Time to eat healthy

19 Mar 2020 Time to eat healthy image

Photo: 5+ A Day

As with every crisis, the first goal is to make a plan and then progressively make the plan better. Your personal plan may start off with working out how you and your family will stay safe and if necessary, quarantine yourselves away from the rest of New Zealand.

I then suggest that your plan looks at how you can avoid contracting COVID-19 by, for example, eating healthy locally grown food. We are fortunate that in New Zealand, we grow a lot of food, enough to feed 40 million people. People in New Zealand and around the world will be wanting to eat even more of our healthy food over the next few months.

But as a country, we unfortunately have some of the worst eating habits in the world. Well, COVID-19 is our wake-up call to change those poor habits.

Ministry of Health data shows that only just over 50% of us are eating the recommended three or more servings of vegetables and two pieces of fruit a day. Research has shown that starting to eat your 5+ A Day fruit and vegetables at breakfast time is the best way to ensure that you will eat a sufficient amount each day. This, in turn, promotes good health. A recent survey reported that 82% of us eat breakfast during the week, but only 44% include fruit and vegetables with breakfast. So your plan should include adding fruit or vegetables to your breakfast, with a plan to continuing eating fruit and vegetables throughout the day.

Those countries that rely on imported food to feed their people face the risk that the food they need will not reach their country. Food shortages will not assist the fight against COVID-19. We are fortunate in New Zealand that we grow what we need to eat to survive, without having to rely on imported food.

To date, about one third of our fruit and vegetables are imported. COVID-19 is likely to see those imports drop away with New Zealanders having to place greater reliance on what we grow here. Many consumers will then discover that food is seasonal and that year-round supply of food in supermarkets is not possible. For example, year-round kumara, kiwifruit and apples will probably not be possible, when the New Zealand season for these crops end later in the year. New Zealand kumara, kiwifruit and apples are currently being harvested and are in season. There is nothing like a newly harvested vegetable or piece of fruit.

What COVID-19 has also highlighted is whether we can grow enough food to feed New Zealand in the future. The land on which we need to grow our healthy food is becoming part of our cities, and lifestyle blocks are cutting up the land that once was feeding us. In the future, we need to ensure that the land we use to feed ourselves is growing healthy food and not houses.

This is not only about having the land to grow food on. It is also about the Government and councils enabling and not inhibiting growers’ ability to grow food to feed New Zealand. At present, many regulatory settings are unfavourable, which will see growers leave the industry and stop growing food.

HortNZ is working with the Government and councils to try and change this. In short, the Resource Management Act needs to enable the growing of healthy food. Change is needed and needed soon. We can only hope that the submissions we are making to the Government will be heard, with land for growing protected and the Resource Management Act working to support food production. Otherwise, when the next crisis hit, we may be trying to import food.

So New Zealand, now is the time to eat healthy, eat local and eat what’s in season.

Mike Chapman, Chief Executive


To access healthy eating tips, go to the 5+ A Day website.