Image: Archi Banal
Image: Archi Banal

KaiSeptember 29, 2023

A taste of democracy: What political leaders eat (or don’t eat) on the campaign trail

Image: Archi Banal
Image: Archi Banal

With just over two weeks till election day, we asked party leaders about the kai that fuels them along the campaign trail.

This is an excerpt from our weekly food newsletter, The Boil Up.

One of the great (or only) joys of election campaign season is the abundance of footage and photography honing in on political candidates hooning food. Whether it’s ice creamspiesdonuts or sausages, we absolutely love to see a politician stuffing their face.

With the flair and charm kai brings to everything, it’s no wonder it’s become so central to the spectacle and imagery around campaigning. Even outside of election year, food is regularly a political tool in Aotearoa: a kind of shorthand to help craft politicians’ images, indicate political leanings and relate to voters.

The complex symbolism and psychology of the food politicians chose to pose with is fascinating to reflect on, but at the same time it’s easy to forget that politicians are human, campaigns are hectic and food is necessary fuel along the way.

So, I wanted to know more about the food politicians eat in the most pragmatic sense, in the moments in between walkabouts and debates and press conferences, while on the road and late at night. I asked the leaders of Labour, National, the Green Party, Act, Te Pāti Māori and NZ First – all of whom will likely be eating their lunches in parliament over the next three years – about what they eat on the campaign trail. Everyone but National leader Christopher Luxon and NZ First leader Winston Peters got back to us – which is a crying shame, because we all know Peters would have the most sumptuous campaign diet of the lot.

Chris Hipkins admiring the doughnuts during a visit to a student flat with Dunedin candidate Rachel Brooking

Chris Hipkins, Labour Party leader

“I’m being extremely well catered for – almost too well – during the campaign. At all our visits, people want to offer hospitality, including beautiful morning and afternoon teas. If I do need a further pick-me-up snack in the van, the occasional Whittaker’s Sante Bar is always a treat.

I think the NZ public has probably seen and heard enough about sausage rolls for the time being, but then again, particularly when they’re home-made, or a special recipe, I can still be tempted.”

A favourite food spot visited during this campaign season: “One genuine highlight has been sharing food with people I meet – like 91-year-old Nan Dixon in Runanga on the West Coast recently. Nan turned on an outstanding afternoon spread for me at her own home, as well as for the visiting media team. It was such warm hospitality. Also on the Coast, devouring an iconic whitebait patty at the Sevenpenny café was absolutely delicious.”

The food missing from your campaign diet: “A home-cooked meal is something I genuinely crave. The places we stay at during the campaign all offer very good meals and have wonderful staff preparing and serving them, but at the end of the day, there’s nothing like a meal at home with the family.”

Marama Davidson and the Whittaker’s Miraka Kirīmi chocolate (Photo: Facebook)

Marama Davidson, Green Party co-leader

“My diet isn’t virtuous even at the best of times. But during campaign season there is even less careful planning to stay fed and healthy! Normally just what I can quickly grab. Travelling around the motu and loaded with community events means I eat whatever is available and easy. Toast has been doing some heavy lifting on the campaign trail! Chips, lollies and chocolate are my fuel for debate prep sessions. And I’ll hoover up fruit and veges if they appear in front of my face, but confession – that is rare on the run!

[I] had the best chai latte at Gisborne airport recently! But I’m partial, not so much to particular food, but whatever is landing on my plate thanks to the manaaki of people preparing and offering shared kai at various community events.”

A favourite food spot visited during this campaign season: “I can’t go past the food options in my nearby community, where I obviously also hit the trail! The Vietnamese pho café [Pho Kitchen] in Manurewa needs to take a bow for healthy, quick, affordable and tasty kai. That is my go-to spot while campaigning locally.”

The food missing from your campaign diet: “A sit-down home-cooked kai of any sort. At the moment there’s lots of lonely delivery meals for one! There definitely could be more healthy kai in my campaign efforts.”

James Shaw cooking breakfast at Waitangi on Waitangi Day 2020. (Photo: Fiona Goodall/Getty Images)

James Shaw, Green Party co-leader

“I try to stay healthy, but to be honest I eat what’s available. It’s often said that campaigning is more of a marathon than a sprint, but that doesn’t mean I always eat like an athlete! I wouldn’t call myself a calorie conservative but I am careful not to eat stuff that makes me too sluggish on the road. That said, I do enjoy the odd pint at the end of the day.”

A favourite food spot visited during this campaign season: “Woof in Dunedin.”

The food missing from your campaign diet: “Veges.”

Debbie Ngarewa-Packer. (Image: Getty)

Debbie Ngarewa-Packer, Te Pāti Māori co-leader

“I start my day with a protein shake and make sure I have cheese and crackers, salami etc to snack on… for dinner I love fish or chicken and veges, salad or mince dishes like shepherd’s pie. I do like some red liquorice and maybe a glass of wine.”

A favourite food spot visited during this campaign season: “That’s a hard one. There are so many! We made sure to stop in every location we’ve campaigned in and honestly I couldn’t choose… Te Tai Hauāuru is a wealth of awesome food spots!”

The food missing from your campaign diet: “Probably just my own cooking. My husband looks after me well and will usually have a pot of boil up or seafood chowder on when he knows I need a pick-me-up, but I miss cooking for my family and making some decent home-cooked meals myself.”

David Seymour at Rollickin’ Gelato. (Image: Facebook)

David Seymour, Act leader

“[I] wake up and have toast, bacon if I’m lucky, then hit [the] road in search of a coffee on the way.”

The snacks and treats you reach for while campaigning: “I just tried some plant-based beef jerky that was surprisingly good. I wouldn’t have said ice cream but the Rollickin’ Gelato Scoop Poll has been pretty good to me so that’s not a bad one.”

A favourite food spot visited during this campaign season: “Pretty grateful to the good folks at Burger Fuel across the road from our campaign office at the moment.”

The food missing from your campaign diet: “Healthy food.”

Keep going!