Why Is New Zealand, A Rich Country, Facing A “food Crisis”?

Parliament is coming under pressure from AUT Law students to ensure New Zealanders always have enough to eat, as advocates say the current food system is broken and foodbanks are a “poor ambulance at the bottom of the cliff”.

Chief Human Rights Commissioner Paul Hunt signed a petition this morning at the Wellington Human Rights Commission asking Parliament to recognise adequate food as a basic human right.

“I’m delighted to sign this parliamentary petition and support Danielle LeGallais and her team. It’s appalling that in a rich country like Aotearoa many children and their families do not have food security. Successive NZ governments have signed up to the right to food, grounded on Te Tiriti o Waitangi, yet increasing numbers depend upon food banks. A recent study on the right to food found that Aotearoa New Zealand ranks 29th out of 32 rich countries. The spotlight must be on the government to deliver. We are after all a country that aspires to be the best place for children to live,” Commissioner Hunt says.

The petition was led by Danielle LeGallais, an AUT Law student who also runs Sunday Blessings, a food rescue and community meals volunteer group in Tāmaki Makaurau. LeGallais says her vision for Aotearoa is “people able to grow their own food, at community gardens if they don’t have space at home; supermarkets and hospitality no longer wasting food reflected in Food Waste Prevention Legislation like the 2016 move in France; and everyone having the resources to choose meals for their families without begging from charities.”

Before Covid-19 hit, one in five New Zealand children lived in households that ran out of food, indicating that food insecurity is the norm for many low-income communities – despite the right to adequate food being recognised in international human rights instruments.

“New Zealand communities are facing a nutrition crisis, with long-term health and social impacts,” says LeGallais. “Yet New Zealand has been a signatory of international declarations and covenants guaranteeing food security for many decades. Legally and morally, Parliament has a responsibility to further step-up resources and actions to tackle the food crisis.”

“Groups like ours are dealing with food insecurity as an ambulance at the bottom of the cliff – and we’re volunteers,” says LeGallais. “It can’t just be up to volunteers nationwide– everyone is getting burnt out. Yet everybody still needs to eat – that bit’s not going to change. We had someone recently say it was really hard to go without food for 3 days”

LeGallais and fellow students and community group members commends current initiatives such as Ka Ora Ka Ako, the healthy-food-in-schools programme, but says such projects are not nearly enough and a lot of lunch food waste is reported.

She says there needs to be systemic change in the “broken” food system, across the board.

The petition can be signed online at the parliamentary website; more information can be found at Sunday Blessings here.