The Puritan Tradition
The influence of evangelicals and dissenters, that had so marked an effect on the moral tone of Victorian England, found its way to New Zealand as an invisible export and made itself felt before the colony was many years old. In pioneer days drunkenness was the chief vice among men whose living conditions provided few other forms of recreation. Well-meaning persons formed societies for the suppression of a social evil and importuned successive governments for legislation designed to discourage or prohibit the sale of liquor. The cause of temperance became associated with the cause of female enfranchisement, since it was generally believed that the women's vote would prove decisive in the anti-liquor campaign. Time has shown that the assumption was unwarranted. Nevertheless, for nearly four decades after its inception the temperance movement made steady progress, and at the end of the First World War national prohibition came within an ace of being enacted. Since then the cause of prohibition has steadily declined. Women have not given it the support that was expected of them. Its failure in the United States has shaken the confidence of many of its adherents. But the heirs of the puritans still flourish – men who, like Cromwell and his major-generals, believe that morality can be enforced by regulation – and their forlorn-hope campaign for prohibition obstructs much-needed reform of the liquor trade whose controlling agents have connived at, and doubtless benefit by, the dissociation of eating and drinking, “the gradual imposition of bare, crowded, stand-up, all-male bars; 6 o'clock closing; no food with drink; no drink with food”. An attempt to amend these conditions has been made recently by the institution of hotels under trust control, but the movement makes slow progress.
Though New Zealanders have persistently rejected prohibition, an untold number of them appear to have assimilated, unconsciously perhaps, a great deal of the prohibitionist propaganda that has been directed at them for so long. In their minds “drys” and “wets” represent and symbolise the forces of good and evil. A secret sense of guilt afflicts the national conscience and militates against a sensible approach to the licensing question. It is responsible, one may opine, for the laws excluding all women from public bars, even in the capacity of barmaids. Apart from this inconsiderable disability, the status of women in New Zealand is high. They were enfranchised (though not till long afterwards made eligible to sit in Parliament) a quarter of a century before the women of Britain. Today they form a large and important section of the labour force, and the percentage of married women in employment, though much lower than that of Britain and the United States, is slightly higher than that of Canada. The objective of equal work for equal pay has not yet been secured, but agitation for its attainment is now in process.
Eating in New Zealand is free from official regulation but private enterprise has done little to promote its infinite variety. During the second half of last century British working-class immigrants came from a land where meat was an expensive luxury to one where it was cheap and abundant. Not unnaturally, they tended to become largely carnivorous and their dietary preferences have been bequeathed to descendants who remain satisfied with a few variations on the theme of meat and two vegetables. New Zealanders have certainly never regarded cooking as one of the fine arts. Though prone to boast of certain delicacies peculiar to their country, they have not yet devised any special local dish. The toheroa, for instance, is the gift of a benign providence rather than a product of culinary skill. During the past 20 years an increased intake of foreign immigrants has been responsible for opening New Zealanders' eyes to a wider range of foodstuffs and showing them the way to more adventurous eating. But if their diet has in the past been monotonous and unimaginative it has at least proved wholesome. Before the Second World War New Zealanders could claim to be the longest lived people on earth. It is only recently that one or more of the Scandinavian races have surpassed them in longevity by a narrow margin.