Visa Wellington on a Plate's 2019 campaign creative features people having food and drink poured over their heads. (Image: Wellington on a Plate Facebook)

For the love of tikanga, please stop putting food on your head!

This year Nicole Hawkins has decided to opt out of Wellington on a Plate over its lack of engagement with people who are offended by its marketing creative.

Read Wellington On a Plate’s response at the end of this article.

It’s annual burger and bougie plate season in Te-Whanganui-a-Tara. I ordinarily relish this time of the year where it becomes not only socially acceptable to sample several burgers in one day, but also celebrated across social media and in the stretchy waistbands of Wellingtonians. The Visa Wellington On a Plate (WOAP) festival is a thrilling time. It is competitive across the board, with people placing informal bets on who will take the top spot and how many burgers they can get through in the short festival time frame. You go up against your flatmates to see who can take the best Insta shot of said burgers, with witty captions and hashtags written with the same conviction as a professional food blogger.

This year I am giving all of it a miss. Although this is pleasing news for my bank account and perhaps my arteries, it is distressing for my food-loving soul. I’m staying away from my favourite festive season due to WOAP’s horrendous marketing campaign, which sees kai being tipped over the heads of its models. In tikanga Māori, things that are tapu (sacred, spiritually restricted) and noa (common, everyday) are kept separate from each other. Heads are tapu, and food is noa (see also: no hats on tables, no passing food over someone’s head, no sitting on pillows), so to tip food over the heads of people is completely disrespectful and dangerous, not to mention wasteful and just a bit gross.

Simon Day wrote a WOAP sponsored piece for The Spinoff last week where Samuel Flynn Scott was quoted as putting the success of Wellington’s food scene down to the notion that “we have built a culture over many years of always giving a fuck.” Turns out that we give a lot of fucks about a lot of things, some of them even Māori: moving the fireworks to acknowledge Matariki, being a bilingual capital, the celebration of Te Matatini ki te Ao, the safety of visiting whales and leopard seals. So where are the fucks given about tikanga Māori? Certainly not in the social media channels of WOAP.

When the first images were released on Facebook in late May, some took to their keyboards to convey their concerns about the disregard for cultural sensitivity and tikanga Māori. WOAP’s comms team found plenty of time to respond to commenters needing help to navigate their website and thanking them for their excitement, but not one comment expressing concerns about their imagery was responded to.

Collage of screenshots from Wellington on a Plate Facebook

While The Spinoff may be willing to claim that our success stories derive from our “innovation, diversity, our natural resources and the celebration of our indigenous culture” the proof is in the pattie, and mate, it’s way undercooked. The only other mention of cultural diversity in the piece sees a mihi to award-winning, Māori-Sāmoan chef Monique Fiso, as a side note to Australian chef Mark Best.

WOAP isn’t the first organisation to put a cultural foot wrong and it certainly won’t be the last. I get it wrong a lot too; it’s how we learn from it that counts. I can still vividly recall one of my own students, 17 years old, absolutely shocked when I handed manuhiri a chair to pack away after a pōwhiri. You don’t put a guest to work, that shows a lack of manaaki and it reflects shamefully on the hosts. She called me out, and so she should, because upholding tikanga Māori is more important than my pride. I’ll never forget her scolding me, and if I go to make that misstep again her words will reverberate in my memory.

Years ago on a wine tour round my hometown, we dodgily cycled down Martinborough Vineyard’s driveway and found ourselves sampling a lovely pinot gris by their cuzzy label Te Tera. The well-meaning attendant had pronounced it Tah Tear-ah, and it hadn’t even registered to me that it might be te reo. She then proudly informed us that it was te reo Māori for ‘the other’. Armed with basic knowledge of te reo and the confidence of a few cellar doors, I thought: no it isn’t. 

Back at home I did a bit of research, consulted someone who is actually an expert in te reo, and set about to email Martinborough Vineyard to discuss the slip (their name more accurately translated to The That or even The Saddle), and offer possible suggestions for going forward. Not believing me at first, their CEO set off to do his own research and eventually responded that yes I was right and thanks for pointing it out. He also stated that Te Tera is internationally renowned and to change the name would be detrimental to their brand. He asked what I suggest they do. I gave a few options, like talking with mana whenua, paying a cultural consultant and registered translator, basically to consult anyone with more expertise and knowledge than me. I also thought it would be a great marketing opportunity to come out and say, we got it wrong, we care about the integrity of te reo as much as the integrity of our grapes, so we are committed to re-branding. It’s been two years since this exchange. Still no response and the delicious fruity notes of Te Tera pinot gris remain on shelves, and not in my fridge, on principle.

Indiginous, a new gin distillery based in Reikorangi, also features Māori-inspired artwork on their bottles. No information about their whakapapa on their website. No response to those requests either.

Ew. (Image: Wellington on a Plate Facebook)

Meadowfresh recently had an advertising campaign featuring a bottle of milk balanced on the head of a beautiful little brown girl. Commenters on their Facebook page raised the issue and, unlike their counterparts, they responded. First of all, they asked for a private message to discuss the issue, then they pulled the images while they went back and did the mahi of figuring out what exactly was the right thing to do. Best of all, they hired a cultural consultant to assist them. In the end they decided to pull the images indefinitely and let their customers know that they had heard the response and acted on it. Meadowfresh not only sent a clear message to their customers that they value their feedback, but they also acknowledged that if they are going to utilise Polynesian whānau in their imagery, they need to honour the values and tikanga that come hand in hand.

Not acknowledging tikanga Māori, and being unwilling to engage with tangata whenua, adds to the notion that Māori ways of thinking and being are not as valid as those of our Pākehā Treaty partners. It’s not enough to only celebrate the parts of the Māori world that we are comfortable with and simply bury our heads in the reclaimed foreshore when things become difficult or inconvenient. It’s time to start really “giving a fuck”. 


Visa Wellington On a Plate responds

We acknowledge the comments that have been raised in social media and this article about the appropriateness of our current festival campaign, and appreciate the opportunity to provide our perspective on this. 

Each year we create a new and engaging marketing campaign to promote Visa Wellington On a Plate within very limited budget and resources, that has broad national and international appeal. 

The idea behind the 2019 campaign was to capture and communicate the immersive fun, joy and emotional experience of food, feasting and festival as it fits into this year’s theme A Feast for Your Senses.

We were inspired by beautiful artistic images of people covered and absorbed in liquids and food, expressing visceral emotions and authentic responses, and sought to create our own unique version of this. 

We recognise part of the journey to better understand our country’s bicultural identity is about becoming aware of the cultural values and practices of tāngata whenua.

We accept that in this campaign we’ve identified a lack of understanding around the importance and sanctity of the head and this has caused some upset. It was never our intention to do so.

As an organisation we are on our own learning journey and acknowledge the gaps in our understanding and knowledge. We see this as an opportunity to learn about the cultural differences that exist in our country. We already work with a number of organisations and have now specifically engaged with partners to provide assistance and guidance on creative decision-making for future campaigns, to ensure that not only are we are appropriate in all our communications, but also so that we learn and grow as individuals. 

We hope that this campaign is seen in the spirit in which it was intended, and our commitment to get it right in the future. 

Visa Wellington On a Plate is a festival for everyone that challenges diversity in thinking about what food is and could be. Our wish is that people continue to proudly participate and experience this uniquely New Zealand culinary event.

The Wellington Culinary Events Trust is a not-for-profit organisation established to promote our region through telling the Wellington food story with the aim of making Wellington a globally recognised culinary city. 

We do this through programming festival events such as Visa Wellington On a Plate, Beervana, Highball and Feast Matariki Wellington. Now it its 11th year Visa Wellington On a Plate has become firmly established in the national calendar as a must-do event for foodies. 

There has been a growing recognition that we needed to have stronger ties with Māori organisations and this year we’ve been the most proactive we’ve ever been: we’ve worked with Te Taura Whiri i te Reo Māori /The Māori Language Commission to develop a burger ordering guide in Te Reo Māori (launching for Burger Wellington), for the second year we’ve programmed Hiakai Hāngi led by Monique Fiso, we’ve also featured in our programming an event which told the story of Kupe and Te Wheke. 

Alongside this there are several visiting international chefs for the 2019 Festival whom we are welcoming with formal mihi whakatau. More broadly we also work with Māori producers and suppliers and support the work of Wellington based Māori chefs and have done so for several years. 

We would love to have more Māori specific events programming in our Festival and invite all conversations and applications on this. But that’s not something the Festival Trust can do alone: it is a shared responsibility, both by the hospitality industry to create events as well as the dining and festival public to want to purchase tickets and attend events. 

Now is an exciting time for New Zealand food. We’re seeing a renaissance of Māori/indigenous food, rediscovering and discovering our food identity through the stronger use of indigenous ingredients in our cuisine, new talent coming through that are not afraid to push boundaries, be experimental and own what they’re creating, and importantly we’re celebrating New Zealand’s ingredients. 

Wellington is at the front of much of this and Visa Wellington On a Plate is working hard to tell these stories. We look forward to continuing to do so into the future.


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