More than hangi: The rise of Māori food

Written by Jessica Hutchings

Featured in Capital #78
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Dr Jessica Hutchings (Ngai Tahu, Gujurati) is a hua parakore whānau food grower and a kaupapa Māori researcher. She looks at the rising popularity of Māori food.

Māori food growers, chefs, and entrepreneurs are increasingly visible in Aotearoa’s food, tourism, and beverage sectors. We can now purchase and enjoy high-end Māori cusine, hangi delivered via Uber, or boil-up flavoured drinks. We can now watch copious amounts of Māori-themed food television, and access our kai via food trucks across the country. Māori chefs, fermenters, bakers, farmers, and gardeners play a crucial role in making food that is distinctively Māori, and New Zealanders are now accessing our Māori food traditions and our food innovations more than ever before.

But with this rise in popularity and accessibility, have we left behind the kauta (traditional cooking shed)? This is the place where Māori food is prepared intergenerationally, celebrated, and shared according to the Māori kaupapa (values) of turangawaewae, whanaungatanga, manaakitanga, rangatiratanga, and aroha.

While many people may think that Māori food is simply about our hangi, boil-ups, and hunting trips, Māori food culture is also informed by our wider understanding of ourselves as tangata whenua (people of the land) and as kaitiaki to specific lands, waters, and skies. Our kai culture is woven around issues of wellbeing to do with whanau, friends, and communities. The cultivation and consumption of kai is also an expression of the mātauranga (Indigenous knowledge) underpinning our being as Māori. So, while terms such as kaitiakitanga (loosely translated as guardianship) or manaakitanga (hospitality) circulate widely in our national food, tourism, and hospitality sectors, we cannot forget that these terms carry a resonance and significance for Māori beyond the market-led food stories we tell ourselves as a nation.

I’m a hua parakore (Māori organics) whānau food grower. I care about the whakapapa of the seeds I plant, I organise my food-growing practices via the maramataka, and I cultivate my divine spiritual senses through my māra kai practices. I seek food sovereignty for myself and my whānau. By food sovereignty I mean our right as Māori to produce, distribute, and consume culturally appropriate food in ways that align with kaupapa Māori principles – I also understand Māori food sovereignty as returning to eat the cultural landscapes from which we come. In particular, my life’s work is to elevate the six kaupapa underpinning the hua parakore.

The rise in popularity of Māori cusine is an opportunity for Māori to connect with ourselves and our culture. It is also an opportunity for non-Māori to learn more about our Indigenous talents, our way of thinking, doing, and being. It is the values embedded within Māori food that shape Māori food cultures. So while we are seeing more offerings of Māori cusine as a way to extend New Zealand stories of place, provenance, and terroir (a form of gastronationalism) consuming our kai is also a chance to reflect on the whakapapa of the kai and how we position ourselves in relation to things Māori (as Māori and as non-Māori).

We are consuming cultural landscapes when we gather and enjoy food. Food is a vehicle for the expression of kaupapa such as kaitiakitanga and manaakitanga.

These kaupapa are tied to other kaupapa such as rangatiratanga and whakapapa. Every iwi, hapū, and whānau have food stories specific to their locality and their histories. These stories need to be told alongside the more glamourous ones we find in the food, tourism, and beverage sector.

I’m working on a research project called Kai Atua: food for hope and wellbeing, which situates food in relation to kaupapa Māori approaches.

Dr Jessica Hutchings (Ngai Tahu, Gujurati) is a hua parakore whānau food grower, kaupapa Māori researcher, author, and yoga teacher.


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