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Sustenance

Angela Clifford on The Food Farm, North Canterbury.
Angela Clifford on her family's permaculture operation, The Food Farm in North Canterbury.

Eat New Zealand is a not-for-profit collective that focuses on connecting people to the land through food. From producers to chefs, health professionals and foodies, it champions regional food networks and stories. It’s become a movement for raising awareness of our nation’s food identity.

“Our food system is entirely market-driven, so food companies make the decisions that affect what we see in shops and what’s shipped overseas. We export most of our country’s food but at the same time import a lot of what we eat – why is that?” Angela asks. “This system doesn’t create great access, self-determination, sustainability or health outcomes for us.”

Indeed, vegetable prices soared in winter, the highest rise in four years. Even when seasonally adjusted, fruit and vegetable prices have risen to their highest level in a decade (Stats NZ, July 2021).

In the past, Kiwis may have looked overseas for culinary inspiration, hospitality business models and solutions to food supply problems. But, after two years of pandemic pressure – on jobs, the economy and travel – and an unprecedented focus on public health, many people are recalibrating where they shop, how they cook and what they eat. Angela believes more education is needed, particularly in urban areas, where a disconnection from food’s origins can easily happen. It’s timely then that the Eat New Zealand Food Hui on November 1–2 is themed ‘Within’.

In an attempt to move food conversations beyond the effects of a supermarket duopoly on consumers and the lack of overseas tourists for the hospitality sector, Angela wants to see a values-based framework for our food system. She is pushing for a roadmap that puts people and place at the centre. This leader wants us all to take part in an approach she calls the “people-powered citizenry of food”.

Angela knows a thing or two about adaptation. Her own journey has taken her from political studies to the Australian wine industry and food leadership roles in New Zealand. She has established many a farmers’ market and food event. Angela’s a food waste champion, the Managing Director of wine company Tongue in Groove, and she teaches people how to grow food by running workshops on The Food Farm, her and husband Nick Gill’s permaculture property in North Canterbury. In other words, she’s got skin in the game. So when Angela talks about food system issues and opportunities, you listen.

Post-lockdown could act as a reset for us urbanites. Putting on a mask makes you rethink how you do things. Issues of transparency, traceability and trust come to the fore. How can we use the discomfort prompted by lockdown and increasing food insecurity to change our behaviours? Angela has a few ideas.

Contribute to your security

“In farming, the way we see the world is never linear. We see in constellations; a change in one input or condition can have an effect on all other parts of the system. Nothing stands alone, and when things change you need to be ready to adapt,” Angela says while we’re cursorily comparing our lockdown situations. On their farm, Angela and Nick grow most of their own food and have plenty of space, so having their three kids home from school during the levels wasn’t too bad. Although the timing of this second national lockdown wasn’t ideal for the food producers. “This time of year is called the ‘hungry gap’; last lockdown was the harvest season.” And self-sufficiency has its limitations. “Everyone needs loo paper,” she says wryly.

But what about us non-producers?

“Consider your place as food taker,” encourages Angela. “Moving away from that, there’s a range of behaviours that can support your own contribution to personal food security.”

Whether that’s connecting to the natural world, growing your own produce at home or in a community garden, shopping with the seasons at farmers’ markets, or investing in a nearby farm in return for vege and fruit boxes, Angela says we need to evolve beyond the pandemic’s pressures and the food issues our country has faced for some years.

“My biggest message to people is this: if you’re not seeking out food producers now, you’re going to be in trouble in the future. Now’s the time to reject the traditional economies of scale and seek shorter supply chains on your doorstep. I know it’s a hard conversation to have when we’re used to the convenience of supermarkets, but not doing so will leave you in a vulnerable position, especially when it comes to fresh, healthy food that keeps us well. It’s time for those in urban areas to evolve – to dip your toe in the water and start.”

Angela believes establishing new relationships is vital: “Reach out to a community garden or co-operative, farmers’ market or local producer that sells fresh, known, nutrient-dense meat, vegetables, fruit, bread, fish to subscribers or investors. If the relationship proves to be successful, trust is built – which will help you if pressure on healthy food supply to our cities continues or worsens.”

“It all comes down to values.” says Angela.

Harbingers of hope

Kaitaki is the Māori word for leader. Every year, Eat New Zealand recruits the next generation of food lovers to join its cause – to connect people and place through food.

"Our kaitaki are a cohort of young people representing the breadth of the food system – from food technologists to urban farmers, writers to iwi-based businesses," Angela says. "As people who’re ever-adapting, environmentally savvy, connected communicators, they look at what comes next – the evolution of our food story. They look at the hybridisation going on, the diversity of the players involved in our food system and how they’re linked."

From food waste to Feast Matariki events that honour indigenous kai, the kaitaki are tasked with engaging communities on issues and opportunities that matter to eaters.

"We want to move away from the food stories of colonisers – we need to tell our own. These next-gen communicators make me very hopeful."

  • Discover fresh produce near you – available to order or purchase from local producers, or able to be grown and harvested in your community.
  • Read about Eat New Zealand kaitaki: fisherman Nate Smith and chef Jackson Mehlhopt and baker/chef Aliesha McGilligan in our October edition.
  • Co-presented with the Restaurant Association, Eat New Zealand’s Food Hui takes place on November 1–2 in Christchurch, members of the public are welcome.
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