There was a time when enjoyment of food was a simple affair; you learnt to cook, how to choose fresh ingredients and which neighborhood restaurants served consistently good food.
Now, the pursuit of food is so elevated, it has become an trendy pastime. Farmers market used to be where local growers sold their produce direct to consumers cheaply; but now there are artisan markets and boutique farmers market where you know your farmer by their first name, they have a webpage and everything is organic, free-range and costs twice as much as the stuff on the supermarket shelf.
The pursuit of culinary and foodie perfection has been exulted to a frenzied level. New Zealand, still heavily dependent on primary production but with a high labour cost, cannot afford to feed the common masses. Our production is geared to feeding the wealthy classes. We pride ourselves on growing the best apples, our dairy cows produce the best milk, our lamb is the most succulent and our king salmon is famous.
All these comes a cost though. NZ is an expensive place to live well; dining out is exorbitant, and costs of produce goes up every season. I have always known that my food bill (groceries plus dining out) sometimes amounted to nearly 20% of my take home pay. It is a ludicrous amount to devout to a pastime. Recently, I had an accountant take a detailed look at my spending habits, and she gave me the hard word; – reduce my food bill to about 10% of my budget, and put that into my mortgage. Over 10 years, I could save $100K of interest on my mortgage. Yikes! And that doesn’t even include my overseas eating trips and the myriad of culinary gadgets that fill every nook and cranny of my kitchen.
When did it get so out of hand? In these recessionary times, it seems like discretionary spending on food is the last acceptable frontier. Every new issue of Cuisine magazine that lands in my mailbox harks several new restaurants, new artisan products to try and new ingredients that any foodie worth their salt should have in their pantry. Even the newspapers have gotten into the act. Bite, the NZ Herald food supplement every Monday further fuels the addiction. The gourmet food market sends you recipes, and information on cooking classes which costs $50 and up to listen to a celebrity chef tout their latest cookbook. The itinerary for Auckland Restaurant Month (August) reads like a celebrity release, and have prices to match; $250 pp for dinner, $125 for 4 courses, etc. Chefs are taking over from sports players as celebrities.
It has dawned on me that there is less and less pleasure in chasing the next new taste. The hunt is tiring, time-consuming, hugely expensive and sometimes even disappointing. As a food blogger, I had convinced myself that I have to experience new foods and new dining experiences so that I would have something to write about. What a marvelous con.
In the next 12 months, I am going to concentrate on what makes food special. It’s the people you share it with. There will be more dinner parties, less dining out. More cooking with basic ingredients, less attempting recipes with ingredients I can’t pronounce and jars of expensive artisan concoctions. Food will still be a huge part of my life, it just won’t be the at the expense of the rest of it.
* I still haven’t figured out what being a foodie actually means. Just about everyone enjoys food, and has an opinion about it. Some people call themselves foodies when all they do is eat out at restaurants, albeit decent ones. Do you have to care about cooking and where your food comes from to be a foodie? Or do you just have to be interested in food?