29 Jun 2016

Pacific Kryptonite

From New Zealand Society, 3:30 pm on 29 June 2016

Fifty cent lolly mixes are a distant memory at Hastings Girls’ High School now the students have revolutionised its cafeteria menu.

Most of the food that used to be available was high in sugar and salt, so in 2015 food technology students were handed the menu by teachers Noeline Stewart and Regina Carroll to decide what they wanted to get rid of.

“Obviously, there’s been a movement against [unhealthy food] in the last few years anyway but it’s our duty as a school to offer the best we can for our students.” says teacher Regina Carroll.

“They love the 50 cent lolly mix but you know what, it isn’t great.. you get a sugar high [and then a crash] and that’s what we want to change.”

The majority of the school’s 830 students are Maori and Pasifika, and are more genetically disposed to the negative effects of fructose in sugar than other ethnicities.

Dr Chris King trained at the University of California in San Diego. He's is a medical researcher working on a programme for Maori in Hastings to reverse diseases such as type 2 diabetes, obesity and gout which are all exacerbated by fructose.

He says a genetic mutation in the kidney means Maori and Pacific Islanders have more trouble ridding the blood of uric acid made by fructose.  

It was a survival advantage needed when people were migrating without a lot of food available so whoever had the mutation could eat less and survive.

“I tell them Maori and Pacific Islanders were the supermen and superwomen of the Pacific,” he says. “But when Europeans brought sugar, it was their kryptonite.”

The high cost of healthy food options for many struggling to make ends meet has created the demand for what’s been coined ‘poverty food’ like cheap fast food and fizzy drink.

For many students, the food on offer at school is the healthiest option of the day so the teachers have teamed the students up with the school’s Te Rourou cafe to make sure the best diet is offered.

“We took it to year 12 students and did surveys,” Regina says. “They spoke and we started making changes from there and getting rid of the rubbish.”

Since the revolution, attitudes towards healthy eating have changed in the school and students are inspired to pursue healthier lifestyles.

One of those students is Giavani. She’s Samoan and would like to study to become a paramedic at the University of Auckland.

“My uncle has diabetes,” she says. “I used to eat pork riblets and meatballs. We should all try and change our diets to more vegetables and fruit.”

Former student Zoe Crystal is working in the school office and would like other schools to adopt the same initiative.

“I think everyone should be following that kind of revolution. Food is fuel, we’re at school and we do need it to help us feel good,” she says. “In the long run it’s better for our students.”

Deputy principal Phil Carmine agrees. “We’re not just about English maths and science, we’re about changing the understanding of our students in ways that have far wider implications than them gaining qualifications,” he says.

“This is changing their lives and the lives of their children and that’s super important to us.”

Get the RNZ app

for easy access to all your favourite programmes