Food & Culture

Patricia Karvelas: how I eat

The broadcaster on political cravings, her vegetarian years and native ingredients.

By Lee Tran Lam
Patricia Karvelas
What did you eat when you were growing up?
I grew up in a Greek-Australian family, so I almost exclusively ate Greek food. My favourite food was lamb on the spit, and we would have it for big events like Name Days, Christmas or Easter Sunday. I was also obsessed with pastitsio, the Greek baked-pasta dish with meat and béchamel.
Was your school lunchbox the envy of other students?
I used to trade with my Anglo-Saxon friends who had peanut-butter sandwiches. I had feta-and-tomato sandwiches my grandma made and I hated them. The smart kids figured out that feta was amazing before I did, it seems, and would happily trade with me.
Did you always know that you wanted to be a journalist?
In Year 7, I became the junior editor of my high-school newspaper and I was hooked from then on. By senior high school, I was broadcasting at my community radio station. I just loved telling stories.
What are some memorable meals you've had abroad?
When I started my career, I would always take off mid-year during the parliamentary break to Europe. I spent a lot of time in Greece, and the best meals I had were in tavernas with my favourite grilled calamari and tarama dip.
You were a vegetarian for 10 years. What were your staples?
Lentils. No one has ever eaten as many lentils as me. My other staples were tofu and copious amounts of beans. I went back to eating meat because my partner, Peta, made a particularly delicious lamb meal one Christmas. I now like to mix it up.
You covered Indigenous affairs for more than a decade. Which story really stayed with you from that time?
I covered the Northern Territory intervention and there was no more intense period in Indigenous affairs. My time in remote communities taught me a lot about Australia and the city-centric privilege that has sadly defined policy-making.
There's a greater recognition of Indigenous ingredients today. Do you think this is important?
I think many Australians are desperate to connect with Indigenous Australia. Bruce Pascoe's Dark Emu had a deep impact on me and I felt so sad that this story has been under-told. It's on all of us to be part of the necessary truth-telling if we want to move forward.
When there's a leadership spill, do you reach for the popcorn? Or does it mean a more stressful episode of The Party Room or RN Drive?
I am never stressed when a big story like that is happening. It's natural territory for me. I work the phones to give my listeners the story and the story behind the story. Leadership changes are huge, but the best things to cover are elections when Australians get to decide – not just party rooms.
Politics can make people cynical. What makes you optimistic about the political process?
I was hopeful during the same-sex marriage plebiscite when so many young people put themselves on the electoral roll because they wanted to have their say. I am hopeful whenever young people take an interest in democracy.
What do you enjoy eating at the end of a long working day?
Peta is the family cook and she's very good. We eat a diverse range of meals; the kids love spaghetti Bolognese, and we love laksa and dhal. My biggest comfort foods are roast chicken and baked cauliflower in olive oil. The olive oil is from my family's village.
Patricia Karvelas is a co-host of The Party Room podcast, and presents RN Drive on ABC Radio National.
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