Being able to harvest food from the wild used to be a characteristic of the New Zealand way of life for Maori and Pakeha. Gathering mushrooms, hunting wild pig and deer, fishing, eeling, whitebaiting, and harvesting watercress are much less common today, not just because some of them are now scarce. But people are wanting to return to these traditional and very enjoyable ways of putting food on the table. The older generation still have cherished memories and legends of the best fishing spots, eels the size of sharks, and buckets of whitebait.
These days we’re a bit unsure about where the mahinga kai are, and what wild foods are safe to eat.
Collaborative community research
Wendy Newport-Smith, Manager of the NZ Food Safety Science & Research Centre (NZFSSRC), has longstanding relationships with the Tolaga Bay Community through a catchment restoration project supported by the Allan Wilson Centre. She is now leading a project funded by MBIE’s Vision Mātauranga to survey wild food sources in the area. NZFSSRC is working together with local iwi (Te Aitanga-a-Hauiti), Tolaga Bay Area School, Plant & Food Research Ltd, and catchment restoration consultant, Ground truth Ltd, to locate mahinga kai and assess potential threats to the safe consumption and sustainable harvesting of various wild foods.
As well as taking part in a comprehensive ‘kai-blitz’ to see what food is available in their rohe, students will interview elders to capture their stories and mātauranga—and maybe get them to divulge the whereabouts of those legendary fishing spots. They also want to discover how they preserved and cooked the food they collected.
Sharing the findings
This information will be incorporated into a community resource, and presented at a hui to show people how to identify and best use available mahinga kai, how to evaluate whether foods are safe to eat, and provide a checklist for food safety. The resource will draw on existing information provided by the Ministry for Primary Industries, and feed into the Healthy Families programme run locally by Te Whare Hauora o Te Aitanga a Hauiti. This is one progressive community.