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I'm back in Oz

Updated: Jul 7, 2020

It will get boring if I make promises that I don't keep, so instead of yet another apology, ("I said I'd write every week but...") I'll go straight into it.

In Paris, I frequently boasted to my partner about how great Australian food was, how eclectic, varied, fresh, seasonal, inventive. I'd say that food in England, contrary to its cliched reputation, was now also brilliant, use all the same adjectives as in the last sentence. But he would often scoff in response. All very well to eat like kings in my small, rarified, privileged milieu, he'd say. Only when everyone had such access to the food of my dreams could I talk about real change, real democracy on the plate. He's right because unlike me he has no illusions. He knows that food is a class issue, that it's to do with status and money, power and education. I can argue till my courgettes have flowered and my sourdough starter has taken that good food need not cost a fortune, that a beautifully poached organic egg on a slice of toasted home made bread is as heavenly as any rarer thing and costs little but even in this simple equation lie a host of issues, all to do with time, education, money, those diminishing commodities of the so - called privileged, not least among them the diminishing "middle class". I say so - called because we live, or have lived in a society where those standards should now be ubiquitous. They should not be the preserve of only a minority and there is no justification for it, except for the so very unequal distribution of wealth that blight these times, almost as much as any other times. What a bubble we have inhabited, how keen to burst it are those who fear it.

And here I am in quarantine, 14 days of isolation in what is in "normal" times, a 5 star Brisbane hotel.

It's true that the sheets are crisp and white and the beds (there are two double beds in the room - the mind boggles) are super comfortable. But the food - the fodder - is as basic, soulless, insipid as could be. Worse than that, actually; all but inedible. The food budget is a staggering $65 per person, per day, so how can this be? Can you imagine spending $455 per week on your personal food costs? What would you be eating and where? Even given a reasonable commercial mark up, think what you could do with such a sum.

I was quite convinced that there must be some baksheesh going on, some friend of a friend being granted the tender to cater for the poor imprisoned souls who aren't allowed out of their rooms, not even into the corridor for two entire weeks. And I was ready to dig deep, write to the papers, the government (I did both), expose the corruption. But then a nice man who I won't name called me from the kitchens. He is the Food and Beverages manager and had heard of my gripes. Checking in on me, he was embarrassed and apologetic. It turns out that the catering is being done in house, in the kitchens of this otherwise esteemed hotel. They are not used to catering for 750 people at a time, three times a day, he said.

I still don't get it though. In my back of the envelope calculations, I reckon the wholesale food costs per person per day simply cannot exceed say $5.

An example: today's lunch was a "quiche Lorraine" and crisps . Crisps by the way, feature on half the lunch menus, Tim Tams on the other. They're the least of the disappointments. I don't wish to sully the pages of this website with photos, not of this or any other of the stone cold meals that are so punctually delivered to our closed doors. (Who thinks it's a good idea to serve completely cold chips? Who thinks that making chips for 750 people is a good idea, come to that?) Said quiche is about 7cm in diameter, its pastry quite clearly of the worst, cheapest, nastiest possible kind, undercooked and stodgy. Judging by the smell emanating from its environmentally friendly cardboard packaging - small consolation - it bares only a passing whiff of resemblance to egg, or cream, or bacon, or butter or anything that might be considered real food. But it's not as bad as the so - called Bolognaise which had me literally heaving and running to the bathroom. A bowl of dog food would have smelt less offensive. And I don't mean to be offensive here, just stating plain facts.

Surely to God, there must be 100 small businesses in Brisbane that could be producing nutritious, economically viable, dare I say it, delicious meals, that for $65 per person, per day could have provided a veritable feast. People whose pride and joy it would be to make and serve such food.

Is it really that there are people in authority who are so indifferent to the needs of those in their care? Is it that they believe these to be the standards acceptable to Mr and Mrs Average? Is it, as the technician who just came to fix the persistent clicking noise emanating from my ceiling said, that he - we - are considered like lepers for being here - these returnees from the evil overseas, potential carriers of the Plague? Or is it that someone, somewhere, is creaming off the profits left after the nominal costs of our rations are taken into account?

Far be it for me to judge but what do you think?

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