quite blindly choose a shelf or a book. I then cheated a bit more by rejecting the first page I chose, (although I have actually decided to come back to that), for the page before. But that will be another post - the lucky dip recipe that is. Today the focus is on SBS and Feast. Maeve O'Meara deserves a post of her own too. The booklet came with one of the copies of the magazine and presents a mere handful of recipes - around 10 I think - so two handfuls. They are almost all tempting and mostly unfamiliar, so it's a great little book to have. I have been searching for those mini recipe books that The Australian Women's Weekly used to put out, as gifts for my grandchildren - stocking fillers, but I can't find any. Not so far anyway.

I wonder why a magazine like Feast was not ultimately successful, whilst delicious, Taste and the even more sumptuous Gourmet Traveller continue? Donna Hay also gave up publishing her eponymous magazine although I don't know whether this was for financial reasons or because she just wanted to do something new. That's what she said, but I'm not sure whether that was just covering up a failure. I suppose magazines must be expensive to produce, which makes them relatively expensive to buy unless they are supported by large numbers of ads. Like the supermarket magazines. Those are basically advertising pure and simple. Feast did not, perhaps, attract enough.

I miss it. It was a bit esoteric I guess, but I have added some of the recipes I found to my recipe database, and this tiny booklet had around half of its recipes marked with little stickies. The Ethiopian one that I shall talk about on another day was one of them. And I see that it has a spice mix attached that I could make up and add to my Christmas food hampers.

“I think that is actually what makes Australia great. We are the great undiscovered secret in the world with our mix of cuisines and our embracing of them. We have great food here, we have great chefs working in Australia and everybody that comes from somewhere else, just goes, ‘Wow, we never knew.’ I think we are a great surprise in the food sphere, there is so much to find … We are a great food country.” Maeve O'Meara

And SBS, it's home-grown food programs and it's Feast magazine have contributed hugely to that. Long may it continue.

The magazine has gone but you can still access Feast recipes and Feast features online. Next time you feel like trying something completely new have a look.


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