Growing up on little food led me to research food resilience


OPINION: For me, kai [food] has always been linked to empowerment or powerlessness. I was born in the 1980s, the first child of a single mother. At the time, the welfare state established after the Depression was quickly dismantled under the virulent pressure of the neoliberal project.

My mom yelled on the phone to welfare when they cut her family allowance by $ 50 without warning. It was our food money. As her income grew, so did our family, until there were six children. We were never rich, but we did not starve. Often times I didn’t have school shoes or new clothes, but we were much better off than some of the kids at Te Ara Rima school, a 1 decile kura kaupapa [total immersion Māori school].

Here, my sister-in-law Piata and I were among the lucky ones who used to bring their lunch to school, even though it was sometimes stolen by other children. I have fond memories of the days when the father of some school children was employed to come and prepare hot meals for the children: pale green leek and potato soup, mince and sauce over mashed potatoes. He had cooked in the military and there were extra plates, even for kids who couldn’t afford the $ 5 a week.

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Growing up, we didn’t have a vegetable patch. I grew up on processed bread and margarine; skimmed milk and meat packaged in polystyrene bags; canned tomatoes and uniform vegetables that I often refused to eat. The food came from the supermarket. Once every two weeks, when mum was paid, all the kids would push the cart into the Pak ‘n Save supermarket to ask for treats. At the end of the fortnight, there was not much left, especially for this most precarious meal: school meals, so easily spoiled by odors or stray liquids, vulnerable because it remains for hours in a plastic box, in a satchel, in a cape bay, becoming stale.

Kai has always been linked with empowerment or helplessness, writes Isa Pearl Ritchie.


Kai has always been linked with empowerment or helplessness, writes Isa Pearl Ritchie.

As the elders of a growing family, Piata and I have learned to take on domestic responsibilities. We were expected to make our own breakfasts as soon as we entered school. Tired in the morning, I often did not organize myself on time and spent many days hungry. Later, in middle school I attended, I learned that if I pretended to order my lunch from school, the teachers would pity me and end up microwaving a pie for me. in the teachers room freezer.

I learned to cook and prepare dinner for the family when I was eight years old. Mom still had a baby, and I remember going to her room, where she was lying with a newborn baby and asking for cooking instructions, which usually started with “Cut an onion first…” In her early twenties , as a young mother of sociology. degree and strong critical analysis, food has taken on a different meaning in my life.

Author and MA researcher Isa Pearl Ritchie.


Author and Senior Researcher Isa Pearl Ritchie.

Concerned about the industrial food system and potentially harmful additives, I sought to better control my baby’s food. I felt I had to get some power back from the companies. I was looking for more connection with food and health. I wanted to focus on micro-level solutions for the problems that were now in the foreground in my consciousness.

These concerns became the focus of my masters research, where I explored the movements of nourishing eating. My doctoral research followed this interest in food, health and well-being. It was sparked by the enthusiasm for the proliferation of food democratization initiatives and the prospects for greater food freedom that I was realizing.

I came to this research with a deep commitment to social justice and a deep concern for the human impacts on the ecosystems of this planet. My focus on food was influenced by experiences of food insecurity in my childhood; observations of abject poverty in my immediate surroundings; by the ongoing negotiations in my life around healthy, ethical and affordable food; by an acute awareness of the ruthless social and environmental exploitation involved in the corporate food industry; by a deliberately cultivated attitude of optimism; and by a strong desire to research and promote more sustainable food production models.

There is a sense of urgency among the voices of scientists, activists, citizens and social scientists; the realization that we are heading towards multifaceted crises that could ultimately mean the demise of our species; crises including global warming, social exploitation, growing socio-economic disparities, environmental destruction, the peak of our energy capacity within our current global fossil fuel system, the peak of an economic system , dependent on exponential growth, and the devastation of the planet’s ecosystems, on which our species depends.

Food, Freedom, Community, by Isa Pearl Ritchie.


Food, Freedom, Community, by Isa Pearl Ritchie.

Faced with these multiple intersecting stories of exploitation, humanity needs more than ever to develop coherent counter-narratives – stories of solutions. We need to tell authentic stories that inspire hope, that resonate with people, that connect people, and inspire compassion and empathy, because this seems like the most obvious way to counter alienation, depression and exploitation. I intend to tell, recount and explore some of these stories, through the collected accounts of research participants in the community of Whaingaroa and more broadly in New Zealand.

*Extract of Food, Freedom, Community by Isa Pearl Ritchie. Published by Te Rā Aroha Press, September 23. List price $ 38.99. Isa Pearl Ritchie is a New Zealand writer with a doctorate in social science. She writes novels for adults and young people.


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