Have New Zealanders lost access to our own food?


Runtime - 9:00

“It should be heaven,” says chef Shafeeq Ismail about New Zealand’s produce. “But it’s not.”

Aotearoa New Zealand produces an abundance of high-quality food: by some estimates, enough to feed 40 million a year. Angela Clifford, CEO of Eat New Zealand, shows Frank Film some of Aotearoa’s bounty and asks the question: who is getting access to it?

“New Zealand’s temperate climate makes it a great place to grow food,” says Clifford. “We have a natural environment that has an ability to be abundant.”

Chefs Giulio Sturla and Shafeeq Ismail agree. New Zealand produce is “incredible,” says Ismail, owner of Christchurch restaurant Odeon. Imsail has cheffed in India, Saudi Arabia, and Spain, and he believes New Zealand’s food quality is “the best [I’ve seen] so far.”

And Clifford’s North Canterbury farm is proof of our capacity for abundance. “We feed an extended family here,” she says, filling a basket with fresh-picked corn and tomatoes, and chucking one of her dairy cows on the chin. “I want to use The Food Farm as a platform to ask: why don’t New Zealanders have easy access to food grown this way?”

Michelin-starred chef Giulio Sturla, owner of Mapu experimental kitchen in Lyttelton, moved to New Zealand expecting easy access to fresh-off-the-boat fish.

But, despite living right by the Lyttelton docks, Sturla says he still struggles to access fish fresher than a day or two old.

Why? Perhaps because between 75% and 95% of New Zealand’s seafood is exported annually. “So what we have left here,” according to Clifford, “is an afterthought.”

Estimates suggest that New Zealand exports 95% of our dairy products, 87% of our beef, 95% of our sheep meat, and 90% of our kiwifruit. “We have to compete with global consumers for our food,” Clifford says. “We have no advantage in terms of cheapness. So that means that we often can’t afford our own food.”

Ismail says it’s a problem that a burger with low nutritional value is often the same price as a fresh, locally grown lettuce. It’s a shame, thinks Clifford, that processed food is often cheaper than the food “that would nourish us.”

Professor Emeritus Elaine Rush, Scientific Director of the NZ Nutrition Foundation, agrees. Her research shows we are one of the most malnourished countries in the OECD.

“Very few people have a good diet in New Zealand,” Rush says. “That’s shown by our high levels of cardiovascular disease, stroke, diabetes, and certain cancers. Our hospitals are being stressed as a result of our poor diets. One in five children lives in a household that experiences food poverty.”

It’s a sobering observation. Is there a solution?

Josh Hill’s pigs spend their time roaming open pastures and eating luxurious meals of chestnuts and acorns. Hill runs Poaka, a small, free-range pig farm in Aylesbury, on the Canterbury Plains. Their pork products are sold to local markets.

But Hill says Poaka struggles to compete with imported pork, which comprises 60 to 80% of pork sold to Kiwis. “You don’t really know what you’re eating [with imported pork],” Hill says. Unfortunately, it’s much cheaper than local pork, owing, in part, to lower animal welfare standards overseas.

If it were easier for farmers like Hill to sell to locals, Clifford believes, maybe we could breach the huge disconnect between our food and our people.

So: what steps can New Zealanders take to get connected to their local food?

Clifford reckons there’s no better way than taking a trip to a local farmers’ market. Often, the same products are much cheaper at a farmers’ market than at a nearby supermarket. And the produce is fresher. “The more that these markets thrive, the more of them there will be,” Clifford says.

“We live in a country of abundance. We just have to change the system in which our food exists, to give people better access.”

Producer/Director: Gerard Smyth
Editor: Tracey Jury
Researcher/Writer: Nicole Phillipson
Production Manager: Jo Ffitch
Online Editor: Andy Johnson
Sound Design and Mix: Chris Sinclair