Changing what and how we eat
‘I have a dream,’ were the opening words to a speech I gave years ago at a vegetable growers conference. I stood on stage in front of a roomful of people and shared my dream that maybe New Zealand could become the world's first organic nation. I talked about how we had a responsibility to look after our soil, rivers and oceans. By the end of my presentation, the room was practically empty and no one would talk to me. Thankfully attitudes have changed since then.
I'm not saying organic is the answer to everything but we have to be more mindful of what and how we eat. I was lucky that my grandmother helped raise me and she instilled in me the fact that food is medicine. Her philosophy was if you ate healthy food sourced from local producers then you would reap the health benefits. Then I spent 30 years working in the restaurant industry in the UK where I realised it’s not necessarily where food is produced that matters, it’s how it is produced.
I was a cheerleader for New Zealand lamb and other Kiwi produce in the UK but people would say to me: ‘Why would we buy New Zealand lamb that's travelled around the world to get here? It's got to be really bad from the environment.’
When I looked into it I found New Zealand lamb had a significantly lower carbon footprint than UK lamb. I wrote an article for The Independent called The Myth of Food Miles that highlighted the natural advantages we have in New Zealand. Our animals typically live outside and eat grass all year round. They're not in sheds which use a lot of energy and in any case a lot of our energy comes from renewable resources. We grow some of the best produce in the world and our climate and soils are ideally suited to certain products. With smarter planning and farming practices we can be an example to the rest of the world.
My partner and I came home to New Zealand at the end of 2020 and opened Homeland. It’s a restaurant, cooking school and community hub that supports sustainable food producers from Aotearoa and the Pacific.
What I’m doing with the Festival of Food at the Summit is an extension of what we've been doing at Homeland. We’ve created a menu with a low to neutral carbon footprint by working with producers in Aotearoa with a zero carbon footprint (or producers who are working towards zero carbon). Or they may be practising regenerative farming or other sustainable practices needed to keep the planet alive.
At one point I thought it might be a good idea to create a vegan menu but I wanted to showcase producers of pork, lamb, chicken, beef, dairy and other products with a really low carbon footprint. For example, we’ve got miso from Nelson, quinoa from Taihape and coconut yoghurt from Raglan.
It’s a lot easier to do that now than it would have been five or ten years ago. Food producers, including the larger ones, have accepted that people’s dietary habits are changing and so they need to be accountable for where their food comes from and how it’s produced.
Buying food is a political and environmental act. You can choose to buy imported produce or you can support local producers and suppliers. We need to look after our food ecosystem and we all have a part to play in that.