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Food security in New Zealand

Written By: - Date published: 6:12 am, March 14th, 2018 - 28 comments
Categories: food, human rights, Maori Issues, poverty, welfare - Tags: , ,

Standardista Macro writes:

An excellent article on Tui Motu on food security in New Zealand.

CHRIS FARRELLY reflects on the hope of the City Mission to realise the Maori proverb: Nā tō rourou, nā taku rourou, ka ora ai te iwi. With your food basket and my food basket, the people will be well.

For the three weeks leading up to Christmas, hundreds of people queued for food parcels every day outside the Auckland City Mission. Some slept on the footpath overnight, waiting up to nine hours in all weathers — in the glare of the public and the media — on one of Auckland’s busiest streets. They were days of shame, questioning, generosity, gratitude and pain. In those three weeks the Mission gave out 4,677 food parcels — 64,000 individual meals.

Each individual in the queue was part of a greater family unit. There were always children involved somewhere. Usually they were waiting at home with another family member, but sometimes — desperately — they stood in line with their mothers.

Food Insecurity

Next to the Salvation Army (nationwide), the Auckland City Mission is the second largest charitable distributor of food in New Zealand. Through our assessments and research last year, we learned that for families receiving our food assistance on average each family member had just $21.94 per week available for grocery items, including toiletries, cleaners and other items. That is $3.13 per day.

This is food insecurity and food poverty and it is widespread. The University of Otago 2016 Food Survey estimates basic weekly food costs are $64 per week for a man, $55 for a woman, $67 for an adolescent boy, $40 for a five-year-old and $27 for a one-year-old.

Food insecurity is the state of being without reliable access to a sufficient quantity of affordable, nutritious food on a day-to-day basis, and an assured ability to acquire acceptable foods in socially acceptable ways, for example, without resorting to emergency food supplies, scavenging, begging or stealing as other coping strategies.

The rest of the article examines the responsibilities of Central Government – which as the UN’s Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food, recently noted – that governments are in danger of failing in their duty “to project” under the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (IESCR), which states that all citizens should have access to an adequate diet without having to compromise other basic needs.

As the article points out – the problem of food insecurity is especially difficult for Māori and in complete contravention of the country’s obligations under Te Triti.

In our country Te Tiriti o Waitangi offers an added dimension of protection for Māori and protection of their treasures — of which food is one of the greatest. We cannot focus on food insecurity without addressing the terrible reality that those suffering most are Māori, and as such Te Tiriti is being violated. And the problem has deep-seated roots; in his book Whaiora Professor Sir Mason Durie has linked food insecurity for Māori to early colonial policies.

It was this very real canker that lies at the heart of our society that lead Metiria Turei to campaign on the real need to eliminate poverty in this country. We need to continue to press hard for social justice to roll down like a river, and in doing so –

As we address the unjust issue of food insecurity in Aotearoa New Zealand, we must ask what gifts are we bringing in our food basket and how can we enable others to contribute in a way that restores voice, dignity and mana.

I recommend reading the whole article here.

28 comments on “Food security in New Zealand ”

  1. savenz 1

    It doesn’t help that the price of a cauliflower is now $6 and that much of our productive food land is now going into housing that people on local wages can’t afford, or even have reliable public transport to and from.

    Retirement villages seem to be mostly rip off schemes run by shareholders for maximum profit to exploit the elderly, not actually designed for the average Kiwis to retire to.

    You also have to wonder what is the point of increasing the population into a low wage low job economy with average wages and productivity stagnant or falling, but still the government believes somehow all the restaurant ‘manger’ workers, low level IT workers, truck drivers and so forth in industries that are declining and require government wage subsidy will somehow grow wealth after 30 years!

    We are attracting less skilled people into NZ not more skilled!

    God knows where the carbon and green tech is going in ‘clean, green, NZ’, at this rate with our RMA laws helping people like James Hardie push out trucks daily driving about our cities mining our resources, or other corps taking aquifer water, or death trap mining and fracking for oil exploration, we will be known as the dirty island in the pacific.

    Likewise poverty being linked to the rise in P which is now cheaper and easier to get than ever!

    Land should be used more productively around the cities to make food that places like city mission can harvest from for example. Similar to allotments.

    These days you can be prosecuted for grown a fruit tree on the verge outside your house by Auckland transport (but still expected to mow it). That’s how punitive and bizarre our country has become under the quasi business COO structures which are a joke.

    • Macro 1.1

      Actually community gardens are springing up all over the place. There is one just 100 metres up the road from where I live. Transition Town Thames has taken to planting fruit trees on the berms around town as well and in the parks and reserves – especially in lower decile areas. These are early plantings so they still a couple of years to go before full fruit production – but they are a start.
      To see just how these community gardens are going take a look at these images Here:

      • weka 1.1.1

        Cool link.

        I’m heartened by the number of schools that have orchards or gardens too.

    • Venezia 1.2

      ” Retirement villages seem to be mostly rip off schemes run by shareholders for maximum profit to exploit the elderly, not actually designed for the average Kiwis to retire to.”

      Savenz….you have summed it up clearly and concisely. I have seen first hand the predatory systems of the Retirement Village industry here in CHC, after one company bought out half of the previously Trust-run, community focussed rest home my Mother had bought into. One of the conditions of the sale was the the new partner run the show, so staff were sacked forthwith, announcements were made that” things would be better” in the future and new staff were flown in from AKL to impose the new systems. I am still gobsmacked at the indecent haste and outrageous greed displayed as the new owners pressured the sick elderly daily to sign new contracts, committing them to huge yearly increases ($16.5000) inyearly fees, itemised charges for everyday services (eg morning & afternoon tea, $20 per item of laundry so one pair of socks $20) previously free as part of the old contract, and imposing different conditions than the original contracts. There was no compassion shown for the fact she was sick and her lawyer demonstrated clearly that the legal profession are up to their necks in this rip off. These businesses are milking the elderly for shareholder profits. It is actually a farming-the- elderly operation. There is no protection or advocacy for the elderly in such situations as everyone is on the make. I will stop here because I am still very angry at the way my sick mother was bullied. A few months later she died.

      • savenz 1.2.1

        @Venezia, That is terrible – socks $20 a wash. Disgusting.

        What I can’t work out is why is there no outcry about it from government, Grey power, lawyers, parties for the so called elderly like NZ First.

        It seems like big rip offs are ok in this country (the financial crisis, leaky homes) and the retirement village industry is one big rip off getting greedier and greedier and ripping off vulnerable people and families!

        It also means the next generation will be left with nothing as the elderlies savings are stolen from the mostly overseas share market driven rest home system and therefore with the lack of pay, lack of job and inability to get a house, the next generation will even be robbed of that ability for upward mobility by probably their only means left, of an inheritance. Peoples wealth and well being are being destroyed in this country as people are encouraged to be a ruthless as possible to turn a dollar.

        I know someone whose family members bought into a retirement village that was ‘building’ a whole bunch of facilities including a hospital so that if one got sick the other could visit on site. Years and many fees for the ‘facilities’ they still don’t have later, what they were promised upon signing up and looks like they may die before they get what they were promised.

        Try to get out of a village and the amount you lose is staggering. Another crazy rip off that again is never investigated, reported on, or done anything about in this country.

        • savenz 1.2.1.1

          Also a rip off of the taxpayers as once the person has got down to their last $200k (of course ‘financial planning’ can help aid this) the NZ taxpayers continue the rest home payments to the private companies.

          • Venezia 1.2.1.1.1

            The Residential village contracts work mainly in the interests of the owners. When you look at it, the elderly have very little in the way of advocacy. I called Age Concern, as well as her lawyer. Basically they both said the contracts allow the owners to change the rules as suits them.

  2. patricia bremner 2

    In so many ways we have lost our way. All the systems to assist people get back on their feet or gain skills have been removed underfunded or farmed out to profiting groups. It will need skills from this government to change things.

    Many imagine there are drunks and druggies sleeping in cars or the streets. In reality those who drink and use drugs are mainly working.

    The real poor literarily do not have “2 brass razoos” to use a saying., meaning no real coin. They often go from scavenging to begging to charities, and learn where the saying “cold as charity” arose.

    Above them are indentured migrants, then the under employed, and the next layer is the working but over extended with credit card debt and mortgages or huge rents, then some well paid but addicted, and then the hard working who are just coping in all aspects of life, not to forget those struggling on fixed incomes.

    The rest have every kind of security, and can’t imagine one episode making them hungry or homeless. They are insulated from other people’s pain and empty cupboards.

    Whole foods are very expensive, and we have GST on all food. Further, changing climate is causing havoc with growing foods, which doesn’t help.

    • Macro 2.1

      Thanks Patricia – yes we have lost our way. It is not that poverty was never a feature of life in NZ but over recent years governmental policies have largely exacerbated the problem. The Ruth Richardson mother of all budgets was the main blow, with the cynical slashing of benefits to the most vulnerable, and that action has never been redressed. It needs to be now.

  3. AsleepWhileWalking 3

    Re: climate

    California produces 80% of all almonds the world uses. It has suffered through extreme weather recently so almond prices will probably spike.

    To mitigate this I think there is now a real need to have an oranges in Nebraska type set up in as many backyards as possible.

    (Guy dug down to create an in ground greenhouse. It has a sloped clear cover to capture sun and pipes that carry air through the soil and to/from the plants, hence oranges in the snow).

    And to think I used to want a pool.

    • Macro 3.1

      I remember seeing a documentary film on bees a few years back. It featured a scene in California where a bee keeper was placing his hives as requested by the orchardist in a large grove of almond trees in full flower. No sooner had the bee hives been installed and the bees were at work – along came a tractor spraying the trees – and promptly killing a large majority of the bees. Apparently this thoughtless process occurs on a regular basis.
      In China they have been reduced to hand pollination of their Almonds.
      https://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/humans-bees-china_us_570404b3e4b083f5c6092ba9

  4. beatie 4

    There’s also an extraordinary waste of food. eg Unsold supermarket fruit, vege, bread etc dumped or going to pig farms. Less than perfect produce being dumped, or ploughed under.
    On a visit to Motueka last year, I saw heaps of apples left to rot under the trees. It’s a pity gleaning is unacceptable now.

  5. Korero Pono 5

    The term ‘food insecurity’ doesn’t seem fitting in trying to explain the complexity of problems that lead to and stem from food insecurity. ‘Food insecurity’ viewed in a very dispassionate way does nothing to highlight the full impact on those who have no choice but to rely on charity to feed their families.

    A number of in depth studies show the serious physical and mental health consequences of food insecurity – including obesity, diabetes, cancer, heart disease, depression, anxiety, aggression, cognitive problems (just to name a few). The term “food insecurity” does not explain the compounding negative impact that poor diet in childhood has on development, social, educational, long term ability and future employment opportunities. Or that those living with food insecurity are also more likely to experience poor mental health, or that youth living in food insecure homes are more likely to present with suicide ideation. These are only a minuscule portion of the impact that ‘food insecurity’ has on generally poor people and the term does nothing to explain the costs and impacts on society.

    Add to this mix the impact of having to procure food in socially unacceptable ways, such as food banks. Studies show that not only do those attending food banks experience significant shame (leading to isolation and disengagement), their health is also compromised over time because charitable food parcels do not provide a nutritionally balanced or complete diet. Consequently long term use of food banks is bad for physical and mental health. Anecdotally, I suspect that food banks can be sources of other more obvious serious health risks. I have met families who believe they have had food poisoning from eating food provided by food banks. In one case it was just lucky that a child with significant health issues did not eat the food that made the rest of the family extremely sick. That food parcel ended up costing the family in ambulance fees and could have caused a child’s death.

    As to the other food procurement methods, including community gardens, community kitchens etc etc – none of these are, or should be a replacement for families having sufficient resources to procure their own food. The downfall of community gardens for some is that often the produce is seasonal, therefore not a guaranteed source of food. Community kitchens are like wise only temporary solutions to a long-term problem. Namely poverty. Sadly the existence of food banks devolve Government of its responsibilities to vulnerable families, further entrenches food insecurity and ensures the continued life of food banks as is the case in Aotearoa New Zealand.

    For further reading see Graham Riches, Valerie Tarasuk, Jan Poppendiek (http://thepod.cfccanada.ca/sites/thepod.cfccanada.ca/files/Poppendieck,%20Janet.%20(1994)%20Dilemmas%20of%20Emergency%20Food%20-%20a%20guide%20for%20the%20perplexed.pdf), Dey & Humphries.

    • Macro 5.1

      I totally agree with all of the above K P.
      Thank you for speaking to the issue so plainly. This a conversation we as a country need to be having right now and looking earnestly at our central government because in many ways they are the people who hold the power to rectify the situation. A true living wage, solid benefits not a insufficient hand out. And new ways the encourage all to participate in a good caring community.
      The article by Chris Farrelly on which this post is based does cover much more than that to which I quote, and the issues you refer to are equally important.
      I have had it in mind to write some more on a recent Article in the Guardian which looks at a recently published longitudinal study on a cohort of 55,000 children in NZ. The outcomes are shameful. I have not seen anything published in the NZ media referring to this study, but it raises much of the issues you have raised here, and food insecurity is just part of the whole problem.

    • Tricledrown 5.2

      Lack of real competition in the retail food supply in NZ is damaging to growers of healthy foods price taking while retailer’s price gouge.

  6. savenz 6

    Diet and exercise is so important for social good but because not enough money seems to be being made from it, it seems that this approach is not favoured by health practitioners and people in social industries.

    Just supplying decent food, exercise and education is proven to ward off obesity and aggressive behaviour.

    Here is an article linking low omega 3 levels (or high omega 6 levels) with aggression and poor impulse control.

    It’s time NZ used our social resources thoughtfully and kindly (and it will save money too).

    Aggressive Prisoners Found Low in Omega-3s
    Low omega-3 blood levels were linked to aggression and poor impulse control

    https://www.vitalchoice.com/article/aggressive-prisoners-found-low-in-omega-3s

    ” If you need one more reason to start being more physically active, professors from the University of Toronto have compiled and analyzed over 26 years’ worth of scientific research which concludes that even moderate levels of physical activity—like walking for 20-30 minutes a day—can ward off depression in people of all ages.
    University of Toronto PhD candidate George Mammen co-authored a review (link is external) of 25 different research articles, which show that moderate exercise can prevent episodes of depression in the long term.”

    https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-athletes-way/201310/25-studies-confirm-exercise-prevents-depression

    • koreropono 6.1

      I imagine if the Government starts funding social service agencies to provide healthy food and exercise programmes, they (the agencies) will use the food banks to filter in enough clients to tick their KPI boxes. Sadly food banks are co-dependent on food bank clients…kind of like having a captive audience for your programmes if people keep coming back because they will get food (or turned away for food help if they don’t engage with services)…they’re damned if they do and damned if they don’t.

      I also imagine that if people had enough money to pay for an adequate diet, the flow down effect will be people with more physical and mental energy to exercise. I’ve met families who will lug food bank parcels home (walking) over several kilometers…so maybe lack of exercise is just a small portion of the problem aye?

      • Macro 6.1.1

        Sadly food banks are co-dependent on food bank clients…kind of like having a captive audience for your programmes if people keep coming back because they will get food (or turned away for food help if they don’t engage with services)…they’re damned if they do and damned if they don’t.

        Being involved in our local food bank, (which had roughly the same increase in demand as that in Auckland last year) I can assure you that we would gladly love to go out of business tomorrow so that we could address our energies to other needs within the community. Essentially the problem could be solved tomorrow if:
        a. Workers at all levels were paid a living wage – not a wage the employer feels like giving at the time.
        b. Government Benefits were lifted to a level where beneficiaries had sufficient to actually buy sufficient food to live on after meeting all their other basic needs.

        • koreropono 6.1.1.1

          I agree with a and b but having completed considerable research on food banks (with social services attached), their history and their reliance on government funded contracts I believe that I can safely say that food banks add to the problem and they act as a buffer by devolving government of responsibility for adequate welfare provision. I concur with such writers as Riches, Tarasuk, Dey and Humpheries, especially when I have no doubt that if food banks folded tomorrow a and b above would follow shortly thereafter when workers and beneficiaries demand change. Similarly to the riots that ensued in 1932…I live in hope of food banks closing their doors once and for all so that people have a chance at a decent standard of living and no longer have to be subjected to other people’s assessment of their need, nor the shame and stigma that goes hand in hand with food bank use.

          • Macro 6.1.1.1.1

            I believe that I can safely say that food banks add to the problem and they act as a buffer by devolving government of responsibility for adequate welfare provision.

            Totally agree. There should never be a need for them.
            I believe the rot goes back to 1991 and the cynical policy of Ruth Richardson to not provide adequate welfare provision. Nothing has been done since to address this, and governments have cast aside their responsibilities for their citizens, allowed employers to exploit their workers, and turn a blind eye to the injustices of increasing inequality. Yes food banks buffer the injustice from the responsibilities of government – but are we to let the poor – especially the children starve?

            • koreropono 6.1.1.1.1.1

              While 1991 and the benefit cuts were pivotal in the expansion of food banks and their use, food bank use began to increase from the reforms of the 1980’s so I guess Labour pathed the way for the Nats to strike the death blow. Auckland alone went from 16 food banks in 1989 to 130 by 1994.

              “are we to let the poor – especially the children starve?”

              Therein lies the problem, food bank providers justify their existence based on that very premise. Before I answer the question just consider the information below.

              Food banks and food bank providers know that food insecurity and poverty are systemic in nature, yet many of the food bank providers insist on individuals under-going programmes to change their circumstances. Programmes include budgeting, cooking classes, counselling etc etc. All of these programmes are aimed at individual change, not systemic change. All of these programmes imply that individuals are at fault for their food poverty and have the power to control/change their circumstances…if only they manged their money better, knew how to cook on a budget, knew how to shop. Programmes like budgeting and cooking classes are pointless (and research shows this) when the problem stems from lack of income, rather than lack of skills). However by insisting on people participating in these programmes to access food, the providers are essentially individualising what is a systemic problem. They are reinforcing the stereotype that these people are to blame for their circumstances. Clients internalise these beliefs, which in effect leads the stigma and shame about food bank use.

              So while food banks have been prevalent since the 1990’s, they have effected NO systemic change but most have continued to target individuals and the expectation of individual change to improve people’s circumstances. They are perpetuating the illusion that individuals are to blame for their own circumstance and hiding the systemic causes of the problem. In the process they are adding to the psychological distress that people experience when they have to go cap in hand to the food bank. That psychological distress is abhorrent, damaging and leads to disengagement from society.

              A quick fix would be either the food banks close their doors (so that poor hungry people get hangry and demand change – 1932 riots proved how effective that scenario can be or the food banks change the way they operate – stop assessing people, stop judging people and stop insisting people undergo programmes of individual change. Instead food banks could become sites of conscientização – raising individual and political awareness about the cause of the problem. Food banks could be sites of political change, though counsiousness raising, organising, supporting and encouraging bottom up initiatives for people to effect systemic change. Food banks could remove the criteria/conditions of food bank use, a place where anyone could walk in to get free food and operate in a similar manner to the likes of Just Zilch in Palmerston North – this would go some small way to removing the stigma and shame of food bank use.

      • savenz 6.1.2

        Im not suggesting that social service agencies (although koreropono raises some very interesting points!) are the problem, more corporations lobbying to have more fast food, more liquor licenses, more sugar drinks, more white bread, more battery farmed cheap food, cheap diesel, and pharmaceutical companies pushing anti depressants and weight loss pills (multiple studies have shown that a walk is of greater remedy for most people with depression than an anti depressant pill and also has the benefit of weight loss rather than side effects from pills!)

        If government wanted to improve kids diets and attention spans schools could have chickens laying eggs and actually cooking the food they grow for breakfasts and lunches (also learning valuable skills such as food production and cooking). They could have bee hives etc etc.

        At the moment many schools do have vege gardens but it is not at a quantity to feed the kids – more to show how to grow plants etc.

        I think it would be just as valuable to teach kids how to be self sufficient. But nope, instead the message is, get a corporate in for some free breakfasts for some kids and pat the corporate on the back.

        The self sufficiency skills, of growing food and cooking it, and better quality food needs are not. being met.

        Fast forward a few years and you find that food banks are asking for no beans or tinned tomatoes because the beneficiaries of the food parcels don’t know how to cook it!

        • savenz 6.1.2.1

          After hearing that food banks didn’t want chickpeas or tinned tomatoes I started giving baked beans so that all you do is open the can and heat.

          Sadly about 7 teaspoons of sugar in baked beans and the approach of more and more sugar increasing our rates of type 2 diabetes and obesity amongst other things!

          Government stop thinking about everything in little silos, people’s well being all fits together – education, food, exercise and health and all interconnected with social welfare, health, criminal justice, productivity etc.

          Social good is economic good!

        • koreropono 6.1.2.2

          Or even better still ensure the families of those children have the resources they need to feed their children breakfast, lunch and dinner 7 days a week 🙂 That way the families have some dignity, choice and agency in their lives…which will no doubt improve the poor mental health among those families just as effectively as a walk would 🙂

          • savenz 6.1.2.2.1

            @koreropono, Yes but what happens to the kids if the parents are reluctant/can’t/suffer mental illness or what have you to cook the kids their healthy meals.

            That was what the food banks were saying, it was a waste of time certain healthy foods, because some of the people could not cook with the food.

            I’m totally agreeing with you the best scenario if that the parents feed their kids, but various conditions on the rise in NZ, P comes to mind for example and just plain tiredness after working a massive day, seem to mean that some families could be given bountiful food but still not have the dignity or agency or even skills to turn it into a regular 3 healthy meals per day.

            What about those kids, I say, let them be educated at primary school level and above, how to grow and cook food themselves so they can do it for them and their kids so break the cycle of helplessness.

            It’s not just a poverty issue. Many middle class and wealthy kids can’t grow or prepare food either and hence the rise of obesity and anxiety.

            Many capitalists don’t want people to be self sufficient and be off drugs and have good health. Their business profits rely on bad social health and they want to keep it that way!

            You also have to calculate the cost of power. An elderly person I know said they cut out the roast because they don’t want to pay power for a 1 hour cooking time.

            There are loads of things people are doing these days that seem to prevent them from cooking like in previous generations.

            Also I’m advocating both encouraging walking (or exercise) and good food , both are needed!

            • savenz 6.1.2.2.1.1

              Also the cost of setting up a garden to grow is not cheap, especially if you don’t know how to do it. (and how would you, it’s a dying skill as people get more urbanised).

              With the much touted new government money for investment – I’d like to see investment in every school having a gardener/cook who works with the kids and gives them a healthy meal everyday that they learn how to grow and prepare.

              Maybe then the money from the food banks could go into a proper job not a volunteer system or the volunteers help the schools.

              That’s jobs, jobs, jobs….

              That’s why I think it should be part of schools as well as a wider part of local communities.

            • koreropono 6.1.2.2.1.2

              Sadly the minority of parents who don’t do what is in their children’s best interests are being used to stereotype parents of a certain ‘type’. When we buy into these stereotypes and myths we are part of the problem, we are responsible for perpetuating the myth that parents can’t be trusted to look after their children’s best interests. This enables society to assume that we must control certain types of families, that we must provide food at school because they either can’t be trusted to, or don’t have the skills to feed their own children.

              Thankfully research is debunking these myths, for example the McPherson research on food banks (2006) shows that the majority of food bank users had the skills but did not have the funds to cook healthy meals (similar studies overseas support this). Another longitudinal study of Cherokee Indians show that when families in communities wrought with numerous social problems (poverty, drug and alcohol addiction, violence, poor education/employment/health and high crime), receive a stipend, they are more likely to spend that money on their children AND that the social problems afflicting that community virtually disappear overnight – children’s life chances dramatically improved (except those who were older when the stipend was introduced). And that is without ANY input from psychologists, social workers, do gooders, food in schools etc etc. (see https://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2014/01/18/what-happens-when-the-poor-receive-a-stipend/) for a summary of this.

              So while I get that we have been fed a lie under successive governments for the last 30 years, the real tragedy is that despite evidence to the contrary many are still clinging to these lies. Lies that are responsible for oppressing families and children of a certain type, but hey if that ensures the Government can continually deny families the resources they need to have a decent standard of living then I guess the government, their spin doctors and the media have done their job, right?

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