So, what are we supposed to eat?

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Musings on luxury and leisure, post annus horribilis

Even an instinct as primal as eating has been transformed in the modern world of our luxury lifestyles.

While ‘fish and chips Friday’ has remained a weekly NZ gastronomic constant for generations, progress moves even our trademark takeaway staple relentlessly onward.

Although we can now upscale to bluenose dusted in a light, tempura crumb batter cooked in hand-crafted, non-allergenic low-fat virgin Himalayan soybean oil, accompanied by laser-cut organic pommes de terre curly flat wing chiplets avec zesty mayo jus, in essence the humble fish and chips meal remains fundamentally unpretentious (with the exception of the above varieties).

Fish is still fish, and chips are still chips – the newspaper wrapper might no longer be readable, and the accompanying Fanta might now be a replacement low-carb, non-sugar drinking medicine, but the smell of freshly cooked fish and chips still makes me say, ‘yes please’.

So, too, the meat pie. Although the full range of pie experiences has been expanded from two choices – potato top and mince – to 202 options, including octopus and lamington curry, and vegetarian beef and kale hotpot … mmmmmmm … a meat pie is still, at its most simple, a meat pie.

But beyond the pie and the fish and chips, life has certainly changed, gastronomically speaking.

As you will no doubt have noticed, I’m prone to regularly walk down the ‘when I was young’ road in this column. Today is no exception.

For comparison purposes I recall – less than fondly – when Chinese gooseberries hadn’t been trademarked, ‘re-specified’ and fully commoditised and an avocado was considered too exotic for the average Kiwi palate to contemplate – not that the average Kiwi palate could actually find the aforementioned fruit to buy and then contemplate anyway.

Olives were married to sailors and pistachios would break your teeth when you tried to chew them.

Fast-forward to 2021. The kids order sushi for their school lunches and they don’t even care that the fish is not cooked – what is the world coming to?

I’m not even going to talk today about supermarket psychosis – that most recent of my modern food-related afflictions; that particular malady will keep for another column.

But I am perplexed by the bewildering plethora of healthy eating signposts at modern restaurants directing me to a longer life, a healthier gut microbiome, clearer skin, less interrupted sleep, better sex, elevated karma and a generally more radiant aura.

The average restaurant menu is now increasingly dotted with letters that I don’t understand; In much the same way that LGBT evolved to LGBTQQIP2SAA while I was away for the weekend, the average restaurant menu now contains an alphabet of specifiers next to every second menu item – V, V+, O, GF, NF, ND, FT (vegetarian, vegan, organic, gluten-free, nut-free, non-dairy, free-trade) etc. This can be quite annoying when all you want to do is check if the salad comes with chips.

Pectarian surprise

When a good friend recently announced he was now pescatarian, I offered my condolences and asked if he was seeing a specialist.

Suffice to say, I am trying my best to ‘keep up’. Interestingly, I have noticed that my friend does have a spring in his step now – slam dunk case closed irrefutable proof that he is having a mid-life crisis.

Or maybe it means the pescatarian diet is working. Hard to pin down the cause and effect with any certainty, but he’s a believer, so I guess that’s ultimately all that matters.

So, are the advantages promised by my local pizzeria’s menu superscript annotations coming true? Are we healthier, happier, having better sex and living longer?

Well, here’s the thing – while we seem to have more cures, we keep discovering more diseases.

While we keep practising deeper mindfulness thanks to our life coach’s top ten yoga hacks, we seem to need the therapy more and more.

The sex was already good until the internet showed me it wasn’t.

And while the wealthy seem to be living for more years, are they really ‘older’, or are their regular length lives just being chemically elongated?

I’m going to try and eat more leafy greens and drink more water. But I’m not giving up fish and chips on Fridays and a mince pie occasionally when I’m in recovery.

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Alan Neben
Alan Neben
Alan Neben is a Mount Maunganui local and experienced New Zealand publisher. His columns provide a light-hearted perspective on social changes effecting New Zealanders

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