Just food

“It’s Gluten Free!” Gluten being the new cholesterol, I thought extolling the treat as a virtuous dietary addition would make the customer even happier. Wrong. “It’s food. That’s all it is and if you don’t eat it you die. And that’s that.” Got it. Getting all cute with food was probably not a smart approach to a customer who had been a white farmer in Zimbabwe on a small holding which she ran for 20 years on her own after her husband died. Obviously her life had been ruled by priorities other than if her morning biscuit contained wheat proteins or not. It was hard to be affronted by her brusque manner because I agreed with her – and I had become….. one of THEM. I used to cook for THEM. THEY were young models and actors in the heart of Auckland who’d go through a menu querulously hunting out and forgoing forbidden gluten, dairy, meat, calories, additives or anything which contained food. The head chef lost her job the day she threw a plate of pasta across the kitchen, just missing the glass fridge doors and rollicked out front wondering aloud why one young wannabe didn’t just: “Order a glass of fresh air and #$@##%^^ Off!” That was also the week I made star-anise kangaroo hotpots. It wasn’t my fault the smart aleck waiter had changed the menu board to ‘Skippy Surprise’ which caused a scene not unlike the painting ‘The Scream’ out the front door as the vegans fled. All just good food. Not a political statement. Not an intention of status or ambition and certainly not a fetish or religion. Master Chef cooking shows are the new food porn – all that closed eye wriggling in delight at deep fried pig’s ears by Nigella_Lawson or her multi-ethnic counterparts is really just 50 shades of golden brown. There’s the bejewelled Peta Mathias and her ilk; sandalled and with enough hand jewellery for Mao Tse Tung to make a wok out of. Trundling through Moroccan markets on our way to an afternoon affair, the modern day madam; the celebrity chef, guides us to new realms of culinary lasciviousness. Forget the reality that most working Mums could write our own cookbook entitled ’50 Shades of Mince.’ Or that many chefs working in flash restaurants all day come home and collapse while eating takeaway supermarket shrimp salads and other mortal culinary sins. Which brings us to that other fetish. If it’s not sex – it’s religion. Novice chefs approach the sacred altar where the high priests of taste masticate mouthfuls of preciousness and declare it either holy or unfit. I honestly feel like slapping them and telling them to either just eat it or bugger off. It is after all, just food. The unreality TV shows bely the fact that fewer people are cooking and that there are an ever increasing number of Fast UnFood chains taking over every main street in Northland. While diabetes rates sky rocket and health budgets are the fat kid running behind, who’s never going to catch up. Somewhere between Hell’s or Hestor’s kitchens and McDonalds there has to be ‘just food’ and people knowing how to cook it. When a friend worked in the emergency food relief team in Christchurch after the quake, a young couple gave back the mince from the food parcel saying they didn’t have any pets. They had two small children though and noodles and canned tomatoes. Somewhere ‘just food’ has got lost on the road to fetish and high fashion. We’ve traded cooks for kooks.

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