The wholesome Budget day cheese roll tradition is a little less wholesome when cheese is a luxury item, writes Madeleine Chapman for The Spinoff.
Since 2006, Budget day in this country has begun with the prime minister and finance minister of the day enjoying a simple, local snack. During National's time in government, then finance minister Bill English opted for a pie from a local bakery. Grant Robertson paid homage to his southern roots and switched the pie out for a cheese roll in 2018. On a day that is full of policy, analysis and figures, eating a humble pie or cheese roll is an easy way to connect with the people.
Politicians know about optics and know that showcasing their financial position (a position wealthier than most of the people they serve) is a bad idea. Mansions, multiple rental properties and luxury cars are frowned upon but accepted as a matter of course. But optics within the operations of government err on the side of ordinary and "of the people". Ardern does Instagram live videos from within Premier House while making it look like a slightly-larger-than-usual villa rather than a mansion. The Labour government now cooks a barbecue breakfast on Waitangi Day every year. You get the picture.
So what a shock it was to see a plate of 16 cheese rolls during Ardern's Instagram live with Robertson this morning for their snack tradition. A pie costs about $5. A cheese roll looks like it should cost $1. But when tasty cheese (which is used in any decent cheese roll recipe) costs $20 for a block on special, a platter of plain white bread and cheese that isn't even eaten on camera is as much a display of affluence as taking a car from the apartments across the road from parliament, to parliament.
The Budget announcements today included an increase of approximately $24 a week for sole-parent beneficiaries. There are also upcoming cost-of-living support payments with $350 for those earning up to $70,000 a year and not receiving the winter energy payment. That averages out to $27 a week for three months. The payments are likely in response to the growing concerns around the rising costs of living in Aotearoa. Basic grocery items are more expensive than ever, including cheese.
With 16 on Robertson's platter and two on Ardern's plate, that's a doubled standard recipe required to produce those cheese rolls. Is the $24 increase for sole-parent beneficiaries enough to make the humble cheese rolls for this year's Budget day snack?
Mama, let's research.
There are some recipes that feed 35 (Annabel Langbein) and definitely cost more than $24 but we don't need 35, we need 18. Why did Robertson display a plate of 16 cheese rolls? Showing off, is my guess. Displaying cheese privilege. Below is the ingredients list from a classic Maggi recipe. It serves 20.
2x can evaporated milk – $7.20
2x packet onion soup – $3.20
360g tasty cheese – $12.00 (500g block)
1x loaf sliced bread – $3.00
60g butter – $3.30 (200g block)
Total cost: $28.70
That a snack made famous by its simplicity and, in the past, cheapness now costs the same as a lovely takeaway dinner, says something both about the cost of food and the inconsequence of $27 in today's economy.
For next year's Budget, may I suggest a humble bowl of porridge.