Summer Wright

Project Title:

Māori value propositions for plant-based foods


Food is fundamental to life; it represents networks of meaning and relationships and is at once nature, culture, and sustenance. Current food systems are driving unprecedented levels of ecological degradation and diet-related illnesses, and the transformation of food into a global commodity has abstracted it from nature into a sterile tradeable unit. Yet, Māori have steadfastly maintained a relational understanding of the world, and approaches to food production are often driven by aspirations for environmental wellbeing, kinship, and sovereignty. Plant-based foods are an emergent sector with numerous opportunities for Māori enterprise. They have exploded in popularity in response to shifting consumer values for health, sustainability, and animal welfare. Diets higher in plant-based foods are often less resource-intensive and may impart health benefits. Therefore, plant-based foods can capture multiple aspects of value for environmental and human wellbeing. Māori have long been adept horticulturalists, and culturally informed approaches to food creation can add further value to plant-based foods, creating a ‘value proposition’.

This project is investigating the key factors influencing Māori participation in the plant-based food sector in Aotearoa. It aims to describe what a Māori value proposition for plant-based foods looks like, and how it may benefit Māori. Known challenges include navigating the legacies of colonialism, protection of mātauranga Māori, and a paucity of readily available resources. Opportunities for Māori lie in relational approaches to enterprise and the possible values alignment with plant-based foods. Non-exploitation of whakapapa relations with animals and ecosystems and enabling wellbeing of people are present in te Ao Māori and can mesh well with plant-based foods. Ultimately, a growth in Māori-made plant-based foods may herald a necessary shift in the national Aotearoa food system from commodity-oriented to creating wellbeing for all.