Our Food. Our People. Our Future.

19 Oct, 2018
David Letele addresses the audience at the Food Symposium 2018 event

The recent food symposium at AUT South Campus celebrated local champions and successful community-based projects.

Primary prevention strategies around non-communicable diseases, such as heart disease, diabetes and stroke, have been relatively ineffective among the communities of South Auckland. However, there are local champions who are making a difference – one person at a time.  

Dr Cath Conn, associate head of the School of Public Health and Psychosocial Studies, says it’s important to look to the community for examples of what works. And, what they are seeing is a more holistic approach to food, healthy eating and physical activity that acknowledges Māori and Pacific culture and lifestyle.

The one-day symposium – hosted by the School of Public Health and Psychosocial Studies and the AUT Food Network – brought together local champions, business, government and academics.

David Letele, aka Brown Buttabean, is a fitness motivator and life coach for many Pacific people struggling with their weight. The former boxer was overweight and depressed – ‘I hated myself and my body’ – but turned his life around by shedding 100 kilos.

Since then, hundreds of people have followed his lead, participating in free Buttabean Motivation bootcamps across Auckland. The volunteers who help run the bootcamps began by training with Letele.

“It’s different to just hiring a personal trainer, because people have seen these guys and their transformation. They have the right mindset and now they’re passing it on,” he says.

“My advice is just to start. Now, that doesn’t mean going to the gym – it can just be getting off the couch and walking to your letterbox. Stop drinking fizzy drinks. Stop eating rubbish. Start small, it all adds up. And, find your way. My way is my children. I want to be here for my kids. At the end of the day, it’s your life and you have got to want to live it.”

Kelly Francis left the corporate world to start Whenua Warrior, a social enterprise and charitable trust that empowers communities to grow their own produce. Last year, they planted more than 100 gardens for families in Māngere over two days.

“We’re aiming to make a harvestable garden available to every New Zealander – whether it be at a papakāinga, marae, church or someone’s backyard. We want to be able to feed the community, teach the community to feed themselves and empower them to teach one another,” says Francis.  

“If we all learned how to grow our own food, it would change the way the food system works for the positive. It would also encourage our people to use the land correctly.”

Dr Conn says both speakers were an inspiration and example of people putting their words into action. However, community efforts do not let others off the hook.

“Government, business and academics all have an important role to play in proactively improving Aotearoa’s less than ideal food system,” she says.  

Walter Fraser, executive director of AUT South Campus, told the audience: “We are determined to use our heft as New Zealand’s second largest university to build strong and meaningful partnerships with NGOs, community groups, organisations and individuals to enable the innovation and creativity required to bring about long-term positive change.”

AUT’s Professor Elaine Rush discussed the paradox of being ‘stuffed and starved in New Zealand’. And visiting Fulbright scholar, Professor Robert Field from Drexel University in Philadelphia, presented on ‘Food deserts, food swamps and unhealthy eating in the United States: A tale of public health and politics’, including the fight for soda taxes and resistance from the food industry.

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