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Gemma Leslie On The Moment That Changed Everything

The Food for Everyone founder on feeding tens of thousands of Australians, her ‘old-lady’ passion and what drives her.

By Anna Saunders

It was during the pandemic that artist Gemma Leslie launched Food For Everyone (FFE), which collaborates with chefs – from Alison Roman to Guillaume Brahimi – to produce colourful posters based on recipes.

For every poster purchased, FFE donates the equivalent of 10 meals to charity. Since 2020, FFE has donated $150,000 to a range of charities, including Oz Harvest, FareShare and the Asylum Resource Seeker Centre. 

Image by Victoria Zschommler
Image by Victoria Zschommler

Tell us about the moment that changed everything…
During the pandemic, I was really obsessed with watching the news. I remember sitting on my lounge room floor, painting – and seeing a news story about the North Melbourne towers being locked down.

Police were standing out the front [of the towers] and families couldn’t leave. It was big news at the time – not just in Melbourne but globally, which was kind of scary.

The government had to provide meals to the families, but they were delivering food that didn’t meet [residents’] dietary requirements. Vegetarians getting meat, that sort of thing. But there was this amazing charity, Fair Share, just going about their business doing what they do best, which is providing meals to disadvantaged people.

I just wanted to do something positive – and I loved painting food, so I thought: what if I get four of my friends who are cooks and I paint their recipe and turn it into a poster to raise money for charity? I remember running down the stairs and just blurting it out to my partner. He was like, ‘Whatever you want darling’ (laughs).

And the rest is history! Did you ever imagine you’d run a business that gives back?
No! But I’m glad I do. I think every business should be giving back – not necessarily in a financial way, but through hiring people who need jobs, such as people who have just migrated to Australia, or by banking with the right bank. Whatever is manageable for that business.

We all live in the same world. It all comes back around.

What was the smartest move you made with FFE?
I’m pretty good at teasing people with marketing. So, I popped those [first four] posters on Instagram and showed a few little snippets and then it was all about signing up to the mailing list. I had 300 people signed up in a week, which was really exciting. So, when launch day happened, order after order kept coming in. We ended up raising $33,000 for Fair Share off that little launch.

Image by Victoria Zschommler
Image by Sarah Forgie

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?
I tend to focus more on behaviours and role models rather than advice. [I believe in the] importance of helping others, even when you don’t feel you have the time or headspace to do so.

That said, if I were to choose a piece of business advice it would be: Get it out there, and finesse it later!

What is one thing you wish that more people understood about food insecurity?
That it’s more common than you think – and that it’s affecting people that you wouldn’t think needed [help] right now. Outer suburb families where parents are working two jobs, who have kids, and whose mortgages have gone up need food.

There was a statistic I read recently that kind of killed me. In Australia we don’t actually give that much to charity; apparently New Zealand gives 10 times more [per capita]. In Australia, charities rely on bigger companies to donate, whereas your day-to-day person doesn’t donate.

When you’re not at FFE, what do you love doing?
Gardening. I’m an old lady! I love planting and getting my hands dirty. I basically just want to be on an Australian gardening show. 

I believe in the importance of helping others, even when you don’t feel you have the time or headspace to do so.

What’s the one thing we should cherish more?
The normal things in life. Like dinner on the table, a good friend dropping by… because without that it’s a bit sad.

If you weren’t running FFE, what would you be doing?
I would be practising as an artist and making prints of my own personal work to sell online! So, very similar to what I’m doing now. If I wasn’t an artist, I’d be a gardener!

Who inspires you (and why)?
Generally, women practising their own art inspire me. A few months back, I saw an exhibition of Barbara Hepworth’s work at Heide Gallery, and I was so blown away. I love how she kept on creating during hard times. She has a sculpture [Single Form, 1964] in front of the headquarters of the United Nations in New York, which I feel is so significant for a woman in her era.

I also admire Alice Waters, the restaurateur, author, and activist. Alice is mostly known for her support in the organic movement. She has always had a passion for locally grown food that’s healthy and free from pesticides and herbicides, as well as for decreasing obesity and promoting healthy living among children.

What’s one moment during FFE’s journey that you look back and laugh about?
Definitely being 39 weeks pregnant and having to dispatch 600 orders from my lounge room (with three friends!), knowing I would be popping out a baby any second! It was like a race to the end without knowing where the finish line was. Luckily, I made it with a week to spare!

What’s your worst habit?
Half-starting projects and not finishing them! Currently our bathroom is half-painted and probably will be for the next six months!

And I’ve also been told that I am extremely messy. The chaos makes sense to me … mess is my natural habitat.

Finish this sentence: Nothing feels better than…
Making art.


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The Moment That Changed Everything features women doing extraordinary things. They are the doers and dreamers; the ones who make our communities better, and who inspire and compel the rest of us to do better and be better. 

Know someone who should be featured in The Moment That Changed Everything? Let us know at anna@primer.com.au 


Main image: Sarah Forgie


BY Anna Saunders

Anna is the co-founder of PRIMER. This series is one of her favourite corners of PRIMER.

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