Home About

Food For Thought

Steve Nicoll



“Preach not to others what they should eat, but eat as becomes you, and be silent” -Epictetus (55 AD – 135 AD)
The cultural value of food, is a powerful one, with a rising number of television cooking shows, complimentary books, DVDs and cooking products served up to us in generous portions. Currently, on free to air television, cooking programmes take up over 10 hours of weekly airtime. Cooking books regularly make bestseller lists.
This wave of “gastro-chic” has elevated being a chef to almost rock star status. Take Jamie Oliver, a victim of the paparazzi, with CD sales of his favourite compilations selling as well as his cooking books. Dinner parties have turned into memory recall tests for episodes of Nigella Bites and Gorden Ramsey shows. Here, talking about the virtues of cream, white wine and coriander alongside what’s happened during the week is a guaranteed way of currying favour.
The popularity of “gastro-chic”, has undoubtedly left behind unpopular consequences. In a recent study Kiwis were ranked 17th in the world for most obese people, fatter than Aussies, Brits, and Canadians. That result means that 68 per cent of us are considered obese by a World Health organisation measurement. Being gastro-chic and maintaining a healthy body image is possible, but self-discipline in the face of some of the dishes on display is tough (one of the dishes last week was wild mushroom bruschetta- mmm). The obesity trend is increasing too- obesity is now twice as common in New Zealand adults as it was 25 years ago according to a Ministry of Health report. Increasingly obesity is becoming the poverty of the West. This is reflected in worldwide statistics with the ratio of people who are underfed to those who are overfed being one to one.
How is gastro-chic reflected at Victoria? In the four cafeterias I have dined at this year there was an abundance of pies, rolls, and sandwiches- more gastro-porn than chic. It’s hard to know if this is reflects our desires or that healthy choices are not being promoted. Without a doubt though Victoria’s cafeterias have contributed to the 88 per cent increase in sales of burgers, fish and chips, pies, ice creams, and pizzas since 2002. I could go on adding that Victoria’s food offerings don’t only cost your body but your pocket. Raising this point with one of the cafeteria managers this week, I was told that the prices are comparable to cafes around Wellington. While that is true, customers that occupy cafes- the general population- have a far greater income than students. I could go on, but the point of this editorial is not how incredibly overpriced and unhealthy our student cafes are but what can be done to make them better.
Looking towards our secondary schools may provide that answer. In 2002 Porirua College changed their cafeteria’s food and nutrition policy resulting in banning foods high in sugar and replacing them with home cooked meals. That intervention was a result of a commitment towards healthy eating by teacher Nicola Potts. Here at Victoria with no current nutritional policy in place it’s difficult to see how changes to our menu could be achieved. I think we need someone like Potts, perhaps one of our student politicians, to take up the case and pressure the contractual obligations of Victoria to Eurest to include nutritional guidelines. Until that happens perhaps we should just eat, drink and be merry. Just what we are eating however remains unknown.

Also Salient is looking for more feature writers. Please contact us if interested.