The Other Side of the Counter

Just as many young people have before me, I’ve braved the vicissitudes of a casual hospitality job from a young age. I believe the hospitality industry, especially in my youth, has given me a great deal of character and taught me how to read all types of people. But I’m a weekend warrior. I keep myself busy on the weekends by earning money rather than spending it as I finish my studies. I’m not out there doing the hard yards; not the break of dawn coffee rushes, nor the 3am high-volume bar closes.

Nevertheless, many of my close friends, including my partner, have chosen the full-time hospo’ life as their way of life. They are a bunch of bar-owning, restaurant-managing, career-waitering legends who love existing outside the Monday to Friday, nine to five work norm. They give unfalteringly genuine service and happily dedicate themselves to the public enlightenment of good food and (really good) drink; all the while enduring a politically unstable workplace environment (read: the Brisbane nightlife). 

Fortunately I’m not going to contribute any more noise to that heady topic. Instead I want to make a fuss over the food trends that have been widely adopted by Brisbane venues over the last couple of years. Everywhere I turn there’s an option for burgers, buffalo wings, burgers, sticky ribs, burgers, fried chicken, glazed doughnuts, chilli cheese fries or, yet again, burgers. Many of which are even served in the style of the Americana diner. 

No longer do we need to travel to Louisiana to sample the local New Orleanian foods. We don’t need to go all the way to South Carolina to eat the deep fried chicken that originated between Scottish immigrants and African slaves during the 18th century. We can eat Creole and Cajun, Vietnamese street food, Italian, and French peasant food right here in Brisbane. In fact, we can access nearly any kind of cultural cuisine, 'exotic', or 'authentic' food at any time of the year. How come everyone seems to know what poutine is, yet no one's interested in desert yam? The French have snails and frog legs, why don't we have goanna and kangaroo on our menus? I'd like to try a gimlet made with finger lime, please.

With the popularity of culturally themed eateries evident on every corner of Brisbane’s inner city suburbs, those who clock off later than 9pm (or simply fancy a late dinner) face a bleak outlook of dinner options. Why do we all of a sudden have an obsession with greasy southern American food? Not only is this style of food unhealthy and unimaginative, (yet indubitably enticing at 2am in the morning), it is a misinterpretation of our bioregion. Environmental writer and founder of the Planet Drum Foundation, Peter Berg, defines bioregionalism as not just a geographic terrain but as a terrain of consciousness (Berg 2002). Whatwhere and when we eat food contributes to our terrain of consciousness which manifests as food memories. For example, during my childhood I anticipated eating Bowen mangoes when I visited family in northern Queensland during Christmas. The connections between food, place and time make eating a special event and create a ‘sense of place’.

A recurrent theme endorsed by the participant chefs engaged in my research project is the importance of ‘sense of place’ not just when they cook, but when they travel and eat. That is to say that accessing all foods, everywhere, year-round should not be normalised. One might think twice about the energy expended for the appearance of mango puree on a menu in London, or wild barramundi in a Tasmanian fish and chip shop. Joel Salatin, American author and farmer of Polyface Farms, once told Michael Pollan,

"Just because I can ship organic lettuce from the Salinas Valley, or organic cut flowers from Peru, doesn't mean we should do it, not if we're really serious about energy and seasonality and bioregionalism." (Pollan 2006, 133)

The era of sensationalising imported food has come to an end, and for reasons just as significant as resource conservation and preservation of the environment. Displacement of native plants and animals allied with native peoples has occurred since Europeans first arrived in both America and Australia. As I wrote about in Our Australian Cuisinethe suppression of native food knowledge and traditions during these early years not only perpetuated a muddled Eurocentric cuisine for Australia, it was the result of a "cultural myopia" (Pascoe 2014, 17) which devastated soil fertility, previously encouraged by thousands of years of careful husbandry. Years later, native Australian food knowledge and traditions still fail to penetrate the mainstream cuisine and national food identity.

Nevertheless, Berg claims that a response to the persistent issue of defending our bioregion (and our native food identity) from global intrusions must be a creative one (Berg 2002). To engage in creativity and flexibility in order to work with food in place and time (the local and the seasonal), allows a ‘sense of place’ to take shape. What would happen if we placed more trust in our chefs and their creativity, flexibility and engagement with local suppliers, distributors, farmers, producers and custodians? What might we be eating?

I trust it might not be trendy and ‘grammable’ ‘dude food’, misplaced in our society by way of social medias and mob behaviour. Perhaps, even my hospitality comrades might one night knock off to enjoy a dinner that isn't deep fried potato, as tempting as it may be.

Bibliography

Berg, Peter. 2002. Bioregionalism: An Introduction. Viewed 21st July, 2017. <http://www.planetdrum.org/bioregion_bioregionalism_defined.htm#Bioregionalism>

Pascoe, Bruce. 2014. Dark Emu Black Seeds: Agriculture of Accident? Magabala Books. Broome, Western Australia.

Pollan, Michael. 2006. The Omnivore's Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals. Penguin Books. United States of America.

Paula Hardie