Dani Valent has been a renowned industry voice for nearly two decades. Reviewing restaurants and dishes, breaking stories about peoples and their businesses, and building up her own audience as a personality in food through her website, videos, social media presence and recipes. This is an industry that is a part of Dani's identity, and in the midst of this crisis, she's using her platform to stand up for the forgotten (yet enormous) piece of the hospitality puzzle - overseas nationals that are working here in Australia.
As a food and restaurant journalist, how has COVID-19 impacted your work?
DV: Well, it's pretty bad, to be frank. I've lost almost all my regular freelance work and I know things will be tight for a while so I'm not sure what will return. At the same time, I'm feeling much luckier than people who own and work in hospitality businesses - I haven't had staff to let go, and I haven't had to run a business in light of rules that have changed almost daily. Because I love the industry, I have tried to help. Information is my thing. I've focused on organising the flood of information and sharing that with the hospo community, for example at https://danivalent.com/writer/hospo-resources-for-covid-19/ and on a Facebook Group for Victorian business owners.
A few weeks ago, you focused your attention on assisting overseas nationals working in the Australian hospitality industry (and, incidentally, other industries too). Without the same entitlements that Australian citizens, these guys are doing it incredibly tough. What are some of the takeaways you can share with us from what you've learned so far?
DV: Everyone in hospo is doing it tough. It's been bewildering, distressing and draining. And no one knows what will happen next. For those on temporary visas, there are other layers of distress. They are not entitled to any government benefits and many of them are at risk of breaching visa conditions which are tied to employment at a particular workplace. Some students are still paying school fees even though they can't attend their institutions because non-payment is a breach of their visa. Many of these people live from week to week and have no savings. 'Going home' is not an option for most of them. But with no work and no money they are in desperate need.
What are you trying to achieve for those workers, and how can we help you achieve it?
DV: As the government keeps telling us, this is a time for Australia to pull together. Pulling together does not mean leaving a whole section of society without any way of getting through. I am trying to achieve equity for these taxpayers. They should be entitled to benefits in these extraordinary times. Sign my petition if you'd like to help: change.org/noworkerleftbehind
What's been the most striking thing you've experienced yourself, and watched other people experience?
DV: I am way at the outer edge of my skillset trying to support hospo owners and now also advocating for overseas workers. I've learnt more about workplace law, awards, visas, super rules and the many challenges of running a food business than I ever thought I would - and I'm still very, very far from being expert. It's strange but it's good, especially if it helps people. What I've loved is seeing the way the industry can pull together, and the way people will come together to care for other people. I am an optimist and a believer in the basic good in everyone and I've seen a lot that is heartening.
What is your positive prediction for the industry on the other side of this?
DV: As people settle into a weird new normal, I'm hearing more talk of 'what next' and 'can we do it better?' No-one wanted to see the heart ripped out of hospo in the way it has been. It's been terrible. I miss restaurants and cafes and bars dreadfully - I feel it like a punch in the heart every day. But maybe there is a way to come out the other side with an industry that works better for all - that is less stressful and more collegial and serves owners, workers, suppliers and diners to mutual benefit.
Sign Dani's petition to include overseas workers in the government stimulus plans here.
Visit Dani's Website to stay up to date with her, here.