Tara Medina has a mission: to use what is on our plates to make positive change for our environment, health, and communities. And as co-founder of Discovered Wildfoods, she’s slowly but surely doing just that. We chat to her about her pivot from the music to the meat industry, and why she believes knowledge is power for women working in a very male-dominated sector.
TP: You haven’t always been in the food industry – what made you completely change your career path?
TM: My background isn’t in food at all, it’s in strategy consulting and events – a lot of which are music events – but I’ve always been an avid cook and lover of food. However, a few years ago I started struggling to reconcile my consumption of meat with it’s environmental and health impacts and I wanted to do something to change that. My co-founder Billy Staughton grew up hunting. He used to bring back rabbit, duck, venison…[and] it was really enjoyable to share this special thing, not only because it wasn’t commonly found at the butcher, but also in the sense that I knew exactly where the meat came from. We often talked about how amazing it would be to be able to buy that type of food. In 2018 Prime Safe changed the regulations allowing you to commercially harvest wild deer…we knew it was a huge untapped resource, so we decided to take the plunge and do it ourselves.
TP: So what are the benefits of harvesting wild game?
TM: There are so many benefits. From an environmental perspective, wild deer are considered a highly problematic, invasive species. They do explicit damage to the environment, degrading native plant species with their antlers and out-competing native species, such as kangaroos, for food sources…They also impact farmers, eating the feed and water for pigs and cattle, and generally putting pressure on the agriculture industry and native ecology. It costs a fortune to cull [the herds], and often results in thousands of kilos of edible meat going to waste. By harvesting the deer we’re creating a positive feedback loop; we create jobs and new income streams in rural areas for accredited hunters, and pay farmers to hunt on their land, instead of them having to pay for ‘pest control’.
TP: Have you found it challenging to crack into a traditionally very male-dominated industry?
TM: I’m lucky in the sense that I don’t have to lug carcasses around or do that heavy work, because that would certainly be a challenge! But no, even though I work mainly with men – butchers, hunters, truck drivers, big distributors…it’s still a man’s world – I’ve never felt like I wasn’t being taken seriously. If anything, I’ve found that some chefs and customers find it refreshing to talk to a woman. They’re more impacted by passion and knowledge than gender. As long as you can show your knowledge about the supply chain and quality of your product, then you get shown respect. And you can always just dial up the ‘bloke speak’ depending on who you’re talking to!
TP: What’s been the most rewarding part of launching Discovered Wildfoods?
TM: I think the most rewarding part is starting to see the product break through a little bit. It’s still very early days, and it’s been a very slow start [having launched] in the middle of the pandemic. But when we get an email from a chef or venue [out of the blue] it reinforces the fact that we’re doing something right. When we first started, we tried to cold contact all these ‘rockstar’ chefs and that didn’t go so well. But now when they reach out to us it’s awesome. A lot of chefs in Australia aren’t used to working with wild, so when they learn more about our business model, the supply chain, the sourcing benefits, and you see their eyes light up, that’s also really great.
TP: Which women in the food industry do you most admire?
TM: Palisa Anderson – she not only runs all these amazing Thai restaurants, but she takes ownership of their supply chain, starting Boon Luck Farm and really living the message of, “if I can’t find something good enough, I’ll just grow it myself.” I also really admire Jacqui Challinor. She’s an amazing chef and has paved an incredible path for any woman in the industry.
TP: You have one last meal on earth. What would it be?
TM: I haven’t eaten salmon for a couple of years as I don’t think it’s very easy to find sustainably sourced salmon in Australia. So if I could find that, then it would be salmon. In lieu of that, just a really, really good dry-aged, sustainably sourced rib eye on the bone.