In his last column Garth George laments how foods he regularly enjoyed in his childhood (1870s?) are now priced beyond the reach of most New Zealanders. It’s easy to dismiss the complaints of an old man about prices these days but there’s a deeper story: with population growth and resource depletion, there increasingly isn’t enough to go around.
Here’s the interesting pars from George’s article:
Though they have been part of my life since I was old enough to eat them, Bluff oysters ($28 a dozen, or $2.33 each, at Foodtown this week) have been off my menu for years. So I remember with pleasure and longing those days when a shilling (10c) would buy a feed of oysters and chips sufficient to satisfy the lunch needs of a voracious teenage boy.
According to a story in the Herald on Sunday last weekend, latest statistics show that, on average, fish and seafood have increased in price by 18.6 per cent in the past four years.
So it’s not surprising to read that domestic consumption has dropped from 34,337 tonnes in 2005 to 28,539 tonnes last year…
… it got me to thinking about the richly fertile land of plenty we live in – and how we pay through the nose these days for much of the produce thereof.
Take fish. The seas around this island nation teem with fish of all varieties, yet when I go to the supermarket I cannot afford to buy any of the most popular species and must content myself with the cheaper, which go best in a fish pie.
At more than $40 a kilogram snapper is way out of my budget, as is tarakihi and gurnard at between $30 and $40, so I’m left with hoki at $16. My favourite, blue cod from the South Island, is rarely available and generally costs as much, if not more, than the inferior snapper.
What’s happened? Why were bluff oysters, blue cod, and snapper plentiful in George’s day but not today?
Because when young Garth was scoffing bluff oysters and blue cod we were in the process of running down the biomass of these species. There seemed to be heaps to go around because the resource was being extracted with no regard to the future.
Now, quotas have been set that (hopefully, but probably not actually) see only enough of the species harvested to allow the population to remain at a sustainable level – a level much below what existed before the harvesting started.
So, there’s not a lot that can be produced and, if you and I want to have any of it, we have to outbid huge and increasingly wealthy populations overseas who want to eat our produce too (and, on top of that international competition, Goerge has to bid against 4.4 million other Kiwis, not 2 million like when he was young).
The situation is even worse with non-renewable resources. There’s not enough minerals, oil, and farmland to go around. New Zealand might be well-endowed in these resources but others want them just as badly and have the money to buy them, if we let them be sold.
In an increasingly resource-constrained world, it’s madness for us to give ours to overseas interests – we need to keep these vital foundations of our economy, and the profits, in New Zealand ownership.