Once upon a time, in the rolling hills outside Auckland, a group of friends of Earth First embarked on a mission. They aimed to demonstrate that a better food system was not only possible, but also achievable through collaboration and a little bit of good ol' fashioned ingenuity.
Our tale begins with Elliott, who wanted to serve up some home-kill meat at a dinner he was hosting. It was no ordinary dinner; it was for the TEDxAuckland community, after the first event following the first lockdown. Ben, a talented chef, was set to cook the meal at his restaurant, The Grounds. He wanted nothing but the finest meat to present to his distinguished guests.
The search for the perfect meat led them to Wagyu, widely considered the best in the world. Enter Mike , who had been breeding Wagyu cattle in New Zealand since the 1970s. He offered our friends a 3-year-old steer that had been raised on lush grass and was ready for the dinner table. Wagyu #1, as it would come to be known, was born and raised a mere 40 minutes away from Ben's restaurant.
Now, home-kill meat is known for its quality, mostly because the on-farm process minimises stress to the animal. However, selling it is illegal. To get around this, we built a mobile abattoir, obtained a special licence from MPI, and processed Wagyu #1, getting the top sides to Ben just in time for dinner.
The special TEDxAkl menu featured mouth-watering Wagyu tartar and a reimagined Kiwi Burger. As 180 guests dined on the delectable dishes, they learned the story of Wagyu #1's journey from gate to plate. The placemats told the tale, accounting for the first 360 meals served.
Ben was so impressed with the meat that he purchased the two front quarters for his new restaurant, Ahi, where they were displayed in a glass-front ageing cabinet. Over the next two weeks, he served the various cuts in a range of dishes to over 500 lucky diners. Wagyu #1's legacy continued to grow.
We knew we had something special on our hands, and wanted to share it with the world. Kevin and the team at Westmere Butchers prepared the back quarters, and Brad from Meat Masters portioned them into chef-ready cuts. They were vacuum-sealed in home compostable bags by Reuben of Salt of the Earth and placed into innovative, eco-friendly packaging developed by Tina at Planet Protector and Gareth at . Justin built a website to sell the steak and sausages, and they were snapped up in no time. Mark ensured the boxes reached their destinations, providing another 869 meals. The sausages were crafted into four delicious flavours, and those not sold in boxes were served at BBQs at the Beehive and Generator, as well as another TEDxAkl event by Everybody Eats.
The success of Wagyu #1 was not forgotten, and several portions were saved to honour those who had made it all possible. Abaneish, Samuel, Dehardt, and others received the gift of delicious Wagyu to share with their families and friends.
Ben, who first recognized the potential of doing things differently, was gifted a few steaks and a freezer full of sausages. The last roast went home to the author's family, and the final steak to his now-fiancée.
In the end, Wagyu #1 fed a staggering 2,169 people, who together paid a total of $6,821.27. This sum is a far cry from the $2,100 that Mike, the farmer, would usually receive for such an animal. Our friends realised that if farmers could capture more of this retail value, they could afford to farm with fewer animals, leading to a more sustainable and ethical food system.
And so, the mission to bring the next little Wagyu to market began. This tale of friendship, collaboration, and a shared vision for a better food system is a testament to the power of thinking outside the box and the potential for change when people come together. Even the most seemingly insurmountable challenges can be overcome with a little bit of creativity and determination.
With the success of Wagyu #1, Earth First Food continues to strive for a food system that is ethical, sustainable, and local. By sharing their story and their passion, they inspire others to join the movement and work towards a better future for our planet and our plates.