An interview with NZ’s No 1 hamburger activist MP

Meat on aeroplanes has unexpectedly emerged as a critical political fault line. Madeleine Chapman speaks to Mark Patterson, the farmer politician with the chops.

Like a locally slaughtered snag in a slice of Tip Top white bread, Mark Patterson has made himself at home in parliament. By picking an issue and sticking with it, Patterson has elevated himself from “who?” status to “is that the guy angry about a hamburger?” status. Yes, yes he is that guy. It began when national carrier Air New Zealand announced that they would be serving the Impossible Burger, a plant-based ‘fake meat’ creation, on two Auckland to Los Angeles flights. Patterson recoiled, calling for Air New Zealand to rethink its decision, stating “The national carrier should be showcasing our premium quality grass-fed New Zealand red meat.

Air New Zealand did not rethink its decision. On Monday, privately owned Australian carrier Virgin Australia announced a new campaign, ‘Got Beef?’, a “nationwide search for New Zealand’s finest meat supplier to supply produce for New Zealand to Australia flights”. A New Zealand First press release authorised by Patterson was soon after sent out announcing the party’s endorsement of Virgin Australia’s campaign. The release ended with a quote from Patterson.

“Good on the Aussies for recognising our world class beef and lamb, and I am delighted that our produce is being promoted by our closest neighbours. It’s great to see an airline backing our Kiwi beef farmers.”

An Air New Zealand spokesperson responded by announcing just how much local meat the carrier purchases. “In the past year alone, we proudly served around 1.3 million New Zealand-sourced beef and lamb meals to customers from around the world.” It is not known if Virgin Australia currently serves any New Zealand meat.

The Spinoff spoke to Patterson to get to the bottom of this hamburger debacle once and for all.

The Spinoff: Are you aware that Virgin Australia is an Australian airline?

Patterson: I certainly am.

Do you know of any farmers whose business was dropped by Air New Zealand as a result of the Impossible Burger?

No.

Is Air New Zealand purchasing any less meat from New Zealand farmers because of the Impossible Burger?

No.

Do you have any other issues with Air New Zealand? What are your thoughts on their cheese-to-cracker ratio they’re currently serving?

OK, no. Look, it was never about Air New Zealand providing a vegetarian or vegan alternative. It was always about Air New Zealand using their platform to promote, quite vigorously, what is quite a threat to the red meat sector here in New Zealand.

If Air New Zealand came out reiterating the fact that they already use New Zealand meat, would that make things a bit better?

I think if they were prepared to showcase it. Beef + Lamb have recently launched a Taste Your Nature brand, really looking to showcase New Zealand meat on the world stage, and it would’ve been good if they could’ve swung behind that in the same way that they did the Impossible Burger.

If Virgin Australia were to do a similar promotion of a fake meat burger, would your endorsement of their campaign still stand?

Ultimately they’re different, because they’re privately owned. They’re not publicly owned by the New Zealand taxpayer. I don’t feel like we’d have the same degree of leverage to expect that.

Do you think this could all be a simple marketing ploy after the furore over the Impossible Burger?

There’s no doubt that’s the case. Potentially a little bit opportunistic, but it’s a win-win. If they’re prepared to showcase our top-quality premium New Zealand red meat, then who are we to argue against it?

A political party named New Zealand First putting their endorsement behind an Australian-owned company… there’s nothing ironic about that?

Well, ideally we would be endorsing Air New Zealand’s choice of beef and lamb. But they’ve chosen to focus their attentions elsewhere and it’s made it a little more difficult.

It’s a vegetarian option and vegetarians are a minority, in a sense, so after many, many, many years, they get a new option that seems like a positive thing to promote, even as a one-off, after however many decades of red meat promotion. Is that asking too much?

It was never about not having a vegetarian option. In fact, if it had been Sunfed Meats from the Hawke’s Bay that they were looking to showcase, then the argument would’ve been totally different. That would’ve been way more acceptable.

You said this endorsement has nothing to do with Air New Zealand, but your quote “it’s great to see an airline backing our Kiwi beef farmers” did sound quite pointed and directed at Air New Zealand.

You can read that as you will.

I have to ask again. Do you have any thoughts on the cheese-to-cracker ratio?

I’m delighted that we get good, natural New Zealand cheese, so the more cheese the better.

Would you endorse having a meat option on domestic flights alongside the cheese and crackers and cookie?

That would be a farmer’s dream if we could get that, but that would probably be a bridge too far at this stage.

Do you think you and Air New Zealand could be friends again after this?

Well they’re still picking me up in Dunedin and dropping me off in Wellington, so so far so good.


The Spinoff’s food content is brought to you by Freedom Farms. Our relationship with food, the way we produce it, buy it and eat it, provides wonderful insight into our society and how it works. Freedom Farms reckon talking about food is nearly as much fun as eating it, and they’re excited to facilitate some good conversations around food provenance in Aotearoa New Zealand.

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