Seven-and-a-half years since the quake, food is playing a critical role in how Christchurch rebuilds, according to the people behind a festival that celebrates the city’s regeneration.
When you think about the aftermath of the 2011 Christchurch earthquake, food probably isn’t what springs to mind. But it was an important thread that ran through the chaotic days that followed the disaster, says Jess Halliday.
“People were emptying their freezers as they defrosted and trying to use everything up, and also emptying every supermarket and shelf in the city,” she says. “So food was desperate, but also abundant.
“I think it brought to the fore that we rely on these complex, hidden systems that deliver food to the places we expect to find it, and those are not as resilient as you would expect them to be.”
Food also brought communities together, says Halliday. “Because of that food from the freezer defrosting, people had barbecues in the street and fed their neighbours. That didn’t happen everywhere — it’s worth acknowledging that — but it did happen in a lot of places.”
Halliday is an architectural historian and the director of FESTA, a festival of urban creativity and regeneration that began in Christchurch in 2012, the year following the quake.
Food has always been a part of FESTA — in 2013, urban farm project Agropolis launched as part of the festival, for example — but this year it’s the official theme.
The connections between food and urbanism are many and complex, says Halliday. “Cities only exist because millennia ago, human beings learnt to produce surpluses of food. If we hadn’t learnt to produce surpluses of food like this, we’d be out growing food to keep ourselves sustained every day and the relationship between place, person, building and food would be different to what it is now, so to me they’re intimately related.
“And our future is so bound up with those things working really well. If our cities don’t work well and our food systems don’t work well, we’re really going to struggle as a species.”
This year the festival, which runs from October 19-22, comprises 54 events, covering everything from foraging to food sovereignty to how to make your own wooden eating spoon.
Artist Simon Gary is running seven events at the Phillipstown Community Hub under the name A Communal Loaf, including a collaboration with the Canterbury Refugee Resettlement and Resource Centre where participants can learn how to bake breads from all over the world in the hub’s communal oven. Edible plant specimens from Captain Cook’s first voyage to New Zealand can be seen in a tour of the Allan Herbarium, meanwhile, and a classics professor is giving a talk on the feasting in ancient Rome.
Other highlights include a tour of the city’s traditional mahinga kai or food-gathering spots, a walking tour exploring Christchurch’s drinking and dining past and an “edible city” bike tour. Henry Hargreaves’ and Caitlin Levin’s maps made out of real food will be on display, and the Food and the City Symposium, presented by Freerange Press and hosted by Spinoff alum Simon Wilson, brings together speakers who will discuss the issues involved in the growing, making and eating of food, and its potential for positive impact in our cities.
The headline event, FEASTA, is taking place in the South Frame, one of the anchor projects of the Central Christchurch Recovery Plan, on the evening of Saturday, 20 October. It will feature installations by 130-plus architects and students of design and architecture, plus markets, bars and pop-up restaurants, as well as the Kono for Kai project, where 100 hand-woven harakeke kono (small food baskets) filled with native plant seedlings will be exchanged for koha of kai.
“It’s an opportunity to think afresh and anew about important issues in Ōtautahi,” says Halliday of the festival and its theme. “It’s really rich territory.”