On being a foodie* and still (afford to) have a life

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? 

8 thoughts on “On being a foodie* and still (afford to) have a life

  1. thefieryheart says:

    This is a very interesting post and I have to agree with you. Eating in New Zealand can be very expensive. Eating “trendy” can burn a huge hole in your wallet.
    I like where you are heading with your blog and I look forward to reading about your adventures in the kitchen.

  2. bunnyeatsdesign.com says:

    While I agree that eating out in NZ can be expensive, I only do fine dining on very special occasions, once or twice a year. The rest of the time we pick places that are marginally more expensive than eating at home.

    Paying a lot of money for a trendy setting, amazing service but average food is foolish. I do not enjoy that kind of dining.

    I know I spend too much of my take home pay on food, but even if I wasn't a foodie, I'd still need a food budget. At least this doubles as a hobby. I love trying new foods and ingredients because I find the pursuit interesting. It shouldn't be work though. Keeping up with trend is reserved for people who actually do food for a job.

    Dinner parties, pot lucks etc are great for saving money. We haven't had a pot luck at home in a long time though. I had a few bad experiences of guests not being organised for pot luck so I just decided to pay for and cook everything instead. Better to cook everything myself than have to stand around waiting for everyone to cook in our kitchen. A bit of a control freak. Maybe. But I went to a great pot luck last weekend and the food was cooked and ready to eat. Maybe it's time to revisit the pot luck?

  3. easyfoodhacks says:

    Great to hear from you, as always Genie. What sells magazines and newspapers shouldn't be what defines 'foodie-ism' but it seems to be leading the charge. I bought into the hype.

    I'm like you, I am not a proponent of pot-lucks. I refuse to host one because I want my guests to just come and enjoy themselves plus I am somewhat of a control freak in my kitchen. I will happily take a plate to someone else's though.

  4. Nom Nom Panda says:

    Funny, I never got the impression that you were eating out too much. The eateries you review are often the lesser known and cheaper ones, rather than the more “hyped up” fancy places. That's what I like about your blog, and you have plenty of home recipes too.

    I guess it's just a matter of priorities. Some people spend lots of money on, say, skiing, so if you want to spend money on eating and can afford it, that's not necessarily a bad thing. I guess if you gain just as much enjoyment from cooking at home though, for a fraction of the price, then that is a better value proposition.

    Looking forward to hearing more about your reconnection with the basics.

  5. easyfoodhacks says:

    Thanks NNP. I do eat out at the more upmarket places but I don't write about them as they get enough columns in the other media, plus I can't get any decent photos of the dishes in the dimmed lighting. I go back to my old favorites regularly.

    What I post is unlikely to change, maybe more recipes. I am also interested in the whole evolving food culture and how trends affect how we relate to food.

  6. dil8 says:

    I think a foodie is someone who appreciates and likes to talk (or write)about good food. I thought that was everyone too until recently, when my sister-in-law confessed that she finds my side of the family's long discussions about food baffling (and boring). She's not a bad cook either, just not enthusiastic.

    Having just moved to Auckland from London I'm really starting to realise that what my Kiwi family have been telling me about high food prices is sadly true. I'm going to have to spend much more time and energy searching out the good deals here than I did at home, so any tips you can offer will be gratefully received!

  7. easyfoodhacks says:

    Thanks for your comment dil8! Yup, to be a foodie, I think you have to be part food nerd. 🙂 I've been pondering this, and have written a post for Friday on what the definition of a foodie is by the “experts” (not everyone may think so) and what I think a foodie is.

    Absolutely, hang around and I'll share what I learn. The most important lesson on how to eat well (unfortunately?) is to learn how to cook well.

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