How do we create a food secure future?

By Holly Norton

Food security
Food banks are reporting record demand for their services this year. Due to the impacts of Covid-19 it is thought that up to one million Kiwis may be struggling to put enough food on the table. Last month SBN co-hosted a hui in Wellington focused on creating a food secure future for families living in the capital.

The hui was attended by over 30 people from organisations involved in helping people get access to food. Those organisations say systemic changes are needed and that, ultimately, there should be no need for them to exist.

The event had a long-term vision. In addition to tackling current food insecurity issues, the hui explored ways to ensure a food secure future. The key questions were: What does a food secure future look like for Wellington? How do we get there? And, how do we get Wellington to a state where there is no need to hand out food?

Food insecurity occurs when people do not have reliable access to adequate food, when caregivers feel stressed and anxious about providing food, or when people are forced to rely on charity or emergency assistance programmes.

In New Zealand, food insecurity is the result of many factors that leave families without enough money for food, or access to it. Frontline providers at the hui said those factors were often connected and included unaffordable housing, unequal distribution of resources, lack of access to education and employment opportunities, and lack of mental health support services.

Creating confidence and empowerment when providing food security services was the key theme of presentations by WELLfed, Wesley Community Action and Wellington City Mission. They explained that providing food was just one of a number of practical ways they helped families. Just as important was how people accessed food and how they were supported in all areas of life.

WELLfed provides free cooking classes aimed at build cooking confidence and creating community connections. Anyone who completes the course can go on to become a tutor and empower others.

Wesley Community Action uses collective purchasing power to disrupt the typical supermarket model by bring fresh produce into neighbourhoods that don’t have ready access to it. Most importantly, it gives clients a chance to talk about the reasons they need help so the underlying causes of their food insecurity can be addressed.

Wellington City Mission currently gives out food boxes to its clients. It has a vision for a new facility that will include a ‘social supermarket’.  It says this will empower users to choose the food and products they want and need and to pay by koha.

After the panel presentation and discussion, a workshop revealed five steps to improving food security in Wellington. These same steps could be applied in other areas of New Zealand.

Develop an overarching, collective food security vision that is shared across the region

This will make it possible to respond to people’s urgent needs while working towards structural changes in the future.

Take a holistic approach

We must tackle the systemic factors that are likely to cause food insecurity in the future, like lack of access to housing and predatory loan behaviour.

Focus on empowerment

Empowering people is the most important part of any food service. When we provide food, we should seek to do it in a way that enhances mana; that grows skills, confidence and connections. This will give people the resources, in all areas of life, to be food secure.

Knowing who else is out there and collaborating

It is essential that service providers are aligned, able to communicate with each other and are sharing data where appropriate – especially those that operate in the same communities and support a number of the same people in different ways.

This is not just a food issue. We all have a role to play

It’s not up to food security providers to solve all the issues. Businesses can help in a number of ways including:

  • Adopting a more open employment approach that enables struggling people to find work, and to stay in a job. This includes creating employment opportunities that have more flexibility for those with health needs or parental responsibilities and providing on the job training.
  • Donating money to services providing holistic support like WELLfed, Wesley Community Action and Wellington City Mission, as well as organisations providing support services for mental health and housing.
  • Sending food waste to organisations like Kaibosh or the Free Store, to be redistributed.
  • Offering business skills or services to those in need, or to the organsiations that are supporting them.

The Wellington Food Forum was supported by Wellington City Council and Kore HiaKai.