They rely on it for their nourishment, to build their houses, to make clothing, and, in many cases their spirituality even depends on their natural environment. However, due to the arrival of new ideas, technology and the resulting lifestyle changes, many indigenous people, including Cook Islanders, have become more detached from nature, not realising that we still depend on it in every way.
This article will explain why going back to your roots and “living off the land” – which includes planting your own food, feeding your own animals, and catching your own fish, is good for our environment as well as good for our health.
1) It reduces the food miles (the amount of fuel used by aeroplanes or ships to transport your food) needed to bring imported food from another country to your dinner table to zero, which reduces your impact on Climate Change. Most of the food we now consume in the Cook Islands is imported and therefore adding to our global environmental impact.
2) Eating fresh, locally grown or caught food means you don’t buy the packaging (plastic wrappers, boxes, tins or bags) which imported foods are contained in. This reduces the amount of solid waste we create and send to our local landfill.
3) It builds a greater respect within ourselves for the environment and highlights our dependency we as human beings have on the environment. Food doesn’t just “come from a factory”. Food comes from nature, whether it is from a plant or an animal. Today however, many foods are full of unnatural ingredients, which leads to the next point:
4) Locally grown and caught foods are free of processed ingredients, chemicals, preservatives, flavourings, colourings and so on. Meaning what you eat is more nutritious and free of any unhealthy additives.
5) Living off the land also allows us to get active outdoors (planting, fishing) which means we don’t spend time being sedentary (e.g. sitting at home watching TV), and unlike most fitness classes, these activities are free!
6) It also helps in the preservation of our traditions and culture, for example the passing of a grandparent to a grandchild the knowledge of how to fish, or plant, or put down an umu.
In the past, our islands were beautiful as not a piece of man-made litter was to be seen, and pollution was non-existent. Why? Because everything that people consumed (food, clothing, and shelter) came from nature, and at the end of its life, it returned to nature. Ever wondered why our ancestors were always fit and had perfect teeth? It’s because they kept active while cultivating or harvesting their food, and all their food was 100 per cent natural. Often when people think of “Cook Islands culture” they think of dance groups wearing coconut bras at a tourist resort. However they don’t think of the activities which took up most of our ancestors’ time (hint: it wasn’t dancing).
It was tending their gardens, feeding their pigs, and fishing in the lagoon and beyond the reef, to ensure that they and their families would have food on the table. Now of course we live a much easier life, where food is always readily available at your local shop, but this story highlights that it’s important we remember how to live off the land too!
So, why not pull the kids away from the TV and start a small home garden, or if you are lucky to live near a swamp, a taro patch? Or teach them to fish off the reef with bamboo rods for patuki, or drop-line fish for tuna? And perhaps when you’ve gathered your food together, teach them to put down an umu. It will no doubt be an experience to remember for the kids, and it is better for their health as well as our environment.
- Te Ipukarea Society