Every winter there is inevitably a story on our television screens about the rising cost of food; fruit and vegetables are usually the prime target of these popularist yet unenlightening pieces. I won’t bother pointing out why tomatoes are expensive in winter or what the simple solution to this is. I do though want to raise a few points to consider when thinking about the cost of food, especially New Zealand grown fresh produce.
A proportion of our income expenditure on food over the last century has decreased drastically. In the early 1900s 40% of our income would have been spent on food, today it’s less than 10%. But cheap food comes at a cost!
We are now grappling with a growing obesity problem. This is the apotheosis of a first world problem. No fad diet, even one as old as Paleolithic man, will halt our growing waistlines until we tackle the quantity of food we consume. Perhaps if we invested in quality food and thus ate less we would solve more than one problem.
The fact that we waste a third of all the food produced is another shameful example of how food is no longer valued. I know I am more likely to eek every last drop out of my bottle of maple syrup at $10 for 200ml than I would if it was the cheap fake maple flavoured syrup at just $3 a bottle. Our grandparents, who lived through real scarcity of food, understood the value of every mouthful, but our expectation of cheaper and cheaper food and our willingness to throw it away with no real consequence shows how removed we are from our food.
Fruit and vegetables should be the backbone of every diet, but as a proportion of your weekly shop how much do they constitute? Yet it is always the cost of fresh produce that people complain about. This winter, and perhaps beyond, expect to see those prices reach their limits as local growers have been devastated by horrible conditions. Some regions saw one month’s worth of rain fall in just one day with not one but two cyclones this April. It wasn’t just the record amount of rain fall but the timing of the rain which destroyed leafy green crops being harvested as well as those being planted.
The extreme wet conditions also came when many root crops were being dug. Kumara in particular has been hit hard with some growers losing their entire crop. Potatoes in some areas haven’t fared well either as the muddy conditions have made it impossible to get equipment in, and those that have been dug up are caked in mud. This all means more cost for the farmer to get your spuds market ready.
Our growers understand the foibles of working with Mother Nature, the problem is they have to grapple with increasing compliance and wage costs. Then couple this with rising land values which has growers competing with housing developers. These concerns were echoed by Mike Chapman, CEO of Horticulture NZ, who said, “There are underlying causes that need to be addressed, or high priced vegetables will become the norm.”
So this winter when you baulk at the price of fresh veg, spare a thought for the fellow Kiwis who go to work each day, rain, hail or shine, to grow your veg. Don’t buy less, buy more. Fill your trolley with nutrient rich fresh food that comes with minimal packaging or food miles, has no E numbers or added sodium, sugar or MSG. The health of your family and our horticultural industry will all benefit.