Oh how we New Zealanders love to talk up our food prowess: how good our raw products are, how fabulous our farmers are, how pure our oceans, how fine our wine. Our vanity on food matters has reached the point where some believe we also have the world’s best restaurants.
Sadly none of this is true, but it does illustrate our ignorance of food matters. If we are going to make the most of our food culture it is time we learned the realities of international food and what our real strengths are. It is time to turn New Zealand into a nation of foodies whose knowledge and enthusiasm for food can become the driving force in establishing us as one of the world’s great food cultures.
At which point I can hear some asking, why bother? Simple really, because we are already a food culture because our economy and the individual wellbeing of all of us depends on food. Add to this the fact that our standard of living is slipping to the point where it has become a political imperative to improve our economic performance.
While politicians and accountants love to dabble in their theories of money shifting as panacea for all the nation’s ills, economic and social, the fact remains that all a nation has to trade are its natural assets and its human assets. Looking seriously at our natural assets it is obvious that we have an ideal climate and land for growing food, but this is constrained by our relatively small size and our isolation. Other than this, our natural assets are rather limited – few minerals, abundant water and wind, a small market for manufactured goods.
So what of our human resource? We are clever, and in particular have been exceptional at industrialising our agriculture. Put simply our farmers are clever, adaptive and not constrained by tradition. Which is why we are the world’s largest dairy exporters, largest sheep meat traders, and have made such an exceptional entry into the wine market.
Now is the time to take our next step by upgrading our food business into a fine food business, and the only way we can successfully do this is by turning into a nation of foodies. Foodies who know what the best of everything tastes like, who operate as standards setters for producers who need to seduce the world with the quality of our exports, not its quantity or low price.
We need to think like Champagne, the wealthiest region of France and the richest agricultural community in the world. Every Champenoise knows a good bottle of bubbles from a bad one; the skills of fine wine growing and making are ingrained with a commitment to being the best that underpins everything in the community. The people who sell Champagne to the world know the high value of their product with such certainty they are always operating at the highest price levels.
Champagne in Champagne is as expensive as it is in New Zealand, its most distant market. But do the Champenoise complain? No; simply because they are proud to pay the high price for their local wine, and because they are rich enough to afford it.
It is time we turned our farmers into foodies, our grocers into gourmets, and our restaurants into theatres of local food. Then we would become a truly great destination for tourists, and an international fine food brand.