When foods vanish from the shelves
On discontinued foods, Queen’s Birthday food media and Hana Pera Aoake's favourite cheese rolls.
Nau mai, haere mai. Welcome to The Boil Up, The Spinoff’s weekly food newsletter produced in partnership with Boring Oat Milk. Written by me, Charlotte Muru-Lanning. It’s lovely to have you here!
I spent most of last week in bed sick with Covid-19. After doing my best to avoid the thing, it finally got me – most likely, and somewhat ironically, while dining out. It’s worth acknowledging that it was a lousy week (made brighter by a box of Cheds and food deliveries from friends and my parents) and I’ll be continuing to do my best to avoid it. Though it might have swallowed up my week, I’m kind of sick of talking about Covid food – so I’m not going to.
Instead, I’ve been thinking a lot about discontinued food items since writing about the mysterious disappearance of Newman’s Own salad dressings. It came as a surprise, but I’ve never had quite as many email responses to an article as I have had to that one. I’ve had emails with DIY dupes for dressings, offers to send bottles from Australia, notes of solidarity and Newman’s Own headquarters is sending me a box. It seems a lot of us really miss that dressing.
It’s always upsetting to lose a food item you adore, often those taken-for-granted foods become wrapped up in ritual, personal identity and relationships with others. Think, a flavour of tea you drink every morning or a chocolate bar you buy for your grandad when you visit. Cruelly, it’s only when those foods are gone that you realise their significance.
But within a climate of immense collective loss globally, there’s something especially poignant and quite terrifying about a food that gives you comfort among the daily barrage of bad news suddenly vanishing – even if those losses pale in comparison to the larger-scale crises and issues playing out.
Of course, this is reflective of the way so much of our food is produced. For the most part, the people who make our favourite kai have no real obligation to continue making it if they don’t want to any more – especially when they’re produced by massive overseas companies. Even when products are popular with consumers, or we’re a loyal buyer of a snack, we’re essentially at the whim of corporate decision making.
Thinking back on the foods I’ve loved and lost: raspberry Sparkles, Trident Spicy Thai Coconut Chicken noodles, Tip Top ice cream cake, good Creme Eggs, Wonka Nerdalicious, Whittaker’s Milk Strawberry. All felt like a calamity – you accept the loss and move on, but, from my experience at least, you never lose the craving.
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The price of a block of cheese has become a ubiquitous symbol of the cost of living crisis. Over the last week, The Spinoff added a Cheese Index to the website homepage as a running ticker tape. Not much more to say to be honest, other than I’m extremely charmed by it.
Tofu monopoly? As reported by Business Desk, the Commerce Commission has given clearance for tofu maker Life Health Foods NZ, which owns the Bean Supreme brand, to buy the business and assets of competing tofu manufacturer Chalmers Organics, which owns the brand Tonzu. Life Health Foods NZ is a registered charity (meaning it doesn’t pay company taxes) that belongs to the Seventh Day Adventist Church. They also own brands like Lisa’s and Naked Cuisine. The Commerce Commission initially raised concerns because the merger combines the top two supermarket suppliers of tofu. In the end, the commission found there were several smaller manufacturers of tofu that, if encouraged, could increase their supply of tofu. PSA: Asian grocers and local tofu shops sell much better quality and often cheaper tofu than supermarkets anyway.
To mark Queen’s Birthday I listened to the first episode of The Full English, a new podcast asking the question: what is English food? The excellent first instalment uses the full English breakfast and its history as a vector to talk about why the English eat the food they do. I particularly enjoyed the discussion around the consequences of empire on the country’s cuisine as they came to rely mainly on colonial outposts for their kai, rather than food grown from their own soil as most other European cuisines tend to revolve around. “England and Britain’s ability to organise the world in its own image… has meant it never needed to invest in an agricultural resource, because why have a peasantry at home if you can outsource one?”
On the topic of English food (I consume way too much British food media), this short Twitter thread on the history of Indian cooking and curries on British television pre-Madhur Jaffrey (often considered the woman who taught Britain to cook Indian food) is a good read.
As part of the supermarket shake-up, the government has announced a bunch of changes aimed at making grocery prices more affordable and transparent. Consumer affairs minister David Clark announced last week that a new dedicated regulator will provide annual reviews on how competitive the industry is, while supermarkets will be obliged to follow a mandatory code of conduct. Yesterday, it was announced that cabinet will consider requiring the supermarket main-players to sell some of their stores. The government has also promised to make unit pricing compulsory, and ensure loyalty schemes are easy to understand.
Foraging is apparently gaining in popularity as food prices continue to rise. It’s certainly not a silver bullet for the cost of living crisis, but it’s definitely one of the more delightful ways to spend your time. I often reminisce about searching for walnuts, elderflower, apples and quince in the red zone when I lived in Christchurch – simpler times. In Auckland my foraging attempts are limited: curbside onion weed and every so often, some difficult-to-reach loquats. Whether you live in a place abundant with foragable food or not – if you can forage, you should forage.
I’m assuming that if you’re reading this you’re not still eating baby formula. Even if you don’t personally consume formula, this rundown of the threefold issues that led to the baby formula shortage crisis in the US is a fascinating look into the industry of what is literally an essential food product for many.
Hana Pera Aoake: Artist and writer
Hana Pera Aoake (Ngaati Mahuta, Tainui/Waikato, Ngaati Hinerangi) is a poet, artist and writer based in Waikouaiti, East Otago. Hana is the co-founder of Kei Te Pai Press, an indigenous-led publishing initiative which is currently republishing a selection of Māori writing from the last two centuries as part of contemporary Māori art exhibition, Matarau, running at City Gallery Wellington. Both Hana and I have roots in Huntly or Raahui-Pookeka. The Māori name of which is said to signify that a rāhui had been put on fishing for tuna, a prestigious food in the area, until they were restocked. Like our ancestors, Hana loves seafood.
The Fishwife, Moeraki: I love living in Te Wai Pounamu, because we have some of the best kaimoana in the world. Located in Moeraki, The Fishwife is second only to Fleurs, which is currently out of action and would otherwise be my #1. The Fishwife is just by the wharf and no ordinary fish and chip shop; you can literally see your lunch coming off the boat and into the kitchen. Who on earth could pass up fresh grilled kōura for $25?
Ada Restaurant, Auckland: I didn't want to like eating here, because I think turning a halfway house into a boutique hotel is a sure way to be haunted by kehua and be generally cursed, BUT you have to go and eat at this restaurant. The food is so fresh, simple and understated. My partner says I'm spiritually Italian and this is the closest I've come to finding Italian kai like I had when I travelled through Italy.
Dragons, Wellington: I have eaten my body weight in yum cha in lots of cities and this one is the tahi. Dragons is the only thing I miss about living in Wellington. Everything tastes fresh and the staff are really attentive. I love the coriander and shrimp dumplings, roasted duck, vegetable congee, braised eggplant and a chicken salad with chilli sauce and coriander.
Whitestone Cheese, Otago Farmers Market, Dunedin: The best cheese roll in the world! When I was hapū this was my biggest craving and is the best on a cold day. There are cheese rolls, then there are the Whitestone cheese rolls… it's elevated beyond being merely “sushi of the south”. These are special because they are cooked on a BBQ grill and they use an aged smoked cheddar and REAL butter. Go to the market early to get the goods, but if he’s run out the next best thing is Abdal’s Gourmet Foods.
No.7 Balmac: This is my favourite restaurant in Ōtepoti. It never disappoints. The ingredients are always fresh with some taken from their vegetable and herb garden, so the menu changes seasonally or the staple menu items change depending on the season. It's a lovely sunny spot with two of the best floor managers I've ever seen in my life (years of hospo makes you appreciate these things). The lightly spiced beef with almond-tahini hummus smeared on sourdough pancake with toasted cauliflower and crispy onions is a hearty favourite, as well as their brioche French toast. My only criticism is that they need to bring back the onion rings!
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Hei kōnā mai, Charlotte