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A series of panel discussions recorded before an audience at the Auckland Museum.

Smart Talk at the Auckland Museum: The Taste of Inequality

The Taste of Inequality

Panellists Lisa King, Dame Diane Robertson, Dr Teuila Percival, Dr Lisa Marriott, and moderator Dr Damon Salesa.

Panellists Lisa King, Dame Diane Robertson, Dr Teuila Percival, Dr Lisa Marriott, and moderator Dr Damon Salesa. Photo: Auckland Museum Tamaki Paenga Hira

Participants: Dr Lisa Marriott, Dame Diane Robertson, Lisa King and Dr Teuila Percival. Moderator: Damon Salesa

Despite its reputation as a city of restaurants and a vibrant eating-out culture, Auckland is a place of hunger, poor nutrition, and limited choices for many of its residents, according to a panel at the Auckland Museum discussing inequality.

The former leader of Auckland City Mission Dame Diane Robertson, defines inequality as “not being able to access what other New Zealanders are able to access.” She has seen what she describes as “a huge increase in the number of working poor who are not able to access resources and health services and education.”

When the Mission undertook a research programme profiling the lives of 100 disadvantaged families in 2014), it found that families don’t get the same access to money that the rest of New Zealanders do. Unable to borrow from banks, they borrow resort instead to money-lenders charging much higher rates of interest.

“They don’t get the same access to housing,” she adds, and what they can afford is of poor quality and in locations which progressively move further and further away from the city centre. As a result, their transport costs are bigger. And they transition through houses a lot more than other people do.

“Inequality for me, she concludes, “is not just about income, even though we talk about this a lot.”

Lisa King is the co-owner of the school food charity Eat My Lunch, and in her work she has observed many children coming to school with “snack lollies to school and that’s their lunch. Or a small bag of chips, Or it might be one orange, and that’s the food for the day.”

She’s convinced supermarkets have a role to play in the poor food choices that poor families are making, and argues that they can make fresh, healthy, quality food more accessible without running at a loss.

“You can buy a bag of chips for 99c on special,” she says, “and you can buy Coke and it’s cheaper than water. Being in the fresh food business, I now know how much food actually costs to buy, and the margins that supermarkets are putting on fruit and vegetables.” Their markup can run between 50 and 70% more than what the Eat My Lunch charity buys it in for.

Seeing Auckland children being unsure of where their next meal is coming from has affected King deeply.

When her Eat My Lunch charity started supplying a decile one school with lunches, on the very first day the teacher said the kids wouldn’t eat anything. “I thought maybe they didn’t like the kind of food we were providing,” she explains, “but actually the kids were saving up the lunches to take home because they didn’t know where their next meal was coming from. To have that kind of insecurity, not knowing that you’re going to get one decent meal a day – that’s been one of the stories that’s stuck in my head.”

About the participants

Damon Salesa - Moderator

Associate Professor Damon Salesa is University Director of Pacific Strategy and Engagement and Head of Pacific Studies at the University of Auckland.

He is editor and author of a number of books and scholarly articles on the Pacific Islands and New Zealand. He is the author ofRacial Crossings: Race, Intermarriage and the Early Victorian Empire, which won the Ernest Scott Prize in 2012 and jointly edited and authored Tangata o le Moana: New Zealand and the People of the Pacific.

He is currently working on a social, environmental and technological history of Samoa for which he was awarded a Marsden grant from the Royal Society of New Zealand.

Dr Lisa Marriott

Lisa Marriott is an Associate Professor of Taxation at Victoria University of Wellington’s School of Accounting and Commercial Law. Lisa’s research interests include social justice and inequality. Her recent research has examined inequality gaps between European and Māori, and European and Pacific peoples in New Zealand. Lisa volunteers at the Wellington Soup Kitchen.

Dame Diane Robertson

Dame Diane Robertson led Auckland City Mission for 22 years before her departure in 2015. During her time at the Mission, Robertson helped to start the Family 100 Research Project, in conjunction with Waikato, Massey and Auckland universities, which followed 100 families who were long-term users of food banks. The research has since been used to inform policy development. She laments that homelessness and child poverty have refused to go away, and that people are being crippled by living costs.

Lisa King

Lisa King runs Eat My Lunch alongside chef Michael Meredith. Eat My Lunch’s motto is ‘Buy one, Give One’ and works by giving a child in need a healthy lunch for every lunch that a customer buys. King is passionate about healthy eating and helping to eliminate child poverty through meeting the essential need of having nutritional food available to all communities.

Dr Teuila Percival

Dr Teuila Percival is senior lecturer at the School of Population Health at the University of Auckland. She is currently the principal investigator on the Pacific Child Health Indicators project and OPIC 2, a family-based intervention for Pacific children. Her work with the Pacific health sector was recognised in 2006 with a Pasifika Medical Association Service Award. In 2010, Teuila became a companion of the Queen’s Service Order for her services to the Pacific community.

Smart Talk at the Auckland Museum is part of the Late at the Museum series. Click here for more information.