Local chocolate

The pending closure of the Cadbury factory in Dunedin is another step on the trajectory that big corporates take in the pursuit of their addiction to delivering dividends to shareholders. The closure is reputed to be part of Mondelez’s efficiency drives as it moves production from first world sites to lower wage countries.

Some foods are more local than others. In New Zealand chocolate probably will always require imported ingredients. But Dunedin’s Cadbury’s factory has been a southern icon The Dunedin Jaffa Race is a quirky annual event down the world’s steepest street. The 2017 event may be the last.

Locals responded to the news of the loss of their factory by launching a bid to contract Mondelez to keep making the Cadbury products in Dunedin raising almost $6 million. Mondelez was not prepared to extend the deadline for the bid, so now the group is investigating setting up its own chocolate factory.

While chocolate isn’t local and includes varying amounts of sugar, it is not a top priority to promote as a local food (although dark chocolate has its virtues). But there are degrees of localness. From an economic perspective it is preferable to purchase locally produced rather than imported chocolate.

The corporate addiction

Publicly listed corporations have the metabolism of a hummingbird, driven on frenetically by the imperative of generating dividends for shareholders. Shareholders typically aren’t interested in the sustainability of their investments and will shift their investment to a competitor if the numbers stack up. Mondelez’s stock has risen from a $US16.34 low in October 2012 to $44.90 in June this year. You would think that would be enough, but the voracious drive for profits spurs them on to curb expenses.

whittakers_dark_ghanaDo you care?

I assume that this news is upsetting a number of Kiwis, but what will we do about it – probably very little. Look at the amount of supermarket shelf-space that Cadbury products occupy – I imagine that it will be the same next year, with nothing more than a blip in their sales.

I like Cadbury chocolate, but I won’t be buying any more of it. Stop rewarding people that make decisions like this and don’t buy their product. Vote with your dollars! Buy Whittakers – its a local brand. The cocoa is Fair Trade and dark chocolate has lots of health-giving polyphenols!


Out of the (water) closet

I have finished reading Gut: The Inside Story of our Body’s Most Under-rated Organ by Giulia Enders. It has challenged my identity. The microbes in me out-number my human cells ten times and I have about 100 trillion microbes in my gut! So am I a person, or a colony? Perhaps I should refer to myself (us) as “we”.

Given that I am out-numbered, how do these microbes influence my behaviour and my health? Rodents infected with the toxoplasmata protozoa lose their fears of cats. This is not a good for survival and Giulia Andrea reports that behaviour of humans infected with toxoplasmata changes too (we get the infection from cats). For example, the risk of being involved in a car accident is increased in infected people, especially in the early active stages of infection.

Screen Shot 2017-06-11 at 8.25.45 AM.png

Rodents infected with toxoplasmata lose their fear of cats (image from Nature)

My gut bacteria influence my mental and physical well-being and influence what I choose to eat. A recent Scientific American article confirms this.

Gut microbes have also been shown to influence diet and behavior as well as anxiety, depression, hypertension and a variety of other conditions.

Our relationship with our gut biome has evolved over millennia. These are common to all people, with some regional variations. For example, the micro biome of Japanese have   borrowed a gene from marine microorganisms to help breakdown seaweed. Giulia Enders suggests that if we had long enough, our micro biome would adapt to the highly processed foods of the Western diet. Allergies and food intolerances may be caused by our digestive system’s inability to process the foods we are eating. Michael Pollan states the solution succinctly “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants”.

To help us rehabilitate our digestion and repopulate the gut with a health-enhancing micro biome we have two options, probiotics and pre-biotics.


Most of us are familiar with these – typically fermented foods containing billions of beneficial bacteria. Common examples are yoghurt, kefir, sauerkraut, kimchi and kombucha. Probiotic supplements are also available. These are great, but need to be frequently  consumed to maintain the benefits.


These are foods that include residues that make the journey through to the lower gut to sustain beneficial micro-organisms. Dr Frank Jackson tapes about the benefits of probiotics in this video.

His website has a list of the top 11 prebiotic foods. They are listed here with their percentage of fibre (by weight).

  1. raw chicory root (65%)
  2. raw Jerusalem artichoke (31.5%)
  3. raw dandelion greens (24.5%)
  4. raw garlic (17.5%)
  5. raw leeks (11.7%)
  6. raw onion (8.6%)
  7. cooked onion ( 5%)
  8. raw asparagus (5%)
  9. raw wheat bran (5%)
  10. baked wheat flour (4.8%)
  11. raw banana (1%)

This brings us back to local food – food you can grow in your garden.

My digestive system is approximately 7 metres long. Sometimes I am more interested in pandering to the first 100 mm or so – the bit where I can taste the food, rather than the other 6.9 metres. Giulia Anders book teaches us to take more notice of the other end of our digestive system. Perhaps we need to talk more about our digestive systems. You won’t have to go too deep in your Facebook feed to find someone talking about food – maybe we should be less embarrassed about talking about digestive system output- but no selfies please :-).




Food evolution and health in Aotearoa, part three: Consumerism

The first post in this series explored colonisation, and the second explored industrialisation as formative forces in our food system. This post explores the impact of consumerism.

food evolution aotearoa


This video traces the origins of consumerism to the 18th century. It coincides with the emergence of the Industrial Revolution. It poses an interesting question: could we design a society where consumerism and high-mindedness are not polar opposites – might we have wealth and virtue, rather than the stark choice of consumerism or poverty?

Consumerism was supercharged after World War Two. Industrial capacity mushroomed to equip the war effort and all of that enterprise had to find new markets. Marketers aligned production systems with a rethinking of societal design, to optimise market opportunities. The industrial machine was at full steam and needed willing customers. Victor Lebow articulated a new creed of consumerism.

“Our enormously productive economy … demands that we make consumption our way of life, that we convert the buying of goods into rituals, that we seek our spiritual satisfaction, our ego satisfaction in consumption… We need things consumed, burned up, replaced and discarded at an ever-accelerating rate.” (Victor Lebow, in the Journal of Retailing, 1955)

The marketers had new tools to shape the developing consumerist culture. Television offered unprecedented access for marketers into family homes.

“And television achieves three results to an extent no other advertising medium has ever approached. First, it creates a captive audience. Second, it submits that audience to the most intensive indoctrination. Third, it operates on the entire family. “(Victor Lebow, in the Journal of Retailing, 1955)

Another foundation of the consumerist culture were the concepts of planned obsolescence and perceived obsolescence as explained in this video (starting at 12 minutes 40 seconds).

Perhaps the purest expression of perceived obsolescence (so far) is the smart phone, with new models offing possibly a marginally larger screen or a flasher camera, generating shopping frenzy. What’s next?

Consumerism and food

At the heart of many of the problems we identify with food is its change of status from something for nourishment to a marketable commodity. The need for industrial food manufacturers to enable food to last on long journeys to market and in warehouses and on shop shelves has necessitated processing. Sugar and salt preserve. Pasteurisation slows down decomposition and dehydration and chemical additives extend shelf life.

Unlike industrialisation and colonisation consumerism appears to march on virtually uncontested. Victor Lebow and his like have shaped our behaviour more profoundly than he ever could have imagined.


Tropical Fruit Growers is on a roll!

On 8 April Tropical Fruit Growers New Zealand had their inaugural public meeting at Northland Inc’s Orchard. Attendance exceeded expectations and now the TFGNZ has over 100 members. Here is Hugh’s report from the meeting. Some images are added from the TFGNZ Facebook page

What a meeting! Thank you everybody for your support and TFGNZ is all go.

TFGNZ is the result of a group of people – all passionate about what they are growing – getting together, discussing, sharing and comparing what they are doing and what is possible.

TFGNZ committee

The TFGNZ committee – from the foreground in the left, Cameron Smith, Owen Schafli, Hugh Rose, Brent Burge, David Colley and Matt Stanley

The most important asset of TFGNZ is our  Members. With that in mind I would like to set out the immediate agenda as I see it and welcome suggestions to take to the next committee meeting.

The commercial growing of bananas in Northland is not a new idea but for one reason or another it has never gotten off the ground. With the downturn in the dairy economy the time is right for this to happen and I intend over the winter months get TFGNZ in front of the dairy industry so we are seen as the authority for expanding the planting of banana crops to supplement incomes and provide inexpensive feed for animals. This is a win-win situation all round as bananas quickly convert effluent into biomass and clean-up waterways.

We need to complete the incorporated society process,  Once this is done we can apply for funding for funding into research as to the nutritional benefits of banana plants for cattle feed and the nutrient levels of the locally grown fruit compared to imported fruit. As I understand it we will be able to receive funding for this research from M.P.I and other agencies.

Please, if you have any bananas growing that you are able to add to the crop register please let us know or contact Matt Stanley  matt@maplekiwi.com who is compiling a database of source materials.

TFGNZ will introduce its own system to identify commercially grown produce and certify organic status or otherwise.

October onwards is the planting out season for bananas so in September land needs to be cleared and stems harvested. We will coordinate teams for this purpose as required. We will be able to get existing work crews to head out and collect the stems and plant them on a grand scale by working in with the various existing agencies as each hectare of land will require over 1000 plants.

These plants are anticipated to be sold at around $10 each with a minimum of $1 per stem going to fund TFGNZ so any donated stems will help operational costs in the early stages. Organising new plantings advising on existing plantation will greatly increase the TFGNZ profile.

With commercial plantings they will initially be done with donated and low cost stems, different varieties going into each plantation. These initial stems will be monitored and those that produce the best results at each location will be cloned using tissue culture techniques to fast track the establishment of viable orchards.

As fruit comes into production then the distribution process will coordinate the flow of fruit so it reaches the consumer in optimum condition and those requirement figures are staggering!

Population of Northland is 171,400.  At 18Kg per person per year, that makes 3085 tons consumed annually.

Population of NZ is 4,781,000.  At 18Kg per person, that makes 86,000 tons.

At $2 per kg that’s 172 million dollars with which to create employment and industry for Northland and who knows in time there may even be some to export!

A small percentage of this will fund TFGNZ

Recruitment within TFGNZ is the first place to start, if you are skilled or able and if TFGNZ is seeking to achieve anything that you may be capable of doing then there is no reason provided you can do it you should not get the job. As each step is taken we will tell members what we are doing and where we are at.  Please let us know if you can help achieve our gaols in any way and if you are prepared to serve on the committee

It’s not all about bananas!

Field trips are to be organised and other activities if anyone wishes to help in this area please let us know don’t be shy, if you have any skills you think may be useful same applies. This is a voluntary role however expenses will be met.

Owens pineapples

Owen’s pineapples sheltered by sugar cane – there are also coffee trees growing in the background

Lastly my bombshell for those who know me – you heard it here first!

Rukuwai Farm is about to go on the market! Yes up for sale and why, you may ask? Six months ago we applied to WDC to subdivide so we could sell off our house and rebuild down where I do all the growing, plantation/market garden and create a water garden to display Pauline’s Lotus plants. Sadly six months on owing to the constraints of the resource management act nothing has progressed other than the depletion of our reserves as yet another report is required. Please do not think I am having a go at WDC far from it, simply it is the framework they are obliged to work within under the resource management act however when you are 65 years of age and have still got lots to do six months is far too long for us!  So we have made an offer on another property which if accepted will see us relocating – not far but it will be to a place that needs some TLC and meets our criteria for water gardens and tropical fruit.

Of course if you know anyone who wants a production platform mostly flat river silt around 100 acres with proven horticultural returns, a nice new modest home, heaps of plantings and a developing banana plantation give me a call.

We are heading into the long weekends so please, take care everybody, enjoy the break and after the committee meeting and debrief on the 18th our very first newsletter will be issued!

What is policy and how do we change it?

How change happens duncan greenOn the cusp of establishing a Northland Food Policy Council (or whatever we might call it) I have stumbled across a book that has thrown a lot of light on the policy universe. In How Change Happens, Duncan Green shares his knowledge as a long-time advocate for change. The book is available for sale, but is also free on Duncan’s website. The complexity of the policy environment is perhaps best expressed in the author’s quote of former British Prime Minister, Gordon Brown.

“In establishing the rule of law, the first five centuries are the hardest”.

This poses a compelling challenge for New Zealanders. Our nation is less than two centuries old. But hopefully we aren’t in for another three centuries of hard work. After all, we have the legacy of tikanga, British law and a broader and deeper legacy pieced together over humanity’s long social evolution.

Two pathways – global and local

Two trends encourage. The first is the growing body of international policy ranging from law to aspirational statements. Two highly relevant to sustainable food systems are the Sustainable Development Goals and the Global Economic Ethic. The International Panel of Experts on Sustainable Food Systems are also shaping policy discourse at the global level. This trend seeks to distill universal values and principles to guide our peaceful and prosperous development.  For example, the Global Economic Ethic  advocates of the “principle of humanity” as the ethical yardstick for all economic action based on sustainability, respect, fair cooperation and the Golden Rule. These are underpinned by basic values for doing business globally:

  • non-violence and respect for life
  • justice and solidarity
  • honesty and tolerance
  • mutual respect and partnership.

The other emerging trend is toward greater local autonomy and self-determination. While hegemonic forces herd us like sheep towards a bland global consumerist culture, there is an encouraging shift in the opposite direction towards localism. Ideally, the most basic social unit, the family, will have autonomy to act within the broad parameters of evolving global policy.

global and localIn the context of food, ideally families will have choice to eat food that nourishes without their perception being clouded by commercial considerations – especially the rapacious food and medical corporations that privilege profit over health and well-being.

Valuing pluralism

According to Google, pluralism is “a condition or system in which two or more states, groups, principles, sources of authority, etc., coexist.” In New Zealand, almost two centuries on from the birth of our nation we are struggling to come to terms with pluralism. Nineteenth century assumptions of European superiority created homogenising conceptions of right and wrong. Some are still clinging to a Eurocentric view of the world. From this perspective the only valid law comes from Western sources and the maxim “one law for all” dominates.

Before Europeans arrived here, Māori society functioned on its own indigenous policy framework – tikanga. The Māori Dictionary’s definition of tikanga embraces a range of synonyms for policy and related social regulation:

“The correct procedure, custom, habit, lore, method, manner, rule, way, code, meaning, plan, practice, convention, protocol – the customary system of values and practices that have developed over time and are deeply embedded in the social context.”

Tikanga is itself pluralistic as it varies from place to place, and the authorities are the people of any particular location. Many Pākehā have struggled to accomodate tikanga in an unwavering belief in “one law for all” (as long as they get to determine who makes those laws). An example is the justice system. Although Māori constitute 15% of the population, they account for 51% of the male prison population. But attempts to develop the mare-based justice system are stymied by the “one law for all” mantra. Duncan Green observes that “customary (indigenous) law is often about making peace and reconciliation, rather than establishing guilt and redress” (page 104). Customary law can also be brutal. Duncan green advises us to both avoid a “west-is-best bias and a naive romanticism about the woking of customary systems” (page 106).

However, we can achieve a greater synergy between these two traditions in ways that best serve local communities. Can you see a future where this is the case? Do you pass F. Scott Fitzgerald’s intelligence test?

“The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function.”

There are signs of hope as co-governance agreements between Māori authorities and the crown become more common. The recent determination of the Whanganui River as a legal “person” is an encouraging sign. Is this any stranger than a corporation being a legal person (as they have been for the last 150 years)?

The interaction of the various actors involved in developing food policy in new Zealand will be greatly enhanced by Māori input. Ever since the accelerated alienation of their land in the mid 1800s, Māori have engaged in the struggle for justice, working through the courts and government. Their longer-term view of investment, focus on kaitiakitanga and commitment to retaining the land make them a powerful constituent of the food movement.

This is an attempt to explore some elements of policy. More will follow.

Archeological evidence of pre-European gardens at Whangarei

Heritage New Zealand is hosting “a short archeological walk” that reveals evidence of both pre European gardens and early European settlement. Meet at the riverside of Hatea Drive opposite the Settlers Hotel at 12 noon on Saturday 8 April. Go to their website for more details.

Blessed are the cheese-makers

At the recent New Zealand Champions of Cheese Awards, two Northland companies came out on top. Cathy Oakley of Winsam Farm near Kerikeri and her husband was named the Champion Cheesemaker for her sheep milk cheese. It was her first year in the competition. You can read more about her here.

grinning gecko

Grinning Gecko’s brie was named the nation’s best soft white rind cheese, and Zev Kaka-Holtz was named the best aspiring cheesemaker. His is a story that celebrates local enterprise. You can see his story in a short Seven Sharp feature.

Other awards were won by Mahoe Farmhouse Cheese and George’s Cheeses from Kerikeri.


The nutritional value of local bananas

Professor Barbara Burlingame provided a compelling case study about the nutrient content of local bananas at our February conference. Before returning to New Zealand she spent 16 years with the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation including the last four as Deputy Director of the Nutrition Division as was closely involved with the research referred to here.

Professor Burlingame related the story of Pohnpei, a Micronesian Island north of the equator. Over time the people their drifted away from their indigenous diet to consuming increasing quantities of imported food. There were consequences.

The change in food habits from fresh traditional foods to processed imported foods has been accompanied by high prevalence of overweight, obesity, diabetes, heart disease and cancer among the adult population, while micronutrient deficiencies, such as of vitamin A, are prevalent among children[1].

Well intentioned interventions

Starting in the 1960s, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) initiated supplementary feeding programmes to Pohnpei, using surplus commodities such as rice and tinned foods. These food aid programmes, including a school lunch programme, “introduced rice and processed foods to many children and adults in Pohnpei, establishing new food habits, attitudes and food tastes that persist today”[2].

In a story similar to that of other indigenous communities transitioning from the food systems they controlled to Western diets, the unintended consequences, especially the vitamin A deficiency, sparked further inteventions. Vitamin A supplements, including injections, were provided for children.

Karat banana

The Karat banana, often the first sold food for Pohnpei’s babies. (Photo from Web Ecoist)

Researchers, led by the late Dr Lois Englberger, turned their attention to local foods. Pohnpei has 26 banana cultivars. One of these, Karat, has deep yellow/orange flesh indicating the presence of provitamin A carotenoids.

When analysed for its nutrient profile, the Karat cultivar provided up to 2230 units of carotenes. Another cultivar, Utin Lap has up to 8508 units of carotenes. By contrast, Cavendish, the variety found in supermarkets around the world has less than five units of carotenes. The answer to the debilitating vitamin A deficiency was close by all that time. Consequently the government of the Federated States of Micronesia championed the local food movement and when Dr Englberger died in 2011, they held a memorial service in her honour.

Nutrition of Northland bananas

The health of our food can be evaluated by the nutrients it provides and the impact of artificial chemicals used in its growing, processing, transportation and storage and impacted by the way we cook it.

This website provides detailed coverage of bananas’ food value.

Fruits and vegetables with orange or red flesh are rich in carotenes, so we can anticipate that our locally grown bananas will be closer to the levels found in Cavendish bananas. However, it will be interesting to have the analysis done. Perhaps we could crowdsource funding for this to support the development of the local banana industry.

[1] Let’s go local! Pohnpei promotes local food production and nutrition for health in Indigenous people’s food systems & well-being (2013) Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, page 195). http://www.fao.org/docrep/018/i3144e/i3144e00.htm

[2] ibid, page 194


Banana maths – a Northland banana industry?

What would a Northland Banana Industry be worth to the local economy? Bananas are starting to appear regularly at the Whangarei Growers Market.

Consumption per person per year (kgs)[1] 18
Northland population[2] 171,400
Total banana consumption (kgs) 3,085,200
Price per kilo[3] $2.99
Total cost of bananas consumed in Northland $9,244,748

There are many variables to consider to refine these numbers, but they act as a reference point.

Bananas at home

Earlier studies reveal that produce grown locally rather than imported into the region (and country in this case) create a 2 to 4 times multiplier in both jobs and dollars. The report, The Social and Economic Impact of the Whangarei Growers Market identified the multiplier at 2.99. This work was done by economist Dr Warren Hughes.

So let’s be conservative and aim to supply 10% of Northland’s bananas, 300,000 kgs or 300 tonnes by 2025. The nearby Auckland market could probably take all we could produce.

Targeted production (kgs) 300,000
Price per kilo $4.00
Total cost of Northland produced bananas $1,200,000
Multiplier 3
Value of the Northland banana industry $3,600,000

Currently, local bananas are selling for more like $8.00 a kilo, but as production increases we can anticipate the price reducing – so these estimates are conservative.

Realising this $3.6 million industry would be challenging. Bananas required frost free locations. They can handle light infrequent frosts and surely we have plenty of microclimates where we could grow them. It would also require a significant number of banana plants to be propagated. Perhaps tissue culture is a solution.

The other requirement would be for roughly 10% of Northlanders to buy Northland bananas exclusively – this is an appealing challenge, because it provides an opportunity to support the local industry and to access a product that is much healthier.

[1] Bananas top the list of Trolley items. (26.02.2017) Kirsty Wynn. NZ Herald. Retrieved http://www.nzherald.co.nz/lifestyle/news/article.cfm?c_id=6&objectid=11805447

[2] Northland Region. Wikipedia https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Northland_Region. Population at June 2016

[3] Sourced from Countdown online on 5 March 2017. https://shop.countdown.co.nz/#url=/Shop/SearchProducts%3Fsearch%3Dbanana%2Bfresh