Waipawa Butchery. Photo: Florence Charvin

[As published in March/April BayBuzz magazine.]

As a fashion, food, like the rag trade, regurgitates the old, adds a twist and presents us with something new in order to excite us and get our attention. 

As a case-study, take the sandwich. Over the last couple of years we’ve seen the rebirth of the humble, utilitarian cut-lunch. In a Frankensteinesque story of more-is-more, today’s fashion-trending, mega-sarnie is barely recognisable as a descendant of the butler’s inspiration to keep his aristocratic master’s attention on the game of bridge.

Like the burger before it, the sandwich has become so full of itself that it’s difficult to eat in a clean shirt and polite company. The idea of holding today’s uber-sando in one hand is ridiculous.

In general then, what will 2024 be remembered for in the food world? The fall of faux-meat, the rise of chopped salads, bottomless brunch, chickles, meat as a treat, communal meals.

Age and social media algorithms now dominate food trends rather than inventiveness at a local level.

We get what the world gets. I just wish the world wanted fondue back!

The faux-meat section at your local supermarket has grown slightly over the last few years. There were over 300 processed vegetable products in Australasia masquerading as meat. Are these products going to take over? No. Will they disappear? Many of them will. Sales of non-meat alternatives in the USA have first stalled and then declined last year. Cost (twice the price of real meat), highly processed, and reliance on soy and wheat are the three leading drawbacks. Carnivores are claiming back their sausages!

We should acknowledge that along with faux meat other food trends are on the way out. We bid farewell to the feta pasta bake. A convenient way to combine delicious ingredients and make the result less than the sum of the parts. Arrivederci burrata! Clearly an invention by a cheese-maker who had lost all interest in making cheese. Basically thickened cream and yoghurt mixed together. Texturally akin to a latex sheath filled with custard. Basta!

Chopped salads and chopped sandwich fillings are coming to a town near you. It’s easy to see that food-to-go eaten with a fork will be so much easier to swallow if it’s partly masticated for you. The days of struggling to bite through a tenacious rasher in a bacon sammie are all but over. Ingredients will be chopped together to combine flavours as well as to avoid ketchup stains.

Bottomless brunch or lunch was a key initiative for restaurants in Melbourne as they dug themselves out of the world’s longest lock-down. I’ve tried it and I loved it. I really felt comfortably settled for my allotted two hours of consumption of Asian-inspired food and gorgeous cocktails. The glamour of which hid the fact that they contained a refreshingly small amount of alcohol. The food came in a well-paced relay and the drinks came just as fast as we could order them. Most of the usual decision making was removed, adding an extra element of anticipation. 

I’m on the lookout for Hawke’s Bay’s own bottomless dining. Well, it sounds so much more classy than all-you-can-eat.

The Chickle is not a small, cute chicken. It’s a pickle wrapped in an envelope of crispy melted cheese. It has Tik-Toked its way to us and will be THE party nibble this year. Accompanied by a dip of spiced aioli this should be on your 5+ A Day list. Fermented foods are good for us, right?

We’re regularly told that we, collectively, eat too much meat. Whether the motivation is health, environmental or fiscal, meat consumption will decline. The increase in the price of meat being the biggest driver. Meat will become more of a treat as it was in the early 1900s. Smaller portions and days of abstinence will become more common. Meatless-Monday and taco-Tuesday lead the way, Followed by wilted-spinach-Wednesday, turnip-Thursday and TGI-Friday! Beware the rejection of animal protein. A vital part of the omnivore’s diet. Sure, you can have a healthy vegan diet, but it must be knowledgeably curated.

The growth of communal meals is part-prediction and part-beseechment. Sharing a meal is vital to who we are. It’s ingrained in our instincts. We saw recently that in times of disaster a shared meal has a healing as well as nourishing function. Can we maintain the impetus to eat, talk and commune together that Cyclone Garielle brought? Unlikely. We’ll slip back into our comfortable, insular existences, becoming more introspective as we rebuild our barriers.

Sure, we all need our space and our quiet times. I just hope that we can keep the fires of community concern and care burning. Let’s lay an extra place or two at our tables and issue invitations to share food and talk. 

Ian Thomas is a caterer and formerly free range egg farmer, cooking demonstrator, and manager of a commercial food production business. He specialises in cooking paella. paellaagogo.com


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