The Cook Islands celebrates food all year long, but yesterday the Punanga Nui marketplace hosted a special event to honour World Food Day—the birthday of the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), an agency that seeks to defeat hunger everywhere.
On World Food Day, the world celebrates real, healthy, sustainably produced food and the possibility of a world in which hunger and poor nutrition don’t exist.
“Food is a contributor to illnesses (and) non-communicable diseases (NCDs),” minister of agriculture Rose Brown said during a speech that launched yesterday’s event.
“We are encouraging our people including our children, to grow, plant, live off the land.”
Government agencies, non-government organisations, businesses, community groups, and local chefs—a group including representatives from Business Trade & Investment Board, Ministry of Agriculture, Cook Islands Chefs Association, CITC, Ministry of Health, Ministry of Marine Resources, a Mauke delegation, Sunshine Raro, Natura Kuki Airani, Te Ipukarea Society, Korero O Te ‘Orau, Cook Islands Tourism, Tausani Simei, Rangi Mitaera-Johnson, and Te Mou Enua Growers, collaborated to produce a day-long event that focused on healthy, local, organic foods and the cultural traditions associated with them.
The food, music, and craft of the Cook Islands were the stars of the show, which featured competitions and games such as ’ei-making, coconut husking and grating, and a cooking competition involving the Cook Islands Chefs Association and students from Te Uki Ou, St Joseph’s, Avarua School, and Rutaki School.
There was education about healthy cooking, including a demonstration by chef Tausani Simei about organic baby food and another by Rangi Mitaera-Johnson about cooking with local ingredients.
Growers, invited by the Ministry of Agriculture, sold their produce under a long marquee. BTIB and June Hosking from Mauke sold locally produced jams and chutneys. There were locally woven baskets and booths providing information about healthy living.
The theme of this year’s World Food Day was “Our actions are our future”, a reference to the idea that by taking simple steps—reducing food waste, eating nutritious and locally grown produce, and advocating for healthier diets—we can achieve the goal hashtagged #ZeroHunger.
Outgoing secretary of agriculture Dr Matairangi Purea says the theme is fitting.
“Although we are not starving like others are in the outside world, we are taking action for our future,” he says. Taking action means returning to the land, to planting without chemicals and eating from the sea and soil.
Associate minister of Agriculture Patrick Arioka says that while the FAO’s goal is to reduce hunger, in the Cook Islands we have a different sort of problem. Still, the solution—real food, not processed western food—is the same.
“Our concern is we are eating ourselves to death. This event is a reminder of how important eating healthy food and living a healthy lifestyle is,” he says, noting that healthy food is central to the Cook Islands culture. “Agriculture has always been a part of our culture, of our community.”
The World Food Day event came on the heels of Takurua, an initiative launched by Cook Islands Tourism in July that promotes healthy eating. Food, Metua Vaiimene of Tourism says, is not only a necessity for eradicating non-communicable disease but also a saleable asset.
“There needs to be a groundswell from the community of eating local, healthy food in everyday life,” he says. “When that happens, the tourists will get to experience that healthy, authentic Cook Islands cuisine by default.”
But the primary focus of World Food Day was on local kids reconnecting to culture and health through food.
“Our children are our future,” Arioka says, “so we have obligations to meet.”
- Rachel Reeves and Melina Etches