The (Canberra) politics of food

Elias Hallaj 29 May 2017 2

Is it possible to separate politics from food? Of course not, considering issues as diverse as malnutrition, farming, retail monopolies (or duopolies), obesity, health and safety, just to name a few! Don’t even get me started on the oversaturated and brutal nature of the Canberra cafe and restaurant trade. I sometimes think Canberra food customers are the most fickle customers in Australia, spoilt by so much competition, constantly seeking new trends. The Canberra food business scene also has uniquely harsh winters, quiet summers and is unlike any other market in Australia.

And how do you feel about shows like Annabel Crabb’s Kitchen Cabinet? They seem to be a blatant attempt to ride the Reality TV food wave while promising to provide insights into politician’s personal lives.

One reviewer from an article titled “Recipes for racism? Kitchen Cabinet and the politics of food” in The Conversation clearly wasn’t impressed: “we can be sure that Crabb will devour the food hungrily, remark upon its delicious flavour and allow the nation to keep unsavoury topics like structural racist violence off the table.”

But not all politicisation of food is bad news. Just look at the humble democracy sausage, an Australian political and gastronomic phenomenon that’s now making waves around the world.

Clever school P&Cs have jumped on the band wagon, advising electors at booths that they shouldn’t vote on an empty stomach but instead enjoy a sausage sandwich and contribute to local school fundraising.

It has even become an official word of the Australian lexicon.

I’ve been writing for RiotACT for a while now, mostly about Canberra food. A couple of times I have been accused of political bias, that’s fine, I’ve worked long enough in politics to know if you haven’t upset anyone then you’re probably not really putting in much effort. The same probably goes for food writing, I guess.

What is most amusing about accusations of political bias is that they often come from people with their own blatant political biases, often without a hint of irony or humour, and occasionally from anonymous hecklers. And some forget that it’s not that hard to find a trail of previous comments, usernames and feelpinions that paint a picture of almost everyone’s world view and political leanings.

And so it goes with food. When I began blogging about food, I did not want to be an average food blogger. Apart from the simplistic attractiveness of the ‘listicle’ as a place to start writing about food without much risk, I saw a big gap in how many other bloggers were writing about affordable food. It seemed Canberra hadn’t had a decent list of cheap eats for a while. The situation has changed over the past couple of years, with over 75+ Canberra food blogs and websites now including reviews of cheaper food.

Over the past few years it seems there has been a renaissance of simple street food in Canberra, from the emergence of Braddon as a new food hub, pop-up festivals such as The Forage, the re-birth of the Mandalay Bus and the emergence (and subsequent demise) of the Westside food van park.

In a book exploring Australia’s eating habits, Eating Between the Lines, social researcher Rebecca Huntley ventures into food courts, supermarkets and suburban kitchens. She speaks to working mums, market gardeners and recently arrived migrants. Asks people how they feel about eating alone, and considers why some rich people have embraced peasant food. Rebecca also rails against the false worship of over-priced food. In solidarity, the CBRfoodie blog resisted the temptation to pursue culinary elitism, instead rejecting the very concept of Michelin Stars or Chef’s Hats to describe culinary superiority. Instead of stars or hats, I awarded “Canberra Beanies” to indicate good food at affordable prices.

Unfortunately, work and other writing has meant the CBRfoodie list of the best and cheapest Canberra food is now slightly outdated, with many cafes and affordable restaurants on the list having sadly closed over the past two years.

Now don’t get me wrong. I don’t think I’ve done anything special. There are plenty of people out there making political statements about fake food fads, overblown celebrity chefs and ridiculous prices for restaurants and fancy appliances. My favourites include … and there is now lots of regular local media in Canberra that is focussed on food, including at The RiotACT.

I think my fame as a foodie already peaked, but that doesn’t really matter, as I never did it for fame or money, but because I got a kick out of sharing some food stories and experiences and learning a lit bit about WordPress, myself and Canberra along the way.

It seems I’m not the only one either. My CBRfoodie Twitter list for Canberra foodies on Twitter now includes 314 people and places! Some are better than others, but I can guarantee if you follow this list you’ll learn more about food in Canberra from the people who tweet about it the most.

I realise most people don’t have time for twitter, and in fact Instagram is bigger and better these days. But I’m not sure it has the capability of creating and following lists on different topics, apart from creating hashtags. Happy to be taught otherwise.

Ironically, four years later, both of my blogs are in a slight state of disrepair, but everyone who knows me through blogging, knows about the foodie blog, and not the campaigning blog, which is still a neglected work in progress. So I’ve often concluded that although I can’t separate food from politics, food is much more interesting than politics to a lot more people!

Elias Hallaj (aka CBRfoodie) is a part-time food blogger and full-time political staffer who has joined RiotACT as a regular contributor. All his opinions about scallops and chooks are his own. Don’t worry he is trying to cut back on fried and fatty food, but insists it’s just too damned delicious. If you have any tips or feedback you can find him on Twitter @CBRfoodie.

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2 Responses to The (Canberra) politics of food
Elias Hallaj Elias Hallaj 6:52 pm 04 Jun 17

Lucy Baker said :

Riotact used to have a “lunches under ten bucks” series didn’t it? That was very useful. Re Annabel Crabb, her Kitchen Cabinet shows have been scrupulously apolitical – other than that she just couldn’t hide the awkwardness of the Tony Abbott episode, which probably wasn’t political, just interpersonal dynamics.

The cheap lunch series from past RiotACT’s was and is a great idea. My current favourites around that price range include the Brindabella Cafe at DFAT and Double Drummer. Where are yours Lucy?

Calling Annabel Crabb scrupulously apolitical kind of misses the point that the New Matilda article and Conversation articles were making. Personally I don’t agree with all the points they make but I do think she often missed opportunities to drill further down into the personality of her subject and let them off far too easily for someone who is a very highly paid journalist and purported political experience and analysis in much of her earlier work. If you’re a highly paid journalist with a national audience I think you have a role to play in public discourse that extends beyond “what do you put in your salad” when interviewing a cabinet minister? But maybe that’s just me ?

Lucy Baker Lucy Baker 3:34 pm 04 Jun 17

Riotact used to have a “lunches under ten bucks” series didn’t it? That was very useful. Re Annabel Crabb, her Kitchen Cabinet shows have been scrupulously apolitical – other than that she just couldn’t hide the awkwardness of the Tony Abbott episode, which probably wasn’t political, just interpersonal dynamics.

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