How we love it when someone "puts New Zealand on the map" - but how we most certainly do not enjoy it when that person tries to tell us what we should do and how we should live.

A shining example of this is the decision of Hollywood heavyweight James Cameron, he of Titanic and Avatar fame, to both buy land in New Zealand and, after a period of settling in, inform the country's rural sector just how it should be operating.

Cameron fell in love with New Zealand, so much so that he started buying prime farmland in the Wairarapa district, after getting the green light from the Overseas Investment Office, and decided to film the Avatar sequels here.

The Canadian director now refers to himself as a "wannabe Kiwi", and he and wife Suzy grow organic fruit, vegetables and nuts on their extensive farm, and operate a cafe and organic grocery store.


ASB rural economist Nathan Penny's open letter to James Cameron

Being Hollywood types - Suzy was an actor in Titanic (she played Rose's granddaughter, for the cinephiles) - the Camerons are happy to have their voices heard.

They are, it is fair to say, absolute evangelists for veganism, and are not afraid to let people know of their belief New Zealand can lead the charge to a meat-free and dairy-free world.

Women's Day magazine reported the Camerons like to prepare a gift bag for people stuffed with vegan snacks and books on veganism. A notable recipient was their former neighbour, Governor-General Dame Patsy Reddy, who is a convert.

Now, it seems James Cameron is stepping up his game, telling a conference in Taranaki last week that, in essence, New Zealand was far from a clean and green paradise, and that a Kiwi agricultural sector built on meat and dairy needed to change.

The real soundbite came when Cameron later told reporters, having been asked what New Zealand farmers might think of his opinion, that it would be "like finding out you have some kind of condition or illness".

This is where a man used to giving orders on set, and having them followed to the letter, might find his message falling on deaf ears.

New Zealand farms have responded fairly calmly to his stern lecture, pointing out their carbon footprint is significantly lower than most of their overseas counterparts, and that the hilly terrain of much of our country does not really lend itself to crop growing, and that with global demand for food set to soar, our record of producing sustainably grown meat has us well placed to capitalise - agriculturally, economically and, yes, even environmentally.

But if someone like Cameron keeps nudging, rural types might generate some vigorous blowback.


They might point to, say, the hypocrisy of a film director who jets around the world lecturing us on our ruinous environmental practices, or to the reasonable science that says red meat and dairy consumption is fine in moderation.

They might just, in classic blunt Kiwi rural fashion, say: "Pal, if you don't like what we're doing, maybe it's time to go back to Hollywood."

- This editorial was first published in the Otago Daily Times.