The Martini Paradox

July 26, 2017

I’m sure that many of us have questioned our own lifestyles after returning from a particularly thought provoking holiday. I have often thought about chucking it all in and buying a small holding in Greece or Italy, running a boutique B and B, charging the earth for the service, working hard from March through to October, and then kicking back during the ‘off’ season. Others, simply want too tell their boss to ‘swivel’ and go lay on a tropical beach somewhere, or surf their ‘baggies’ off, and serve the occasional cocktail. It’s very common indeed, I imagine. When the result of a particular overseas trip infects you however, and makes you realise that not only are you being taken for a ride back home, you are surrounded by people who are letting it happen… to themselves. 

I live in Australia. In Brisbane to be precise. Not even as expensive as it’s more brash cousin, Sydney, but eye-wateringly expensive nevertheless. Why? Property is one thing, and I won’t go on about that here as it has very little to do with food and travel, but the cap still fits, but I digress..  Why does a coffee cost €1 in the most beautiful and touristy piazza in Rome yet down in some suburban cafe in Queensland, Australia is it costing me $4.50? Three times as much. The same goes for general groceries, the same goes for ‘luxury’ items, the same goes for booze and the same goes for pretty much everything you can think of. The only people who I have found to try and offer up an excuse are those who are milking the public of their cash in the first place, …. because they can. Get these people drunk and they will tell you that it’s only as expensive as the public are willing to pay. In other words, they charge what they can get away with and the public literally just buys into it. Some will tell you it’s because of a cyclone or flood, some will blame the Government on surcharges, taxes, import duties, regulations, property costs and high staff wages but this is all quite utter bullshit. Recently, we were charged $15 for an Aperol Spritz.

Now, a bottle of Aperol costs about $28 here and about $10 in Spain for example, but under no circumstances do any surcharges and taxes warrant the 3X hike in costs. They go on to tell me that it’s the high property rental costs but it’s a Pop-Up bar so there is just the fee for that, which again is over the top but is being paid because that is its perceived value. Staff wages are then discussed, but it certainly doesn’t take long to figure out that 2 of these drinks an hour will more than cover the meagre cost that they’re paying the poor fugger who’s got to take all this flack from mostly pissed off customers. Anyway, it’s your business so why aren’t you serving us? … Like they would be in continental Europe. It’s a joke and it’s on us. Martini is sold in Australia in all bars as a spirit measure - That’s not even correct for a start. It’s a double measure in the worst of societies let alone the best. You are also being charged for a spirit not an Aperitif. It’s not even a fortified wine. It’s a low grade vino steeped with some herbs -  although utterly delicious on a warm summers day, I grant you, but who the feck is going to drink it in these paltry measures and ridiculous prices? A bottle only costs $11 here in Australia, yet a half shot costs between $7 and $10… if you’re lucky. Again, in Europe, it is sold differently, sometimes straight from the cask and a straight half pint might set you back a couple of bucks. Yes, I know Spain and Italy are both in financial crisis but the bars aren’t, the cafes aren’t, the restaurants aren’t the food producers aren’t, the breweries aren’t, the vineyards aren’t and the tourism industry isn’t. Most of their problems along with those of Greece are tax related and the avoidance thereof. 

Luxury imports are a fine example off the back foot. Why can I get plates full of fine hams like Iberico, Serrano and Parma served for free with my €1.20 drink all along the mediterranean coast, yet 4 slices of the stuff here will cost me an arm and a leg down at my local monopoly driven and thoroughly reprehensible local supermarket? Import duty, I here you cry, shipping costs! Why does semi decent Australian ham cost so much then? Why is a tapa of meatballs given free with a €1 drink in southern Spain yet my wanky Spanish Tapas place in downtown Brisbane is charging a whopping $15 for the same thing ? …. and let’s not forget that it’s only a very small amount of ground pork, some breadcrumbs and hers and a little tomato sauce…. Each bowl would cost no more than 50 cents to produce, ingredients-wise. It is absolutely insane and it has to stop. It is driven by what the public are willing to pay, or are conned into thinking that the amount shown is what it is actually worth…. It’s not. It really isn’t, and half of the time it isn’t good.

 

Australia is surrounded by the ocean, in control of its own legislation to a very large degree, it’s coastline is verdant and agriculturally rich, we’re told that its produce is amongst the finest in the world and, barring natural disaster, is readily available. Farmers will tell you how little they make… whether it’s at the gate, at the local markets or in doing deals with the devil i.e. the infernal and condescending Coles or the arrogant and pompous Woolworths - They are making huge sums of money.  Producers aren’t making much because of the way we buy our groceries and where we buy them from. Then there’s the rich…. Or even worse, the nouveau riche. People who are so ignorant of what constitutes value for money that they force the price of good food up merely because they want to ensure that it is somehow elite. There are so many extortionate self proclaimed delicatessen and luxury markets in town now that you can’t move for overpriced jars of artichokes in olive oil, tasteless cheeses with biblically fantastical names and strings of cured meats that I dare anyone to be able to distinguish one from the next. The imported ones being equally as overvalued as the locally made ones. Again, as good as these product may be, it is only a few simple ingredients prepared, hopefully, lovingly and very well. Don’t get me wrong, these products can be exceptional and I, as a massive foodie, gorge and feast on such products whenever I can but there is something wrong with the system, with the pricing, with the attitude and with the level of honestly at the shop front. In fact, the swollen prices are excluding many from regularly eating fine foods because they are put off by costs. Good food is an education, a lesson that needs to be taught, and quickly judging from what bad food is doing to our health and our waist lines.

Beer! I love beer. The craft beer movement here in Australia is strong, thriving and wholly, wholly supported and appreciated by me especially… It was long overdue too. I love good beer after all, but the amount of breweries that have set up and that are creaming it, as it were, is astonishing. It’s pretty much $10 for an American pint (size) of ale here at the moment, although it has been possible to get $15 bottles of Heineken here for many a long year. Beer is really cheap to produce, especially shitty beer that is drunk by in the crappy yellow carton load here. It’s pretty much 95% water after all. In many countries it was drunk instead of the highly polluted water … that’s how cheap beer is to produce. Now, I know that if you’re importing hops from Kent and malt from New England then your costs might go up significantly but if you, as a brewer or publican, are going to tell me that this high cost for ‘quality’ product is sustainable and value for money, then I will shout and rant at you until I need another beer, because it just isn’t. It is not sustainable. Let me see your annual profits please? Actually, forget publicans, restaurateurs and hoteliers from this equation, as often their stupidity and arrogance in doing the fit-out ‘just so’, is more often than not the cause of their huge debt in the first place. If they had just kept it simple and kept their egos out of it to begin with, their business might have had a chance of success. Not only is it not sustainable for the general public, but the young have long switched to drugs to ease their financial burden on a Friday and Saturday night. Popping cheap pills instead of getting hammered both alcoholically and financially has long been de rigueur. For those that do choose to socialise the old fashioned way, with an alcoholic drink in bar, credit card debt breathes down their neck like the queue for the lavatory at half time - It’s not right. Businesses that are failing might point to the costs and losses but the ones that are succeeding are making huge sums. Business practises have much more to do with success and failure than how much you’re charging for a pint of IPA and a packet of pork scratchings. Who’s to blame? We are - The ignorant, apathetic, easily conned consumer. Something must be done and it’s in our hands. Yes, rents are high but they are forced high by what people are willing to pay. Yes, wages need to be paid but in Europe the owners are much more hands on than their Australian or British counterparts. This in itself not only brings the cost of wages down but it helps the identity of any given place enormously. 

I’m sick of it, really. We have become saturated by it. Soaked through to the skin with “this is what fine dining costs”, the boutique, the gourmet (Gourfuckingmet - give me strength), the imported, the craft, the handmade, and homemade, and the fecking 'Artisan'. $8 for a loaf of bread because it’s had some semolina thrown over it and several unhealthy ingredients taken out. Again, I love proper bread and am well aware of the costs involved in organics etc but we are spending what they want us to spend, not what it’s worth and this is not value, and this is surely the point - Value. What is something’s worth? Obviously it changes according to income, knowledge, requirements and need, but appreciating the value of something and spending way over the odds because of somehow becoming blinkered and blinded by bullshit marketing and keywords is utterly, utterly ridiculous. 

Pizzas - Pizzas are being cooked and charged out at $25 a pop. Essentially 20 cents worth of dough, 20 cents worth of tomato sauce, 50 cents worth of cheese and a few slices of salami. Okay, attaching ‘wood fired’ to that adds $5, gourmet another $5 but we’re still way short of actual ‘value’. I personally don’t think you should even be allowed to make pizzas if it’s not in a wood-fired oven… Anyway, by my calculations they only cost a couple of bucks to make.. plus electricity etc, yeah, yeah, yeah. “Wood-fired” Pizza! The word is superfluous.  It’s like stating that beer is Tun brewed or that apples are ‘tree grown’. We are being treated like idiots across the board and we, the consumer, are behaving like idiots to suit. A plate of pasta with ragu only costs a couple of dollars to make for sure … and I don’t care what part of Naples the chef comes from, unless he’s grating black truffle, Angel Dust or Monica Belluci over the top of my Linguini, it’s just not worth it. It’s actually difficult to get the costs up to $5 a plate even with a dusting of the world’s finest parmesan on it….. which is obviously overpriced in itself … unless you are in Italy … where you can get value for money. 

I’m old school, we know that. I cook, a lot, we know that. I appreciate good food and love and understand the passion that providores and producers have to put into getting decent food on our plates, fine wine in our glasses and good coffee in our cups, but all I’m really tasting at the moments are the rocks in our heads. I’ve pretty much stopped with fancy restaurants as they’re such a joke. They’re not my thing anyway… As you know, I’m more of a Trattoria, a Bistro or an Indian Restaurant kind of man, where that familial feel reigns supreme and where the love is in the food and not in the bank. Breakfast ‘out’ has long become a thing of the past, unless dining with friends or at friends.

The inability for most short-order cooks to be able to cook bacon and eggs to my taste, and to the taste on hundreds of others I’ve interviewed, if my research is anything to go by, appears to be very a very rare skill indeed. I’m done trying to explain what ‘crispy’ means and having to suffer a rock hard ’over-easy’ egg, and that’s before we’ve even got to the expense of the over-priced and inadequate offering.  It also obviously negates any possible pleasure to be had from actually venturing out of the front door. I’d like to say apropos of nothing here but actually it’s very relevant; the final straw actually came during a breakfast a couple off years ago when my toast (Organic, artisan sourdough so they could at least pretend to justify the extreme cost) came unbuttered. This happens a lot now, but not only was it unbuttered, there was no butter to be found anywhere on my plate or in one of those little ramekin dishes they put everything in so you have to assemble the dish yourself for no extra charge. I asked for some butter, obviously - All the time my sad, slimy eggs and undercooked white-fatted bacon, sat forlornly, shivering on their bed of wilting and unwanted spinach, as they became increasingly more frigid in the early morning air. “That will be an extra 50 cents.” came the reply. “Shit.” I said, “I hope I don’t need salt and pepper.” Don't even get me started on $4 slices of raison toast.

Think me a tool or a tosser or both, please do, but it’s bullshit and if you don’t fully agree, then you are hooked, well and truly. They’ve got you and we’re all paying for it. They’ve got you - You’re not only responsible but actually culpable too, as I am myself, but I’m trying to change. Trying to be more self-sufficient, trying to save on the pointless and the overblown, but with regard to the food industry, this cannot be allowed to continue and only we can do something about it. It has gone on long enough and it won’t take much to change it, if we’re strong and resolute. We must dine at home more, learn how to cook, shop where there's good value to be found. We must have long dinner parties at home with friends and family. We must keep the money we earn and spend them on things more worthwhile and cost effective, ... things of beauty and of joy, and not spend them on a half arsed mashed up avocado and some onion jam. It’s time to take it back, to reclaim it. It won’t take much, like I said. It won’t take long…  It only needs to recalibrate, to reboot. It starts with us. It starts with opening our eyes and closing our wallets. 

 

Footnote 

 

The Martini Paradox is a name given to the inflated prices of every day items, far in excess of their actual value because the public are willing to pay absurd and artificially inflated amounts due to indolence, ignorance and arrogance. This cost is not seen across the globe, however ... Only in a few culpable countries. Martini is used by way of an example because of its low grade (albeit delicious and refreshing), always over-valued, always undersized, often mis-used, and completely mis-priced in these countries.

 

Cheers

 

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