In Re-food, Emily King explores Aotearoa’s troubled food system and looks at the best way to address the challenges we face with soils, waterways, climate change, food waste, packaging, unhealthy diets and a lack of access to food.
Here are five key takeaways from her book.
1. Looking at the big picture will get results
Re-food is about how to get our collective heads around the whole food system so we can make changes that lead to improved health for our people and the environment.
It looks at how we grow, make, and eat food, then asks the reader to take that as an approach and make changes. It demonstrates how the system is interconnected and why everyone should think about that when making food decisions.
For example, when you’re shopping, you could consider the farmer or grower who made your food and how they grew it, or the packaging, as well as the price and benefits to your health. If we all start to view the system this way, we will begin to see improvements.
At a bigger systemic level, I’d like to think we can take a fresh approach to solving some of our greatest challenges, including the health outcomes of poor diets, lack of access to food, and land-use challenges such as soils and climate change.
These are defining issues of our time and we don’t have robust frameworks to solve them and their interconnections.
2. Include all elements: Grow, Make, Nourish
To take the above approach, we must delve into how food is grown and made, and whether people are getting access to it.
Re-food is structured in three parts: Grow, Make, Nourish.
The book looks at the effects of growing food on the environment (soil, water, climate change), making food (packaging, food waste) and, ultimately, whether the food is good for our health and people can access it.
These sections traverse most of the food system, and the supply chain of getting food from farm gate to dinner plate.
However, each section has been conditioned to sit in a silo, with little thought given to the other parts of the system.
By understanding the effects of each part, we can start to design the system in a way that will cause less harm to human health and the environment.
A great example of this is with vegetables. It’s now recommended that we eat 7+ a day of fruit and vegetables, with experts saying most of that should be vegetables.
The rising cost of vegetables and supply shortages caused by extreme weather and geopolitical factors show us just how challenging this can be.
3. Feeding our people
The ultimate goal of the food system is to feed people, but we know not everyone has access to food. As prices rise, the number of people affected by a lack of food also increases.
Food-rescue organisations and charities working in the community to feed people have reported burgeoning demand. This is a big topic, but I believe a food-systems approach can help us find better ways to ensure we’re getting food to people.
One bizarre aspect of our food system is that we export high-quality, nutrient-dense foods, but import highly processed, unhealthy foods, while continuing to have hungry people and a health crisis as a result of poor diets.
Imagine a system where we export high-quality food and make our farmers, growers and food businesses a good income while also ensuring everyone can eat good-quality, healthy and affordable foods. We can do that.
4. Te Ao Māori is our strength
Aotearoa New Zealand’s food system has many great things about it, including the frameworks for food-system change operating for Māori. One of these is Hua Parakore, the Māori organics and food-growing framework developed by Te Waka Kai Ora (the National Māori Organics Authority of Aotearoa), which provides answers to some of the most pressing needs by taking a Te Ao Māori/Māori world view.
There are also community food-resilience projects growing out of marae and great food businesses being formed to tackle these needs.
5. Drink a cup of empathy
In Re-food, I explore some of the changes we need to make and put forward ideas to inspire those changes. They require us to have empathy and understand how it is for other people in the system.
For example, there’s often talk of the rural-urban divide, which further separates people from how food is grown. But urbanites can empathise with farmers, and vice versa. Same with local governments and their health counterparts, or food businesses and people wanting healthier options to be the easy choice.
If we want the food system to be better connected and more resilient, we need to all work harder to break down the silos between the different parts of the system, and one way to do that is to empathise and understand the viewpoint of other group(s) and what they need.
Re-food: Exploring the Troubled Food System of Aotearoa New Zealand, by Emily King, $45 RRP (Mary Egan Publishing), is out now.