The great food fight: Are you an anti-foodie?

By Kim Knight

Turns out, not everyone’s a foodie. Kim Knight meets the people who couldn’t care less about your salted caramel kale
'Eat this, don't eat that and definitely don't tell anyone it came from a tin.' Photos / iStock
'Eat this, don't eat that and definitely don't tell anyone it came from a tin.' Photos / iStock

Tomatoes, onions, capsicum. Chipotle powder, chilli flakes, cannellini beans. She dipped her spoon and tasted - heat settled, dull and claustrophobic, in the back of her throat. Lemon juice, brown sugar and smoked garlic sauce couriered from Marlborough. Perfect!

But it was brunch for 10 adults and seven children. Back at the stove, she stirred and tasted, and worried there wouldn't be enough. She drove to the service station, bought two tins of Wattie's baked beans and filled the Le Creuset to the top. Delicious! Though when people asked for the recipe, she left out the trip to the service station.

Food is love and friends and family. But it is also a socio-political nightmare and a competitive sport.

Eat this, don't eat that and definitely don't tell anyone it came from a tin. Brew your once-hot coffee via a cold-drip filter. Consume your once-cooked cauliflower raw and remade as "rice". Know that Lewis Road is milk, not an address; that when your friends are talking cricket, they mean the low-fat, high-protein insect - not the sport.

Read-eat-watch-eat-shop-eat. Worship at the kitchen bench and the restaurant table of food, glorious food!

Or don't.

"Right now," says Ben Walters, "I'm about to have breakfast. I'm eating because I'm hungry. It's got nothing to do with taste."

Walters, 31, is a tour guide who takes visitors by the bus load through France, Germany, Belgium, the Netherlands, Luxembourg, Liechtenstein, Switzerland, Austria, Italy, Spain, Slovenia, Slovakia, the Czech Republic, Croatia, Montenegro and Monaco.

"If you were a foodie, you'd love my job."

Walters is the polar opposite of a foodie. It would not be too much of a stretch to suggest that Walters is to foodies as the Anti-Christ is to Christians.

In Tuscany, he says, his coach tours are offered a four-course feast option.

"It's a beautiful ambience and lovely atmosphere. I can understand the appeal of it to other people, but for me, it's time-consuming. It takes two hours of my time to feed everyone, and you've got to go up to every table and ask 'how was your meal?' and I genuinely don't care."

In a world that has never offered more opportunities for the middle class to eat, the backlash was, perhaps, inevitable. Food is love and friends and family. But it is also, at its most basic, fuel. And not everybody wants their recommended 8700 kilojoules a day via green shoots of the season with scallop marinade (Copenhagen's Noma) or pork jowl in a sardine broth (Spain's El Celler de Can Roca).

Walters, for example, cooks just once a week: A gigantic vegetable, noodle and chicken stir-fry, or pasta with supermarket sauce and chicken. He freezes seven to eight portions, and lives on that meal - and that meal alone - until it runs out.

Herbs? Garlic? "I know there's garlic powder," he says. "But I wouldn't ... I've never even chopped up a garlic before."

Australian-based, with a Kiwi girlfriend, Walters says his anti-foodie stance has never affected a romantic relationship. "If you care for someone, it's give and take. I do have to eat, so I'll come out and get the chat and hang out."

It's trickier, he says, with friends. "It's like I'm an outcast in social situations. I've got a pretty good network of mates, but when you reach this age, you're getting a bit over going out to pubs and clubs and partying. It turns to 'hey, let's go out for dinner'. People see that as an activity. It just generally bores the shit out of me.

"Two weeks ago, a bunch of people were like 'hey, do you want to come out for some Vietnamese'. I was just like 'I'll fall asleep and I don't like food, so no offence, but if you're doing something afterwards, that'd be terrific'."

On a recent visit to Auckland, Walters attempted to take his girlfriend out for a romantic, waterfront dinner. The Uber overshot the address, they ended up outside a pub, the cricket was on the television "and I was like, 'do you want to get some chicken or something' ... she said it was a great night".

It's tempting to think of the rise of the foodie as a new millennium phenomenon, born of an explosion of farmers' markets and a fear of food miles and over-processed edibles. Local anthropologist David Veart traces the descriptor back to the 1980s and the publication of the Official Foodie Handbook by British writers Ann Barr and Paul Levy.

Veart, in his book First Catch Your Weka - A Story Of New Zealand Cooking, says for Kiwis, the 80s was a decade of excess that was "like being let out after a long school detention".

He writes, "Just as medieval kings settled down to eat gilded peacocks adorned with their reattached tails, these new status consumers hunted down the rarest vintages, the most expensive restaurants and the latest and most obscure ingredients.

"In a pattern first seen in Hudson and Hall's 1970s recipes, ingredients became more detailed and exotic, items that were initially difficult to procure. Smoked paprika, saffron, walnut oil, fish sauce, Szechuan peppercorns, truffles tamarind pulp and handmade pasta ... specialist suppliers like Sabato in Auckland and the Mediterranean Food Warehouse in Wellington opened to supply this new market."

For a time, writes Veart, "the foodie stood side by ridiculed side with that other group from the 1980s, the yuppie".

But when the stockmarket crash killed the yuppie, foodies simply reinvented themselves, growing their own popcorn, making their own cheese and convincing themselves that deep-fried pigs ears were delicious.

People like Mary Breckon, a 30-year-old Auckland lawyer, just got bored.

"I don't enjoy talking about food. I find it mundane. On a par with talking about fashion. It just seems a bit consumerist to me."

Take quinoa, she says. "You could buy it from the supermarket for $7. I remember thinking, 'I'm sure this is food for a lot of people in other countries'."

(She's right. Three years ago, British food writer and investigative journalist Joanna Blythman reported on the "unpalatable truth" of quinoa, noting Western appetite for the South American grain had pushed its price beyond the reach of poorer people in Peru and Bolivia, who relied on it as a staple.)

Is Breckon's anti-foodie stance about ethics? She pauses. "It could be ..."

Maybe, suggests one family member, it's just "genuine nonchalance. Her mum once found there wasn't even any table salt in her kitchen."

Breckon says she eats healthily - lots of fruit and vegetables - but "just can't really participate" in food conversations. "I try, because it's impolite not to. But there's a lot of head-nodding and smiling."

Does she own a cookbook? "Ooh, this is embarrassing. One. That my mum got me. I think it's called The Student Cookbook." Has she made anything from it? "No."

Who cares if you can't-won't-don't cook? If you've got money, you are not going to starve.

According to the New Zealand Restaurant Association, in 2014, this country boasted nearly 15,000 food service outlets - 5500 more than it had a decade earlier.

Consider the weekend food diary of Tessa Stockdale, 20, a Hamilton-born, Auckland-based social media producer. It starts at 7pm on Friday night with pad kee mao from Wok'n Noodle and progresses to cafe breakfasts, burger lunches, restaurant dinners (and "some kind of unidentifiable food at the Mangawhai Tavern"). There are hash browns and bagels from McDonalds, a chicken and avocado sandwich and a falafel kebab. By 8pm on Monday, Stockdale has purchased each of the last 10 meals she has consumed.

"I'm young and this is the only time in my life where I actually get to go out and not care and enjoy good food and not worry. I pay my bills, I have my commitments, but I may as well do it now when I'm 20, than when I'm 30 and potentially have a mortgage and children and all those other things."

Celebrating wins and pins with my lovely ???????? @shesaidyes x

A photo posted by TESSA ? (@tessastockdale) on


And it's also, she says, a way of life for sociable 20-somethings. Once, eating was cheating. Today, says Stockdale who lists Coco's Cantina and Ebisu among her favourite Auckland restaurants, food is built into a night out.

"The huge anti-binge drinking culture has really been pushed down our throats. My friends and I definitely eat before we drink."

It is all a very long way from Sunday roasts, pavlova and the 1962 Good Housekeeping World Cookery book that noted: "Not surprisingly, the great national dish of New Zealand is roast lamb. It is served with roast potatoes and two or three vegetables, often including roast pumpkin and kumara. That is how New Zealand men like their food - no frills, no foreign touches..."

Last year, a $10 pork belly and pickled cucumber steamed bun won the "people's choice" category of an Auckland restaurant award. Runners-up included maltagliati with duck ragu, zuppa di pesce, and veal Holstein. There was a pavlova, but it was of the salted caramel variety.

Peak food? Because as every scientist (and good cook) knows, for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. It's evident in overseas publications where headlines range from "The Moral Crusade against Foodies" to "F*** you, Food Snobs!"

Auckland food writer Delaney Mes says: "I think there is an active backlash. Which is fair enough, because food has become this competitive thing. We have to eat three times a day and it shouldn't be like a competition."

She recently visited a friend in London and suggested a restaurant. "She replied 'I'm not a foodie!' Which is fine. But she was quite hostile about it ... I wonder if we have reached peak food? It's not a surprise. If people treat food like a trend, then of course it's going to come and go."

Mes was a 25-year-old graduate lawyer living in Wellington when she started her blog, Heartbreak Pie, in response to an actual heartbreak. It morphed into cooking gigs with TVNZ's Good Morning show, a column in the Herald on Sunday and a life that now completely and utterly revolves around being a foodie (a word she says she hates).

"When I started there was this real collegial atmosphere. Now people are doing blogs with the intention of monetising them and I think Instagram has totally changed the food game. Again, it's that weird competition thing - how many 'likes' did you get for dinner?


"I try really hard not to come across as a food snob, and I'm always careful to talk at the level people are at ... for example, I care deeply about where my coffee comes from, who grew it, whether it's Fair Trade. I grind my own beans at home. But if the occasion calls for it, I'll have what I'm given. Even instant."

When we speak, Mes is cooking clafoutis (because cherries are in season) and zucchini fritters (because she has a glut of them). She loves that she lives in a time when someone can turn a hobby into a career and build businesses on making boutique soda syrups, "or honey, or an oatcake ... but the reality for a lot of families is they're going to eat the cheapest, easiest thing".

Her most popular food post ever?

"I did an Instagram of eating tinned spaghetti on toast and it was my most-liked photo, because people could relate to it. It's not like I'm eating artisan heirloom vegetables all the time. I try to do it as much as possible, but not all the time."

- Canvas

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