Matt Heath: The one thing that makes New Zealand special


What is the one thing that makes New Zealand special to you? It’s a tricky question. There’s so much to love about this country. Whatever your one special thing is, I am sure it’s as deep as it is beautiful. For me, it’s meat pies. Is this view widespread? A study was commissioned to find out. I yelled at the people who sit near me in the office, “Name one special New Zealand thing, you have one second, go!” They came back with cows, mountains, my kids, grass, beaches, cricket, rugby, beers and sheep. They were wrong. It’s meat pies, and I’ll tell you why.

Sheep were first domesticated in ancient Mesopotamia around 13,000 BC, 26,000 years before humans arrived in Aotearoa. The first sheep didn’t land here until 1773, a whole 500 years later.Sheep are recent arrivals to these shores, and their numbers are dwindling.

China has 175 million sheep, Australia 75.5m, India 53.8m, Sudan 52.5m, and Iran 50.2m million. We have a pathetic 27 million. Dairy is the backbone of our economy, yet our cow numbers aren’t huge. We have a mere 10 million compared to India’s 305.5 million. We love our sheep and cows, but they aren’t unique or special to us. So we can rule them out.

Magnificent mountains bless Aotearoa. Taranaki, Aoraki and Cheeseman. 3000m ranges cover 60 per cent of the South Island. That’s 90262.2sq km of breathtaking peaks; unfortunately, on a global scale, that’s nothing. There are 1,187,049 named mountains in the world. As impressive as Kā Tiritiri o te Moana is, they aren’t special. Not when the Swiss Alps exist, and the country of Bhutan’s average elevation is 3350 metres. We have beautiful beaches, but so does Australia, Brazil, Thailand, Malaysia, Spain, Grease, Fiji and the Maldives. It’s not our beaches or mountains that make us special.

Beautiful green pastures cover much of our country. Farmland, tussock high country, sports fields and berms. So is grass special? No. The Changtang Grassland in Nagqu, Northern Tibet, extends 1600km from West Tibet to Eastern Ladakh. Our whole country is 1400km, and much of that is trees, cities, the Cook Strait and Lake Taupō. Our special thing is not grass.

Cricket is a hell of a sport, but it isn’t unique to New Zealand. The English invented it in the 13th century; we didn’t play our first game until December 1842. India has 55 million players; we have 170,000. Yes, we are freakishly good at cricket and rugby. You only have to attend an Auckland School first IV fixture to see how deep the skill and passion runs. However, the sport is played in enough countries to warrant a massive World Cup. There are too many people into it globally for us to claim it.

What about beer? Nope. We aren’t big drinkers. Germany, Belgium and the Czech Republic destroy us in that area. The latter drink 185 litres of beer per capita a year. We consume a wimpy 59. There is a lot of talk about Kiwis and our drinking – the truth is we are lightweights.

There are currently 7.9 billion people in the world. Every one of them was someone’s kid. There’s only 5 million of us. So you’re wrong if you think “your kids” make New Zealand special.

That just leaves my meat pies. Other countries can’t compete in the area. America has its pot pies, but they are rare, impossible to eat while driving, and you won’t find them in a servo pie warmer. England has her pasties, but they’re not the right shape and often feature overcooked peas. Australia attempts a meat pie, but the quality is so low they are almost a different food. No, we, the people of Aotearoa, have the best meat pies in the world.

Every New Zealander with a few dollars in their pocket can get a hot pie any time. We eat 66 million a year; some are basic, some are works of art. If you want the best visit Patrick Lam, the seven-time Bakels New Zealand Supreme Pie Award winner. His Mince and Cheese is life-changing. The Queen should knight that man for services to pastry, and he isn’t alone in creating amazing Kiwi pies. There are bakeries everywhere getting up early and pumping out masterpieces.

Forget sheep, cows, mountains, grass, beaches, cricket, rugby, your kids and beers -our pies are unique, and they make us special in return, which has all been a roundabout way of saying happy Beer and Pie July.

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