Growing the Puna Alumni Summer Wright: The Future of Foods

With an equal passion for nutrition, animal rights and the taiao as well as a burning desire to make a positive difference, Summer Wright is putting in the work to make sure the future of food is a bright one. 

Summer Wright (Ngāti Maniapoto) first joined Toi Tangata with a Growing the Puna internship in the raumati of 2018/19. Since wrapping up her internship, Summer has been busy having completed a Master in Health Sciences in Nutrition and Dietetics at UoA, looking at Rangatahi Māori perceptions of healthy and sustainable kai. 

Her latest focus is an exciting one, having been awarded a scholarship as a PhD candidate and researcher for a project which aims to understand the main issues that impact consumers’ relationships with non-animal protein. 

The research programme titled ‘Te Rangahau Taha Wheako mō Ngā Kai o Āpōpō: The Consumer Dimension of Future Foods’  is housed within Massey University and the Riddet Institute in Manawatū and has just been awarded $3 million from the Ministry for Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE) Catalyst: Strategic – New Zealand-Singapore Future Foods Research Programme.

“Te Rangahau Taha Wheako mō Ngā Kai o Āpōpō is focused on consumer perceptions of non-animal proteins, meaning foods that are high in protein that may come from plants or other sources. The research aims to show what people do and don’t like about plant-based protein foods to inform the development of new healthy and sustainable proteins,” say Summer. 

An important component of the research will be to integrate Māori product concepts and storytelling into consumer research investigations to inform viable product development options for Māori food and beverage entities, including growers. 

“I will be supervised in part by Dr Joanne Hort, a renowned sensory scientist, and Dr Meika Foster, a Māori dietitian, businesswoman (Edible Research), and nutrition researcher. Together we will engage with Māori businesses and their plant-based protein products to explore the unique value proposition of these foods. Guided by their aspirations, we will also investigate overseas demand for these products and will generate insights for alternative land use decisions for Māori businesses and landowners.”

With her keen interest in what food means socially, politically, and culturally in Aotearoa, combined with her avid animal rights advocacy, Summer believes there is a dire need to transform the way kai is produced and consumed, both in Aotearoa and globally.

“Food systems contribute massively to climate change and the destruction of the natural world, which are the biggest threats to life and health on Earth. Plant-based proteins can offer environmental, health, and animal welfare benefits. Consuming more plant-based foods can reduce the burden of chronic diseases, which disproportionately impact Māori. These foods can also be more sustainable than animal proteins which significantly impact wai and whenua. However, they are not always better; I hope that by doing this research we can show how to improve their sensory and nutrition properties so that it is easier for people to eat them, thereby improving wellbeing for themselves, their families, and te taiao.” 

Looking to the future, Summer hopes to contribute to meaningful change in the way we eat and make food. 

“I would like to work in a combination of policy and research areas, and hopefully have some experience in clinical dietetics, working alongside people and their whānau to support them to lead a healthy life.”

The research findings will inform the targeted development of next-generation alternative proteins that engage and delight consumers.

“I would love to be able to make my own plant based protein products! I would conduct business in a way that does not exploit people, the planet, or animals.”

Ka mau te wehi, Summer!