food lovers vs Coles

Been thinking about ‘foodie’ culture – mainly because I’m up in Healseville at the moment. It’s David’s birthday (a particularly significant one!) and we’re celebrating with some good mates; staying in a very tasteful apartment with a real life pot belly fireplace, modern angular furniture and fresh cut flowers in vases. In the kitchen is one of those thick glossy cookbooks, full of pictures of close-up produce and succulent meals made with the finest ingredients. It’s called the ‘Vineyard Cookbook’ – for this, after all, is winery country, and foodie-culture central.

Now I must admit, there is a big part of me that rolls my eyes at the whole foodie thing. I have an emotional reaction – somewhere between annoyance and anger – when I see groups of well-presented Melburnians swirling red beverages in oversized glasses and sniffing at it with their noses. Makes me want to wait outside, and distance myself from the whole endeavour. It all feels so rich, so elitist, and in that moment, so exceedingly shallow. I imagine these people have nothing better going on in their lives, that they must flit about on the edges of someone else’s passion, seeking vicariously to find meaning and identity out of these shades of colour and taste.

And most of all, I hate it because here I am also, a well-to-do Melburnian, who ticks those unwritten boxes that gain one entry into these sorts of places. The whole scene casts a glaring, unflattering light on my own wealth and privilege.

So that’s partly how I feel about foodie culture.

But another part of me is kind of grateful and relieved at it all. Because actually I really believe that at the centre of this culture that produces fine wine, boutique beer, delicate deli meats and overpriced olive oil – is passion. The people at the centre of this industry do it because they love it. And I really can’t turn my nose up at that.

A warm, twinkly-eyed woman at a tiny winery we visited told us her husband was a wine wholesaler. His job was to represent a number of wine growers, and to get their products into Coles and Woolworths. This was no easy task – a next-to-impossible task, it seemed. These corporate food monsters just push and push, she said, until they get what they want exactly on their terms, at their prices. It leaves the producers seriously coming out second-best.

The woman said that she refused to play the game, and sold her wines in cafés and restaurants only. She said she was thinking of bringing out a new label, that she would call ‘Poppy’s Paddock’, after the dog we met “who lives with me,” she said. I liked that name. She let us try a really yummy wine, made with shiraz and some other special wine they blended in with it. It was pretty amazing, so we bought some.

If ‘foodie’ culture is playing a part in re-humanising our food, then I think that is good. If we Melburnians meet the people who produce our wine and fruit and cheeses, or at least hear their stories – and share in their passion – then this seems to me what will ultimately take the power away from the monoliths of Coles and Woolworths. Because their model is the opposite of passion: it is a model that puts profits before people, and has no room for passion. When we share in the passion for food, then we somehow bring it back to earth, and share in the story of its production.

And at first, it may be the rich who support humanised food production. The rich have always enabled passion to develop, by acting as patrons for artists. Our gifts may not lie in growing delicious apricots or curing lovely meats, but we can support those who do it on our behalf. In that way, we are not so much as vicariously experiencing passion, but partaking in it ourselves. I think this is an entirely worthwhile way to direct wealth and privilege!

And we can honour the passion of the producer by taking what they give us and becoming producers ourselves – by cooking with big splashes of love and generosity, and then sharing with our family and friends.

If that is what foodie culture is, then I’ll have a slice.