Tuesday, 6 July 2010

When even economics is overrun by food fetishism...

It's official - food fetishism, courtesy of Masterchef Australia - has overtaken the world. 

Henry on the tax revamp

Take the commentary in today's Australian on Treasury bureaucrat Ken Henry's Senate Committee comments on the revamped resource tax.  A year ago most of us wouldn't have known what molecular gastronomy was.  Today, its a piece designed to make us snort:

"KEN Henry has the demeanour of a man who designed a degustation tax menu worthy of the great Spanish restaurant, El Bulli, only to have a customer demand a Chiko Roll.

Yet the Treasury secretary came to a Senate hearing yesterday not to condemn Julia Gillard’s triumphant new regime, but to offer compassion.

Was the tax guru disappointed his high-art tax reform installation had been subjected to the lash of her Bamix before being embalmed in puff pastry?

...When he last appeared before Senate estimates, his cucumber foam creation of a 40 per cent mining resources rent tax combined with a cut in the company tax to a 25 per cent rate, lay only partially molested.

On releasing the Henry review, Wayne Swan had watered down Henry’s original recommendation of a 25 per cent company tax rate to 28 per cent. Then, Labor added lashings of superannuation reform to the recipe, a move that Henry had not demanded.

Finessed by his own tax reform inquiry, his original mining tax measure was declared “elegant” by respected economists including Ross Garnaut.

Then the nation watched slack-jawed as Kevin Rudd turned the tax debate into a slow-motion train wreck, ending with his own ritualistic beheading.

Finally, Gillard slashed the headline 40 per cent tax rate to 30 per cent and shaved the company tax cut to a meagre 29 per cent, before chucking the lot in the deep fryer.

...El Bulli was once billed as the greatest restaurant in the world. Author Anthony Bourdain described chef Albert Adria’s creations as inspiring “fear, awe, and wonder” among pastry chefs.

“I feel for them; like Eric Clapton seeing Jimi Hendrix for the first time, one imagines they will ask themselves ‘What do I do now?’ “

It’s already clear that Julia Gillard doesn’t feel the quite the same way about Ken Henry’s creations, as much as she might respect her sous chef’s advice."

Ken Henry's role

The Australian's write up of Henry's testimony is actually much kinder to him than the SMH's, which has him (unsurprisingly) dissing the deal.  And many might think that Julia's pragmatic revamping of the tax is more akin to Jonathon's winning deconstruction of the chiko roll (Beef and Vegetables with Reduction and Corn Pastry) than shoving one in the deep fryer.

In reality Henry was in an unenviable situation by virtue of the silly process that saw him heading the review in the first place, rather than providing arms-length input to it or impartial advice on it.  And then compounding the problem by going out in public and advocating for his proposals under Rudd.  It is the kind of blurring of the line between bureaucrats and politicians that Labor (rightly) criticised the Howard Government for. After the election, surely Henry has to go....

Because I imagine that many of us react to the analogy as we did to seeing some of the weird creations on Masterchef Australia like last night's tower of pink and purple macaroons - it is all very well as performance art, but can all those chemicals, fat, sugar and weirdo ingredients really be good for you?  And was there really any real point to sticking the macarons onto a perspex tower in the first place?  It might be fun for the odd special occasion, but do we really want this sort of thing on our plates every day of the week?  I think not.

The Masterchef money maker

I actually quite liked the first season of Masterchef Australia - though I only caught a few episodes until near the end, it seemed to be a show with a positive tone that encouraged people of all ages to actually have a go and cook, and fostered virtues such as perseverance, team work and mutual support. 

The current series unfortunately, has moved away from being a cooking show into a full-on reality show where the contestants are constantly quizzed not about their 'food dream' but about how much they want to win. 

And with that move has come an awful lot of bullying (the producers and judges who seem to particularly delight in tormenting Aaron) and negativity.  That has been coupled with an increasing emphasis on the weird and wonderful: mystery boxes with snails as the main feature; endless attempts to persuade us to try black truffles (Oz truffles are available online at a mere $170 for a minimum order of 50 grams); pigeons; and other expensive exotica.

No longer are we being taught the basics (indeed the contestants seem to fail badly whenever they are asked to make things like sausage rolls, scones or a family style dinner); instead it is all about nitro, edible flowers and microherbs.

As others have pointed out, it is still strangely addictive unless you make an active effort to resist.

But the addiction comes I think from the watching a train wreck phenomenon.  The ability of our wanna-be chefs to produce 'winning' frankenstein-esq creations such as Alvin's 'Snails on Egg Net with Pickled Rhubarb and White Chocolate Salad', while failing on basic cooking skills is a telling metaphor for our society as a whole. 

Why worry about obesity and upsurge of diet related disease when we can be learn to cook eggs benedict with a butter infested ham hock terrine and hollandaise sauce?  Why worry about killing off our resources sector when one can have the world's most pure and elegant tax?  Why not consume half a kilo of butter and a tonne of cream, topped off by gold leaf, in an elaborate 'gateau opera' rather than worry about whether we really want to introduce a big new tax at all - however pure and worthy - at a time when the world's economies continue to teeter on the edge of recession?

Gladiatorial games to distract the masses while Rome falls.

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