02 May Food Banks and Nutrition Insecurity in New Zealand
Despite ample food supply, food insecurity has become a growing concern in New Zealand, among policymakers, institutions, and the general public. According to Auckland City Mission Research, around 10% of New Zealanders – approximately 500,000 people – experience food insecurity in some form, with a higher prevalence among children, welfare recipients, and Māori and Pacific households . These individuals do not have access to enough safe and nutritious food to satisfy their dietary requirements, which can result in nutritional deficiency and other health issues.
Among the thousands of New Zealanders who experienced food insecurity in 2019, less than half received food grants from the Ministry of Social Development, leaving high demand on charitable organisations to fulfil nutritional needs. Often food banks are part of this solution, providing emergency food assistance to those in need. While they have helped to address immediate food insecurity, there are concerns about their ability to address micronutrient deficiencies. For example, an Australian study found that the average food basket of those relying on food banks was deficient in calcium, folate, zinc, and vitamins A, C, D and E.
Micronutrient deficiencies are a global problem and a significant concern in New Zealand, including zinc, selenium, iron, iodine, folate, vitamin B12, and D. For those who rely on food banks for their dietary needs, the risk of micronutrient deficiencies is high, as the available food may be less nutritious or varied than required for a healthy diet. Commonly donated food items include canned goods, rice, cereal, and pasta, which are good sources of energy, but less rich in vitamins and minerals. Furthermore, the erratic donation patterns upon which food banks rely can result in an interrupted supply of nutrient-dense food.
While various interventions have been offered over the years, the Auckland City Mission report provides clear evidence on their weaknesses. New Zealand is moving further from its food security goals, with the yearly demand for food parcels climbing from 5,329 to 34,120 between 2008-09 and 2019-20.
There is no quick fix for the wicked problem of food insecurity, and food banks offer an important service. However, they will always be limited in their potential to supply complete, healthy diets consistently, pointing to the need for change elsewhere in the system.
This SNippet was written by Ejovi Abafe, a PhD fellow in the SNi team.