Teuru Passfield : Eating local is healthy and tasty too

Saturday July 25, 2020 Written by Teuru Passfield, Te Ipukarea Society Published in Environment
Teuru on the Matavera reef flats collecting seawater for cooking. 20072442 Teuru on the Matavera reef flats collecting seawater for cooking. 20072442
OPINION: Last week, our family challenged ourselves to seven days of consuming only local produce. Every ingredient had to be from Cook Islands. It started as a fun little test of our reliance on imported goods but, along the way, some lessons became apparent.

Waste reduction

We didn’t intentionally pick the challenge week to align with Plastic Free July but using only local produce significantly reduced the amount of rubbish we generated.

Some of the herbs and vegetables we purchased were pre-packed in plastic, but we rinsed and reused these for freezing our excess fruit. We bought a lot of filleted fish over the week, which was also in biodegradable plastic bags.

It’s only now occurred to me that we could take our own tupperware or bowls to buy fish. Our fruit, rukau viti and coconuts all came from our own yard, and most local produce from friends, shops or from road-side stalls, didn’t come in plastic.

If you’re aiming to use less plastic, eating more local food will go a long way in contributing to that goal, and lowering your carbon footprint!


As the main cook in our household, the challenge forced me to acknowledge my usual reliance on imported goods for flavour. I tend to use a lot of international seasonings – cajun, soy sauce, curry powders, sweet chilli sauce, salt, pepper …

So it was fun to find different, local ways to flavour our food. At first, food tasted a little bland compared to what our palates are used to, but we adjusted, and got more creative throughout the week.

We used fresh seawater to salt our food – either by pouring it into soups, soaking our fish in it before cooking, or making our own sea salt by boiling off the water.

After a tip from Victoria Dearlove, we dried and crushed pawpaw seeds to use as a pepper substitute. Other local flavours used were local ginger and turmeric, coconut cream (lots of it!), lime juice and rind, chilli, kaffir lime leaves, basil, coriander, chives, spring onions, and fruit.

Moving forward, we’ve committed to using more local ingredients to season our food.


While not really an objective of the challenge, it wasn’t surprising that we lost some weight over the week. By default, we could only eat whole foods.

We couldn’t have dairy products, added sugar (replaced by local honey) or alcohol.

We didn’t snack much, and when we did, it usually involved exercise – like husking coconuts to get some uto or wandering the yard to find fruit.  


The biggest challenge of the week (not including missing beer!) was probably missing “convenience”.

One day I was in Foodland (looking for goat meat) and I was hungry. Normally I would be able to buy a sandwich or some muesli bars, but I had to wait until I got home to cook some fish.

We had to husk, grate, and squeeze coconuts for “milk” in our Atiu coffee every morning, which was a lot more time-consuming than splashing some UHT milk into a mug.

A lot more delicious though! 

Finding local meat was harder than I would have expected, considering all the wild pigs and goats in our country.

While we were happy with fish, part of the challenge was exploring the extent of what is produced locally. Eventually, we tracked down a frozen whole piglet from Ma‘uke, which we had to quarter with a chainsaw!

There may be health and safety reasons for this lack of commercial supply, but it would be excellent to be able to access local meat as easily as it is to access imported goods.

I highly recommend a challenge like this. My family and I feel that our diet choices have been reset somewhat, and while we won’t be so strict moving forward, we will be eating a lot more local food from now on. Our next challenge might be to eat only what we have in our yard…but I should probably learn how to catch and process moa kainga first!

1 comment

  • Comment Link Rita Missal Tuesday, 28 July 2020 06:20 posted by Rita Missal

    thanks for sharing your experience. I have never tried this.i did try living with less the 1.95 usd per day for a week. Reading about this inspires me to try it in my home ..

    Best wishes


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