The origins of one of Gisborne’s latest home-grown businesses, Food Cartel, might be found on the sideline of a kids footie match where, over the course of a season, Drew and Katie Hill listened with increasing interest to fellow parents comparing notes on their Meal Kit Home Delivery services of which there are many currently operating in New Zealand. Eventually, they decided to try it out for themselves and went straight to the top with a gourmet box from one of the major players in the meal kit delivery game.
But what arrived on their doorstep that fateful day was disappointment.
The ‘Fresh East Coast Tarakihi’ was fed to the cat. The bendy carrot went straight to the compost. Upon contacting the supplier to express their disappointment that they wouldn’t be feasting upon a gourmet dinner that night after all, they were offered a discount on their next order.
They were kindly informed that the fish had absolutely been fresh.. when it had been vacuum sealed one week prior. Drew and Katie thought about the long round trip their East Coast Tarakihi had made, from ocean to the Bay of Plenty and back again, only to arrive at its destination inedible and so far from the claims of freshness.
And they thought quite simply that fateful day, ‘let’s do it ourselves’.
You could say the seeds of Food Cartel were sown many years ago when Katie and Drew first met. Katie a vegetarian chef and Drew an appreciator of meat who at the time was devoting a fair bit of his time tending to his gardens on Valley Road.
Fast forward to 2019, the pair were both casting out their nets for new direction, and something they could do together. Fast forward to 2019 and this fast-paced life in which delivered meal kits are an increasingly normal part of life for some people. The standard model however is by no means a fix for everything and in fact, as Drew and Katie had picked up over the course of many Saturdays on the football field sideline, there’s a lot about home-delivered meal kits that is downright counter-intuitive in these times in which we’re aspiring for positive change, new ways of doing things, which work for our people and our planet, rather than against them.
In Food Cartel Katie and Drew set out to provide a model that works for our community; the consumers, food producers and fellow local businesses and for our Earth. Maintaining as small a carbon footprint as possible is a major focus for the business, with 97% of the ingredients found in their food boxes grown locally. Items unable to be sourced in Gisborne are purchased from local businesses, and there are even items in a Food Cartel box that can’t usually be found on Gisborne supermarket shelves, such as export-quality Turihaua beef – thereby enabling those producers to reduce their carbon foot print, you might say!
Plastic-free and recyclable packaging is also a priority, consumers are encouraged to leave out the box that had contained the previous kit to be picked up upon the next delivery. Paper bags are used instead of plastic ones and the pair are currently exploring the use of glass jars for items that would usually be vacuum-packed. Drew and Katie aren’t necessarily taking the easy way, but they’re taking a line that allows them to sleep at night. They’re also doing their best to ensure that ability to sleep easy extends to their customers, who aren’t locked into contracts or subscriptions, which are de rigueur with other meal kit companies. “We’re drawing people in with love, not locking them in with chains” says Drew, off the cuff and to the heart of the Food Cartel philosophy.
Boxes are packed and delivered the following day, so when Food Cartel uses the word ‘fresh’, it means fresh. Drew and Katie are also motivated by their ability to use this space to encourage healthier eating habits in our community; being innovative with their menus to educate around meal sizes, healthy proportions of meat and veg, and catering to vegetarians as well as people eating keto. I myself was particularly taken by the sentiment behind the hangover boxes and barbeque/grazing boxes, providing some well-considered assistance in two potentially stressful situations!
Together with their two children Lucy and Leroy, these guys live and breathe food. They rave over the life-giving properties of the Manzano chilli crop in their backyard, loved just as much by the kids as themselves. They call themselves urban farmers, loving nothing more than to preserve whatever they forage and then give it away.
Drew’s preoccupation with issues around food, the health of our community and our earth has been evident too in his art over the past few years. His works in the 2016 Auckland International Art Fair and his 2017 show ‘In Your Face’ passed fairly unambiguous comment on ‘Corporations killing generations with fast food’; the stuff people around the world are consuming by the bucket load that as Drew points out ‘isn’t even food’. In these works body builders hang next to cow carcasses in freezing work fixtures. The later works Drew printed directly onto discarded fast food wrappers, the polluting propaganda of the multinationals themselves.
I think Food Cartel offers our community a pretty awesome opportunity to support local, especially if you are in the meal kit market already. You’re not only supporting a home-grown business but also the local producers and growers supporting them. With a liquor licence currently in the works, which will enable local export quality wine and local brews to be added into the box of offerings, the future of Food Cartel is looking hot – Manzano Chilli hot – because that’s the way they like it. Do not be concerned however, they assure me they tone down the spices for the general public.
Sounds like ka pai kai to me Food Cartel and a beautiful approach to boot, ‘Love not chains!’
Check out the good stuff and place yourself an order! foodcartel.nz
For more on Drew’s Art go to drewhill.co.nz
Story by Sarah Cleave
Photographs X Tom Teutenberg