Posted by: ezzakazhall | January 21, 2013

Free fruit for all?


eating-strawberryIn my last post, I mentioned the Voxy article, which had found that 19% of children from deprived New Zealand communities were obese, compared with only 3% of those in wealthier neighbourhoods.

The article mentioned several solutions for reducing obesity among children – some I agreed with, some not so much. One of the solutions suggested was “making healthy food the easy option for all New Zealanders, through subsidies or removing GST on fruit and vegetables” (the other half of that was a tax on sugary and fatty foods – which I do not agree with, as I explained on my last post).

While I do not necessarily believe that obesity and ill health are mutually exclusive (which you will see from previous posts I’ve made), it is correct that some healthier options are more expensive, particularly for lower income families. For example, in 2011, the cost of fruit and vegetables in New Zealand increased by 16 percent. At that time tomatoes cost $13.25 per kg, and lettuce was $9.40 per kg. Last year, according to Statistics New Zealand’s Food Price Index, fruit and vege prices continues to rise. Fruit prices rose by 11% overall. While lettuce and broccoli decreased in price, tomatoes rose in price by 26%, avocados by 33% and kumara by 90%. While, as mentioned earlier, lettuce decreased in price, the average price was still $5.21 per kg (I mentioned this to my husband, and his response was, “that better be a damn good lettuce”). So, for low income families struggling to make ends meet, $22.85 (in 2011) is a lot for your basic, garden variety Kiwi salad.

Late last year, I was fortunate to meet Fetuolemoana Tamapeau of Wellington City Council’s Pacific Advisory Group, who, along with her PAG colleagues, had a dream of planting fruit tress in the Taiaroa St Play area in Strathmore. Strathmore (where I lived for a time) is a strangely divided suburb. At the bottom of the hill is Scots College, an expensive boys’ private school, at the top of the hill are several wealthy subdivisions with large opulent houses. In between, however, are State Housing blocks. The Taiaroa St playground is right across the street from a large State Housing area – so Fetu’s plan was to for the planned fruit trees to be a source of free healthy snacks for the local kids, many of whom are from low income families.

When I interviewed Fetu about the fruit trees, she mentioned that there’d been arguments among the New Zealand Government about removing GST from fruit and vegetables. She is correct that this has been a topic for debate among our politicians for several years – and, in 2010, the Labour Party (the Opposition) announced that it planned to axe GST from fruit and veg, saving the average family around $300-$400 a year. To which National Government Finance Minister Bill English responded, “It’s never going to end, is it? It’s fruit and vegetables today, frozen peas tomorrow… vegetables in hamburgers sold in McDonald’s – that’s healthy”. in 2011, Health Minister Tony Ryall said the current Government has no plans to remove GST from fruit and veg, stating in this NZ Herald Article that, “The increase in GST has been compensated for through personal tax cuts so we’re not going to move on and take GST off food.”

Fetu told me in the interview that she couldn’t understand why our politicians are arguing over the simple fact that our children and communities need healthy food, and that there should not be barriers when it comes to families being able to access healthy and nutritious options. Hence the purpose of the trees: kids can visit their favourite hang-out spot and get a free snack, that may be otherwise too expensive to buy a lot of at the supermarket. Without any intervention needed from our Parliamentarians.

I wrote an article on Fetu’s plan for the trees – which was published in The Wellingtonian and on NewsWire, our school news site. As it turns out, Fetu and the PAG are currently in discussion with Wellington City Council about planting the trees in the Taiaroa Street playground, and she indicated that things were looking positive. So, with any luck, I will have a new article to write on the PAG’s plans, hopefully with good news to report.

I wanted to make this post because I am encouraged that our local councils are making it easier, through initiatives like the possible Strathmore fruit trees, community gardens and community orchards, for families and communities to access healthful and natural food options. In an age where supermarket prices keep skyrocketing, and our Parliamentarians can’t seem to make up their mind.


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