Fonterra is front and centre of food industry conversation at the moment, but the challenges confronting the dairy giant are not exclusive to it, but are an epidemic of chronic status that threatens to be fatal to both the industry and the nation. Unfortunately it has become critical at a time when those in charge of the patient lack both the intellect and the surgical skill to perform the necessary lifesaving procedures.
We shouldn’t be surprised if the Chinese and other customers of New Zealand food products are less than excited by the revelation that the Ministry of Primary Industries’ review of analysis of the contaminant in Fonterra’s whey protein concentrate found it to be harmless to consumers. The issue that has not been dismissed by the latest development in this crisis is that Fonterra not only found contaminants in one of its products, but that it proceeded to supply that contaminated products to other producers as a food ingredient.
There is a cider boom in the hospo sector right now, but does anybody have any idea what cider actually is. As it stands, cider can be made from anything that has a tenuous link to fruit juice, and as such the bull cider market is a perfect allegory of New Zealand’s food industry. We make money while the sun shines on light, fruity, alcohol beverages masquerading as cider, but for those who are concerned with the healthy commerce incorporated in the craft of cider, either as drinkers, producers or hospo providers we are on a fast track to disaster.
The newly passed GCSB bill will allow the spy agency to intercept communications from a specified “class” of New Zealanders, one the Prime Ministers deems to be a threat to the security of the nation. As more revelations of Fonterra’s mismanagement of its food safety standards increase the erosion of our international reputation as food producers could dairy farmers and their representatives be such a class? Could the whole food industry, from farm to restaurant, be classified in this way?
Being the best is often cited by restaurateurs as their raison d’être, but it is doubtful whether that best is a global best, or just a better-than-the-competition wish. The problem we have with our cuisine is that it has been based on an idea that sophistication is imported, and so we have developed a culinary culture that is nothing more than a copycat of what happens in other food cultures, and as a copycat, by definition it can never be truly the best.
The decision by Ngapuhi to support the maintenance of New Zealanders’ rights to gather wild seafood is a sign that the natives are troubled. In rejecting the Ministry of Primary Industries’ attempt to apply the quota system to recreational fishing, Te Iwi a Runanga o Ngapuhi are putting our food culture above their own vested interest in commercial fishing and taking a stand against the industrialisation of local food culture that has been eroding our social and economic health for 130 years.
The signs have been there for some time that cockies are far too cocky for their own good. Now that there are more pig’s ears than top milk in or export mix, it is time for the backbone of this nation to find a way to connect to the brain of said nation. The Fonterra problem is not a corporate management issue: like the meat industry problem it is down to farmers’ ignorance and their belief in their exceptionalism.
As a revolution it is a quiet one, but no less profound because of that. The decision by Beef + Lamb New Zealand to support country of origin labelling is a dramatic shift in attitude for our major primary industries, one not yet supported by the dairy sector, or by our grocery trade at large. But if it becomes the tipping point for honest food labelling in this country our supermarkets will never be the same again.
Oxford University really did get the mainstream media excited by its “research” findings that professional wine judges did not have the ability to identify the most expensive wines in their taste trials. Otherwise august publications around the globe, many of which run regular columns of opinion from the very experts they ridicule, published the results with obvious relish, revealing a distinct irony failure on their own part.
The Coke advertisements proclaiming their noble citizenship are large and red, but set against Reader’s Digest’s annual ‘most trusted brands’ fete they are less convincing than the giant beverage company would have hoped. Coca-Cola is probably the most recognised global food brand, but the real challenge facing the American commercial emblem and a host of other huge food brands is not recognition but integrity: the ultimate purchase question being, “do I trust this stuff enough to put it in my body?”
I went to a pub the other day, and while I was not shocked by the experience, the bad smell, slack service, poor beer and general poverty of the place, I was surprised that it was still operating, that the residual non-service culture of 50 years ago continues. While I often joke about how bad pubs were, the fact is that most of them still are, and their complete demise will be good news, not just for our reputation when tourists stumble on them by mistake, but for the whole hospo community.
Seventy years after the US Army began research into a war-on-food strategy and the scene of the most bitter defeat in US history, Vietnam, is the setting for a remarkable reversal. This time the attack on Vietnam’s food industry and culture has been achieved by stealth rather than the massive herbicide bombardments by military aircraft initiated in 1963, with the announcement that McDonald’s has opened its first outlet in Vietnam.