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  • Writer's pictureSasha Borissenko

EPISODE 3. The colonial project

Episode three of Chewing the Facts explores the role of colonisation and how the change in the food environment disproportionately affects some of Aotearoa's communities.

Release date: 20 August, 2023

The latest New Zealand Health Survey says one in three adults aged 15 and over are classified as o*ese using the body mass index.

This rate rises sharply to 71 per cent among Pacific people and almost 51 per cent are Māori.

Speaking in the latest episode of Chewing the Facts, South Auckland business owner Ema Tavola says although food is a big part of ritual, celebration, and connection, it's not correct to simply say Pacific people love eating.

“Colonisation and capitalism have created systems that are killing us.”

Pointing to her homeland of Fiji, migration to the city and the introduction of European economies has meant there’s no time to harvest or create a garden, she said.

“If you take anyone out of that system, they’re going to have to find nourishment in other ways. If they’re working 40, 50, 60 hours a week, what are you going to eat that’s easy or can fit around that finite time that you have?”

Cheap, processed, imported, and low-quality food are the only accessible options for people in low-paid work, she said.

Exporting canned and ultra processed foods to the Pacific gained popularity in the early 1890s.

In 2007, New Zealand exported nearly 40,000 tonnes of mutton flats - fat trimmings from a sheep’s belly - with 19 per cent going to Pacific countries, for example.

The situation is also dire back in South Auckland.

“A lot of our fruit and veg shops are selling low-grade, poor quality produce. It's cheaper because it's largely produce which you wouldn't find in a supermarket. And a lot of it is quite close to expiration,” Tavola said.

Every second shop in Ōtara-Papatoetoe offers takeaway food options, then there’s liquor stores, gambling outlets, and a headstone shop, she said.

“It’s like death, dying, gone. You know, this is what social deprivation is - the options and opportunities like this are just so much lesser [sic].”

Food swamps describe areas that are inundated with unhealthy food options. A 2017 study found there were 722 food swamps in Aotearoa. Convenient stores and fast food outlets were significantly higher in economically deprived areas, the study read.

McDonalds head of communications Simon Kenny said the global fast food chain was not targeting lower socio economic areas.

With restaurants in both high and low socio economic areas, locations were determined by factors such as visibility, traffic accessibility, population size, and potential competition. The company also made sure to avoid locations near schools, for example.

“We definitely refute any accusations that we sit there all day at work going, how do you build more restaurants in a poor area? But I don’t disagree that food outlet-wise, there are definitely way more food outlets in certain areas.”

There are 78 local, regional, and unitary councils each with different rules and regulations that can determine zoning for certain business operations.

Auckland Council environmental health and alcohol manager Mervyn Chetty said there are no rules or regulations that limit the number of fast food outlets in specified locations in the Auckland region.

“Unlike other aspects of councils’ environmental health responsibilities, there is no legislative framework that would enable this type of regulation.”

The Sale and Supply of Alcohol Act 2012, for example, covers safe and responsible sale, supply, and consumption of alcohol and the minimisation of harm caused by its excessive or inappropriate use.

The legislation gives councils the ability to restrict the sale and supply of alcohol in certain areas, including proximity to other outlets.

A Department of Internal Affairs spokesperson told Chewing the Facts the Government has the ability to issue national requirements - or directives - to Councils. There’s currently no national direction around zoning in relation to high concentrations of fast food outlets.

Local Government Minister Keiran McAnulty declined to comment.

Chewing the Facts - new episodes out every Sunday. Produced with the NZ Herald, with support from NZ On Air.

You can follow the podcast at iHeartRadio, Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you get your podcasts.

This article was first published in the NZ Herald here.


- Ministry of Health obesity statistics

- Food swamps by area socioeconomic deprivation in New Zealand: a national study

- Food desert or food swamp? An in-depth exploration of neighborhood food environments in Eastern Porirua and Whitby

- Market study into the grocery sector

- A food secure New Zealand. International Perspectives in Psychology: Research, Practice, Consultation

- Hiding in plain sight: experiences of food insecurity and rationing in New Zealand

- Food trade among Pacific Island countries and territories: implications for food security and nutrition

- The Alimentary Forms of the Global Life: The Pacific Island Trade in Lamb and Mutton Flaps

- Food Security for Pacific Peoples in New Zealand

- Canned foods

- Critical medical ecological perspectives on diabetes in the Pacific Islands: colonialism, power, and balance in human-environment interaction over time

- Obesity emergence in the Pacific islands: why understanding colonial history and social change is important

- Game theory

- Dissecting obesogenic environments: the development and application of a framework for identifying and prioritising environmental interventions for obesity

- Populations and dwellings, Ōtara

- Food poverty and dietary quality: is there a relationship?

- Does the family environment contribute to food habits or behaviours and physical activity in children?

- Implementing healthy food environment policies in New Zealand: nine years of inaction

- Ministry for the Environment: National direction

- Feeding New Zealanders first

- Made with care: USA trade

- Rodney Hide poverty claims show welfare system failure

- Measuring poverty premium

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