The global devaluation of food in developed countries due to physical, digital and biological advances has been the catalyst for destruction of both social, cultural and economic systems and New Zealand, in the absence of an ethical humanity centred ‘whole food system’ risks the same deterioration and consequences, other first world nations are attempting to reverse.
Lack of understanding around the role of food as a connector in every facet of our lives not only diminishes the importance of food production – it further industrialises and negates the responsibilities of the process, which in turn reshapes the ‘economic social, cultural and human context in which we live’.(1)
At a time when discourse and a disconnect between those on the land and those in built up areas is at unparalleled levels, questions and negative scrutiny has and will continue to be levelled at the New Zealand farming fraternity – the scapegoats and the legacy of citizens who have been progressively severed from their local food systems.
New Zealand’s dogmatic approach to talking about agri-food products as commodities, instead of food in a socio- cultural context emphasizes the lack of connection between the country’s food production and culture, and makes it vulnerable, as noted by Berno.(2)
Although this detachment continues to widen, globally, as evidenced by the author’s studies, there is a growing resonance from citizens (3) (albeit sub-consciously) of the social, symbolic and economic role that food has in their lives, leading many Governments to consider the opportunities this developing conscience might offer.
Other drivers towards a ‘whole food system’ approach include burgeoning nutritional health issues, such as Scotland is experiencing, with two thirds of adults considered obese(4), due to food insecurity and the increase in low cost nutrient poor processed foods.
Although Scotland’s first (and the United Kingdom’s first strategic food policy) National Food and Drink Policy, Recipe for Success (5), was led by the economic imperative of food and drink to the economy, the paradox between producing an abundance of fresh natural produce and having one of the poorest diet-related health records in the developed world led to a whole food human rights holistic system approach to food policy.
Becoming a Good Food Nation (Scotland’s updated strategy) encompasses a wider strategy and legislation is currently being consulted and debated upon by the Scottish Government and citizens. It, like Canada and France, articulates new and visionary aspirations around food that are human rights based and is sensitive to the relationships between food, health, the environment and social justice.
At its core, the Good Food Nation Bill has been designed to create a framework for a democratic food system, geared towards the wellbeing of the Scottish population and the protection of the environment.
Like New Zealand if it were to adopt a food strategy, Scotland must balance the tension between reducing environmental impacts and increasing economic growth and encouraging local food growing initiatives while encouraging exports and developing export markets. However, the Government and advocates for the Good Food Nation Bill are confident they can reach desirable outcomes for all parties that ensure a united, prosperous and economically sustainable Scotland.
Indeed, adopting a ‘whole food approach’ by definition, means social and economic aims need not be mutually exclusive just as the rights and economic viability of food producers need not be sacrificed. New Zealand is at a similar crossroads with its Commonwealth kin. Despite the tyranny of distance and its vast necessitous global trade relationships it cannot be isolated from the effects of the Fourth Industrial Revolution (the fusion of industrial, biological and digital technologies).
Automation, urbanisation and the continuing de-valuation of food, including disruption to traditional ‘foodways’ (the cultural, social, and economic practices relating to the production and consumption of food) will cause fundamental transformation across New Zealand that will require urgent collective action.
A shared aspirational national collaborative vision for food and a ‘Team New Zealand’ approach would position us strongly towards the future, and prepare for the pace of change occurring. Together, New Zealand, could achieve monumental environmental, social and economic goals, and extend opportunities to further sustain and grow future market opportunities for the nation’s food producers, while nourishing its most important asset – its citizens.