Kai Institute is Preserving Culture Through Kai

Published date : Mon, 18 March 2024 10:28 AM

Te Whare Wananga o Awanuiārangi is a proud supporter of The Kai Institute, which is led by Wānanga Council member Distinguished Professor Linda Tuhiwai Smith. 

In a world of fast food and international culinary trends, it is easy to forget the rich tapestry of indigenous food that has sustained cultures for many generations. Here in the Bay of Plenty, you will find a humble movement that is dedicated to re-introducing traditional kai practice, preserving kai mātauranga (knowledge) and protecting the cultural identity of Māori. 

Ngā Āhuatanga o te Kai Ltd, The Kai Institute, is a joint venture leading this movement. CEO, Distinguished Professor Linda Tuhiwai Smith, and General Manager and Nutritionist, Julia Coates, are at the forefront of this vital mahi (work), ensuring all that kai encompasses is not lost, but safeguarded, celebrated and understood.  

The journey began in December 2022, when investment from  Te Whare Wānanga o Awanuiārangi and Te Puna Ora o Mataatua laid the foundation for this charitable company. In its early stages, the focus was on creating essential documents, tools, processes, and operational frameworks. Despite being a new and small entity, they have already harnessed their strengths to expand their networks and implement a range of projects.  

CEO of The Kai Institute Distinguished Professor Smith shares We want to ensure our culture is put back into kai rather than extracted from it, to build a new generation of leaders in kai sovereignty and to honour the kai journeys of our pakeke, kaumātua and tīpuna. There are several organisations that are already working in this kai sovereignty space, and we don’t want to replicate the good work they are already doing. We just know there is more work to be done so, for now we are focused on a small number of community projects in the wider Bay of Plenty, including the East Coast.” 

What sets The Kai Institute collaboration apart is the multifaceted approach they have taken, using their collective strengths to identify the following five critical projects: 

  • Kai Memories Archive: Recognising the profound connection between kai and memory, the project seeks to record the kai memories of whānau, with special emphasis on kaumātua (elders). This initiative is a treasure trove of experiences, stories, and knowledge that will shape future research and knowledge exchange. 
  • Kai Podcasts: The joint venture has taken to the airwaves with a series of podcasts that delve into diverse kōrero (conversations) about kai. These episodes offer a unique window into the world of kai and traditions and serve as a platform for sharing invaluable mātauranga. 
  • Intergenerational Kai Sovereignty: “Bringing the kai of our ancestors to the mouths of our pēpī (infants),” is a venture dedicated to passing on the love for kai from one generation to the next. By introducing parents and pēpī to kai sovereignty practices, they ensure that the taste for kai is cultivated from an early age. 
  • Mataatua Declaration Symposium: With a focus on protecting the Mataatua Declaration on Indigenous Cultural and Intellectual Property Rights and WAI262, this project is creating a new generation of kaitiaki (cultural guardians). It is a vital step in preserving the cultural identity of Māori. 
  • Marae Gastronomy: This initiative explores the mātauranga and tikanga (customs) of kai across diverse marae.  

The Kai Institute is excited about the work already underway and looks forward to expanding their portfolio of projects as they continue to develop and build capacity.

Kumara being harvested
Melons being harvested
Pictured from left to right:

Rauru Kirikiri - Te Whare Wānanga o Awanuiārangi Council Member

Julia Coates - General Manager

Distinguished Professor Linda Tuhiwai Smith - CEO

Fiona Wiremu - Chairperson, Te Puna Ora o Mataatua

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Whakapā mai/Contact us

Julia Coates
General Manager - Ngā Āhuatanga o te Kai