Food security and food sovereignty played a huge role in the lives of Māori ancestors.

Māori astronomer Rangi Mātāmua was recently featured on a show called Mahi Kai where he had to live off the land.

Re: News spoke to him about his experience and what he learned, but also about the importance of food sourcing and gathering. 

What are some ways to source your own kai locally? 

I’ve hunted and eeled my whole life, I've always harvested food, and I grew up with my grandfather who was always gardening so there was always some form of food production happening. 

There was always this idea of ohu mahi - working together, sharing food so when you went somewhere, you always took food with you. 

You only ever gather what you need and you don't gather to sell, you gather to eat.

Māori have always eaten locally, we source our food locally and in fact, different tribes or regions are known for their food, because food is part of their identity, and food is a marker of culture and identity.

We have a saying “he mana tō te kai” so food has its own form of mana. 

We acknowledge that food is more than just an economic exchange, [that] it's not just about money. It's about prestige, it's about identity, it's about culture and the whole notion of what food is moves beyond just nutrition. 

It becomes this way of expressing who we are, and Māori have always understood that food within a particular region is a precious resource.

There has been much prestige around food - something that has changed mostly as we’ve colonised our understanding of food. 

We’ve colonised our palate, would you believe? 

Some of the things that were delicacies for our ancestors, many of us refuse to eat because our palates have been colonised to a very Western approach to what food is.

There are many ways we can think of how we re-engage with the relationship we have with food. 

Understanding what is local produce, what it is to grow our own food, what it is to harvest our own food, what it is to share food, to trade food, and to use food as a central point to gather people.

And those should be our major considerations before we think about how much it costs.

But as we’ve monetised everything in our lives we mostly think of how much it costs and its value to us economically before everything else. And perhaps that's something we need to consider as we explore the wider issues of food sovereignty and food security.

What does food security and food sovereignty mean to you?

Food security for me is really how much food you have access to. 

Food sovereignty is having the access, knowledge, and ability to grow, hunt, harvest, and share food with one another. 

Food sovereignty will become a bigger issue in our lifetimes, particularly for [the younger] generation. 

When I was young, everyone had gardens, and everyone had fruit trees, gardening was really big and our people have always harvested food and preserved food and shared food and it’s a skill that's very much died out.

Now we allow someone else to feed us - it’s interesting because not only do we allow them to feed us but we actually pay them to feed us and they determine actually what we eat.

What we eat is not determined by what we can grow and what we can catch or even from what we exchange but actually by what big companies allow us to buy. 

There's no mana in that kind of exchange. If something was to happen that upsets the food chain then people would starve because they would not have the knowledge to feed themselves.

If there were no supermarkets how would people get their food?

Food security is not just about ensuring you can survive, it's actually those values that underpin your ability to be able to sustain yourself. It’s a dying art. And it was something that is at the heart of our culture. 

It's something that we’re starting to see a decline in the past few generations.

How can kai be an expression of tino rangatiratanga?

Because kai is an expression of identity, kai is definitely an expression of tino rangatiratanga. 

If you’re able to remove any external influence over what you eat and how you eat, that’s a way of re-indigenising your world and you are reliant more so on yourself and your sustenance and well-being. 

By removing yourself from relying on the system, and then becoming more independent, I think tino rangatiratanga is realised in a real meaningful way, you're actually eating out of your own land or sustaining yourself out of the environment, you're reconnecting to the atua in those spaces.

You were recently part of the Mahi Kai kaupapa. What is that and what are some valuable things you learned?

Te Aorere Pewhairangi came to me with this idea of Mahi Kai. 

It helps people think about food sovereignty and food security.

He’s always been someone who’s aware of nutrition and he’s quite an athlete but he wanted to think about not so much following a true ancestral diet but actually the principles of gathering your own food and sharing food so he came to me to do some fishing. 

He actually didn't tell me that I was going to be on this programme but apparently I’m on it.

So he threw me under the bus like that but it's just the way we’re trying to get people aware of the practices of food security and food sovereignty.

The biggest lesson I learned is I spend so much time travelling around the country and even around the world talking about things like the environment and astronomy and food security, and I find that I spend a lot of time talking about it, but I never get any time to practise. 

I've always hunted, I still hunt, I go out and catch a couple of deer, make them up into sausages and meat patties, and then I give it all away.

I'm lucky enough to source and trade with other people for other sorts of food, but truly practising a diet where I’m growing most of my food and catching most of my food, I haven't been doing that. 

I tell people, it's so important to think about food security, then I go to a restaurant like everyone else, or I buy from the supermarket things that I could probably source myself. 

So it's making me reflect on my own practices and putting pressure on myself to do more of what I talk about other than just talking about it.

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