With more than a quarter of a billion people potentially at the brink of starvation, swift action needs to be taken to provide food and humanitarian relief to the most at-risk regions.
– United Nations

At Victoria University, we work to eliminate hunger through food-resource research, public-health curriculum, and student support.

Our Advance Food Systems research group focuses on sustainable food production, while our health and policy research addresses inequalities, nutrition and body-image issues as causes of hunger.

Our partnerships with SecondBite provides students with free, healthy meals. We also offer scholarships and funds designed to support students with the cost of living.

2 zero hunger

Research, engagement & education 2020–21

Research with impact

Our research examines plant diversity and the effects of diet on human health, as part of a broader program of food-system research.

In order to manage livestock in rangelands sustainably we need to understand the interaction between grazing activity, plant growth (biomass) and levels of rainfall (precipitation). As yet there is not a full understanding of how levels of rainfall work to promote plant growth in grazed areas. This study in the Mongolian rangelands, involved Neil Collier from the Institute of Health and Sport, and a team of German researchers. Using biomass data from a 600km-long region with a gradient of precipitation, the research team sought to determine the level of grazing intensity, plant diversity and rainfall interact for plant growth. The study concluded that biomass production in drylands is more vulnerable to changes in precipitation variability, but areas benefitted when there was higher diversity of plants. Management of rangelands needs to address rainfall variability preserving the positive effects of biodiversity for biomass production.

The rise of antibiotic resistance by bacteria has necessitated the need for alternative ways of preventing and controlling infections. Kefir is an acidic and low-alcoholic beverage produced by fermentation of milk, fruit juice or sugary water with kefir grains. Kefir offers an alternative form of protection against bacterial infections. The Advanced Food Systems team with doctorate candidate Abraham Majak Gut reviewed the studies of kefir showing it destroys bacterial pathogens by destabilising the cell membrane, cell lysis, degradation of nucleic acid, inhibition of protein synthesis and binding onto yeasts. Kefir also offers a range of additional health benefits from improving the condition of the digestive tract.

The team conducted further studies of the prophylactic and therapeutic properties of kefir, to establish the potential uses of kefir and the mechanisms by which it worked to destroy bacterial contaminants. The antibacterial potential of kefir proved effective at eradicating Salmonella infections, and further established that the high levels of lactic acid is a key mechanism in destroying the bacteria and is probably assisted by the presence of other metabolites. Additional comprehensive studies are needed to fully understand the potential benefits and antimicrobial properties of kefir.

Dairy processing of milk and milk products needs to look at the effect of heating or pressurisation to ensure a minimal loss of nutrients or other types of adverse effects on product usage or spoilage. The Advanced Food Systems team joined with Macedonian researcher Biljana Trajkovska to look at the effects of pressurising and heating during processing of milk and milk concentrates. The study observed substantial loss of the milk structures when using pressurisation which needs to be considered in designing dairy processing systems.

Ashok Sharma and Ted Gardner undertook an Assessment of socio- economic factors impacting on the cropping intensity of an irrigation scheme in developing countries as a framework to solve barriers to the increase of cropping intensity required to achieve global food security.

Victoria University research into sustainable agriculture on the water footprint of food exports found Australia loses about 35,000 gigalitres of freshwater a year embedded in agricultural exports. That is roughly equivalent to all Australia’s stored reservoir water. As Australia has volatile water resources, measuring the water footprint of products is critical for national policy. The study found 65% of the nation’s agricultural products are exported for relatively low benefit, when water is factored into the cost. The report was co- authored by Dr Muhammad Tariq and Dr Nitin Muttil and two Bachelor of Civil Engineering students Riley Damnics and Zohreh Rajabi, along with Muhammad Laiq Ur Rahman Shahid from the University of Engineering and Technology Taxila. Dr Tariq and Dr Muttil mentored the students in after-class sessions toward a goal of publication.

The Mitchell Institute released a policy evidence brief on Nutrition Policy In Australia: Adopting A Harm Minimisation Approach. The policy brief examined the specific food components and dietary risk factors which are responsible for the greatest amount of harm to health outcomes in Australia and presents the case for adopting a formal harm minimisation approach regarding nutrition policy in Australia.

Mark Horridge from the Centre of Policy Studies collaborated with Brazilian researchers to look at the critical question of The Expansion of Irrigated Agriculture in Brazil and Potential Regional Limitations. The book presents modelled scenarios to assess the impacts on water demand for 2025. Expansion has benefits to farmers and for food security, but it has a damaging effect on water availability and may worsen episodes of regional water scarcity.

Giang Hoang co-authored recommendations for how the Vietnamese government could promote Geographical Indications implementation to enhance agricultural product quality in Vietnam.

Vasileios Stavropoulos worked with Turkish and UK researchers to develop a new food addiction scale for the measurement, prevalence and psychological risk factors associated with addictive food consumption.

The Advanced Food Systems researchers examined the nutritional value of eight species of native food plants from Martang Djab Wurrung Country and Worngundidj Country in Western Victoria. Despite popular use, rich nutrient content and adaptability to harsh climatic conditions, there are limited scientific data for many useful native food plants to help reduce dependence on unhealthy food choices in Australia. The research established preliminary findings for the sustained nutritional value of the native food plants over a three year period.


We engage with community groups, including local schools, and collaborate with international research bodies to investigate food-related hypotheses.

Cows produce milk with either A1 protein, A2 protein or a combination of both. There is a ongoing debate whether A2 milk was better for human health than A1 due to the lower amount of liberated β-casomorphin peptides. A2 milk made its debut on Australian supermarket shelves in 2003, but the question of whether A2 protein milk is better for us or whether A1 milk has any adverse health effects has never been scientifically resolved. Davor Daniloski, Walsh Fellow and PhD candidate at Victoria University and Teagasc (Ireland) believes he has accomplished two world firsts in his quest to find the solution. Davor, and the VU and Teagasc research teams, published two papers: the first detailing the structure of standard and A2 milk to understand differences in how they function. The second paper showed how humans absorb the β-casomorphins. The research found that whilst there is evidence that A2 β-casein milk can provide improved tolerance of milk via decline in gut-related discomfort, the exact mechanism for this is poorly understood, and no further health benefits were shown. There is therefore insufficient evidence for public health authorities to recommend the consumption and any health benefits of A2 β-casein milk.


A Victoria University researcher, Dr Fiona MacDonald, who specialises in inclusive education, has looked at the effect that remote learning in 2020 due to COVID-19 will have on school breakfast clubs. The clubs, a partnership between the Victorian Government and Foodbank Victoria, provide disadvantaged children with healthy breakfasts before school. Dr MacDonald co-authored an evaluation of the school breakfast program which found the clubs create nurturing and caring spaces that make children feel safe and welcome at school – something that cannot easily be replicated when students are at home. Dr MacDonald said: One of the greatest challenges as COVID-19 forces schools online is managing the gap between advantage and disadvantage. It is yet to be seen if a substitute such as a door-drop delivery of food packs conveys the same level of connection, nurturing and care.


VU’s nutrition courses address the need to improve diet-related health, in partnership with local community programs.

The Bachelor of Human Nutrition offers specialisations in biomedical nutrition, public health nutrition and exercise and nutrition for work in public health or community settings.

The Bachelor of Nutritional Science / Master of Dietetics leads to a professional qualification in Dietetics. VU is undertaking the Dietetics Australia accreditation. A graduate of an accredited program is eligible to become a member of DA with dietetics qualifications, and to join the Accredited Practising Dietitian (APD) Program.

The Menu Project & VU Community Food & Nutrition Education

VU’s Nutrition Students teamed with the Australian Government’s National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) support workers and Cohealth, a non-profit health provider, to support disability accommodation providers in the western region of Melbourne to provide nutritious meals to residents. The four-week voluntary Menu Project gives the NDIS support workers training and skills in nutrition and menu-planning in line with recent recommendations to the government commission. It provides students practical skills in developing nutritious recipes and other resources for each accommodation centre.

The Menu Project is an extension of another VU Community Food and Nutrition Education program in which final-year nutrition students worked directly with people with learning disabilities to enhance their knowledge of healthy food.

Dr Fiona MacDonald looked at the effect that remote learning due to COVID-19 had on school breakfast clubs.

Sustainability on campus

In 2021, we partnered with not-for-profit organisation SecondBite to provide students with free, healthy frozen meals to eat at home. And our ongoing support funds and scholarships help our students with day-to-day food costs.