Thursday, February 22, 2024

The gift of time and care

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David Eade looks forward to a time when Kiwi farmers are revered for the meticulous attention they pay their products.
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The crack of dawn on Christmas Day, a magical hour. For kids, it’s a time steeped in anticipation, eyes wide with wonder as they tiptoe through the quiet house. Little hearts racing with excitement. Presents beckon, promising untold delights. But there’s a catch in our house. The eager youngsters must wait until the adults in the household are stirred from their slumber. A task easier said than done.

Time seems to slow to a crawl as the children, teeming with anticipation, attempt to entertain themselves. A cursory check under the tree, a gentle shake of the wrapped parcels. This collective waiting transforms into a lesson in patience.

With everyone in their designated places, a shared sense of anticipation also infects the adults – a communal experience that defines the essence of the festive spirit. A feeling you want to bottle. 

These days though, I find something increasingly spoils the magic of gift giving and present opening. More and more, the wrapping paper reveals fleeting goods with limited lifespans. 

For the more discerning, products flaunting green claims like net zero and climate-friendliness go up the gift hierarchy – but I can’t help but feel like we’re missing the sense of care that’s supposed to underpin the ritual of gift giving and receiving. 

As a silent observer sitting among the piles of wrapping paper, ribbons and bows this past Christmas, two clear images come to mind. Both are about Japanese gifting culture, as I witnessed earlier in the year.

First is the meticulous folding of 1000 paper cranes exchanged by individuals annually to mark the bombing of Hiroshima. Each crane is technically worthless – just a scrap of paper. But once infused with the time and care honed through thousands of hours of repetitive, precise labour, it takes on a much deeper value. 

The second is a square watermelon. Encased in layers of plastic, the seriously expensive fruit is gifted from work colleague to boss. A symbol of the deep respect that pervades Japanese culture. While bought instead of personally made, the gift still holds the pedigree of time and care. In this case, by the grower who must encase each fruit in a mould and harvest at precisely the right moment to earn the product’s 300% premium.  

I am struck by a sense of irony that as food producers we want our customers to appreciate the huge level of time and care we put into our farms. Yet most of us play some part in the consumerist, volume-over-valuable gifting characterised by the classic Kiwi Christmas morning. 

If we want our customers to respect our products not for the labels they bear but for the values of time and care embedded within, like the Japanese do – maybe that needs to start in our own homes first? 

I can envision a time when Kiwi producers are revered for their time and care. Where the primary sector positions itself as the steward of the land. In this scenario, environmental and ethical practices are not mere marketing add-ons, but integral parts of the cultivation process. 

The same premium paid for an aged whiskey would be included into our produce, which took no environmental or ethical shortcuts to create. 

Collecting the paper and plastic of Christmas morning and leaving my Grinchy persona behind, I thought about why this Eastern cultural reframe feels so right for me as a food producer. It celebrates the work of our time-honoured practice. You only have to recall the beloved Mainland Cheese advertisement from yesteryear – “Good things take time” – to feel that too. 

As people become increasingly attuned to our ecological impact, I can’t help but feel that a re-awakening of a culture that respects time and care like the Japanese is inevitable. It feels like an ideal replacement for the consumption-heavy lifestyles we lead today. 

As primary sector participants whose livelihoods revolve around time and care, we are well poised to lead that change. 

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