Food is the new fashion, but has anyone told the regulators?
This holiday season I had a meal that was a little ... Gaulty. No, not salty - although it was a touch saline, to be honest - what I mean is that every facet of that meal, every atom and fibre of its being, was permeated with the essence of MasterChef maestro and florid-faced food-fancier Simon Gault.
The location was Taupo, in a restaurant presumably set up by Gault, with Gault, and quite frankly, all about Gault. He was on the walls, in signed books by the cash register and all over the menu. The great man's delicacies revealed themselves through all three courses, including his "trio of icecreams" for dessert. I swear one of the entrees was Simon Gault reclining on a bed of lettuce. That's how Gaulty it was.
Please don't think I have anything against him. But we've all just about reached Simon Gault overload, haven't we? And not just him: New Zealanders seem to be wallowing in celeb-chef culture to the point where the same people turn up again and again, pushing their personal brand through books, TV shows and radio appearances, making not only themselves decently wealthy, but fuelling a mini explosion in farmers' markets, Italian specialty shops and slow-cookers.
Whole fancy food chains - think Farro and Nosh - exist because international foodies (Stein, Oliver, Ramsay, et al) have spawned locals (Gault, Langbein, McVinnie, etc) who are constantly exhorting us to find "fresh", "local", "seasonal" ingredients, grown or raised with love and killed or picked with kindness.
All of which we have to gather by getting in our fume-emitting cars and driving for several carbon-heavy kilometres to purchase at huge expense.
It will be interesting to see how many of our little artisan producers, so buoyed by the foodie boom, will be deflated by the new Food Bill, which purports to update the Food Act of 1981.
While the amateur green thumb who gives away his produce over the back fence will probably be OK under the new law, there are concerns for small food producers. Not to mention those thousands of Kiwis who volunteer for sausage sizzles each weekend, or happily provide a plate when called upon.
The bill slaps more compliance costs on "food" operators (including those selling seeds, alternative medicines and drink) and wraps more regulation around public food preparation and handling, all (apparently) to help prevent the $162 million loss to the economy from food poisoning each year.
We could ask ourselves: "what would Rick Stein say?" if we wanted a true gourmet's take on this new legislation. He would likely tell our pollies to naff off; certainly his Food Hero series would be shorter and far less interesting if every Cedric Hayseed growing fat, happy pigs and organic rhubarb from one corner of Britain to the other was subject to the bill.
In fact, given that food-borne illness is more likely to come from your average domestic kitchen than your neighbourhood farmers' market, there may be more sense in, say, trying to prevent Nigella Lawson and her legion of domestic deities from licking their fingers seductively at every opportunity as they cook, rather than cracking down - once more - on the poor sods just trying to make a living.