Sunday, January 30, 2011

Let them eat cake

“Let them eat cake”

Recently we have been bombarded by celebrity morals. What I mean by that, is those in the public eye, have decided to take cheap shots at their viewing public from what they consider to be a higher moral ground.

"Let them eat cake" is the traditional translation of the French phrase "Qu'ils mangent de la brioche", supposedly spoken by "Marie Antoinette," upon learning that the peasants had no bread. As brioche is luxury bread enriched with eggs and butter, it would reflect the princess's obliviousness to the nature of a famine. However, "Let them eat cake” was said 100 years before her by Marie-Thérèse, the wife of Louis XIV. It was a callous and ignorant statement and Marie Antoinette, was neither. Author Vincent Cronin also agrees that Marie-Thérese made the statement, and not Marie Antoinette.

The statement “Let them eat cake” was made amidst a tumultuous time in history when the common man was under financial and physical oppression by the systematic taxing and the enforced restrictions, heaped upon them by a privileged few. This resulted in the French revolution and the removal of heads (physically and metaphorically).

Over recent months, many a celebrity chef (Jamie Oliver, Mike King, Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall and a plethora of others), have decided to enlighten us from their privileged positions about the ethics (or lack of it) in food production. Whilst I recognize there is a valid point to be made, I find it difficult to imagine that whilst they make their prognosis on ethical farming practices from their exclusive ivory towers, they truly understand what it is to live like a peasant. If they do, recent comments allude me!

Recently, I heard Fearnely-Whittingstall say, “It shouldn’t be possible for someone to buy a chicken for two pounds”. This hallow statement reminded me of one made amidst a revolution not so long ago. “Let them eat cake”. It reminded me of how far he and other “specialists” have become removed from the average man and just how ill directed their prejudices have become.

"For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in." Matthew 25:35

Passion without wisdom is merely ignorance gone to seed! Whilst I consider oneself educated enough to understand ethical food production, I am wise enough to understand that a privileged lifestyle can build a wall of ignorance around the masses. I love quality foods, (ask my wife and she will concur), I am well able to blow the week’s supermarket bill on an evening’s meal. No one will convince me that factory produced meat is better than free range, organically fed products, but it is well beyond the average person’s capacity to buy. And here is the ethics dilemma; one has to BE a celebrity to financially afford the choices they espouse from their pulpits.

"According to our Christian ethics, we're supposed to love God, love each other and help take care of the poor. It is immoral to charge somebody making $5,000 an income tax". Bob Riley

At the time of Mary Antoinette reign, Marie Antoine (Antonin) Carême, (a celebrity chef) was producing meals for the Royalty that required a thousand swans tongues and pastry masterpieces that stood four feet high. Born destitute and abandoned, he rose to the most prestigious rank few chefs could ever lay claim to. Carême's impact on culinary matters ranged from trivial to theoretical. He is credited with creating the standard chef's hat, the toque; he designed new sauces and dishes, he published a classification of all sauces into groups, based on four mother sauces, and I frequently refer to many of his published works to keep my feet on the ground and enlighten the next generation of chefs.

Carême used his skills and position to influence world opinion on food methodology and consumption. Today’s celebrity chefs are no different, but one wonders whether their plight is ego driven or politically inspired. Were they to try living on unemployment, or a highly restrictive income and decide between a new pair of shoes for your child or a two pound chicken that will feed them, what would they choose?

“Let them eat cake?”

"Divorced from ethics, leadership is reduced to management and politics to mere technique". James MacGregor Burns

Ethics cost much more than a conscience vote, it reaches far further than into the economic and the lifestyle choice. Lifestyle choice is for the privileged few. It eludes most good parents as they battle economic and commercial forces, aimed at widening the gap between rich and poor. In this world of “the user pays” mentality, I am beginning to wonder who actually pays and who avoids it?

"Action indeed is the sole medium of expression for ethics". Jane Addams

Most of us live within a capitalistic world view and as such are pre-occupied with climbing atop the pile of our accumulated trophies, in stark contrast to the Christian ethos of giving, sharing and making the poor and widows a priority. Our catch phrase seems to be, “He who dies with the most toys, wins?”

"A people and their religion must be judged by social standards based on social ethics. No other standard would have any meaning if religion is held to be necessary good for the well-being of the people". B. R. Ambedkar

So please Mr. Celebrity chef, before you lecture me on the ethics of food production, take off your Louis-Vuitton glasses, switch off your Bang and Olufsen hi-fi, get out of your Maserati and with your porcelain veneers flashing, tell me what’s wrong with a two pound chicken?

"Ethics is knowing the difference between what you have a right to do and what is right to do". Potter Stewart

Want to know what the Bible says about the poor?

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Don't Stress - It solves nothing

It has been said that the first part of a man’s life is about accumulation and excess, where as the latter part is about quality and time well spent.

This year I became a grandparent for the first time in the history of the world. True! My advancing years have now afforded me the wisdom and experience to rear children, but with a reduced energy level that makes it a challenge to put it into practice. There is something about the ageing process that is essential in the development of acumen for life. If only we appreciated that in the days of our youth?

“Youth is wasted on the young” – George Bernard Shaw

I have quoted that saying since the days of my youth and now I think I understand it. One key attribute missing with youth, is patience. As a young person, one trust in health, strength, confidence and an attitude to life that believes it is fireproof and lasts forever. It is these qualities that both invigorate and infuriate at the same time.

“How can a society that exists on instant mashed potatoes, packaged cake mixes, frozen dinners, and instant cameras teach patience to its young”? ~Paul Sweeney

I made a new, New Year’s resolution this month and have added it to my outgoing correspondence signature as a reminder to self and reader alike. "Don't stress, it never solves anything, the best time to relax is when you don't have time for it".

I read an article recently, in which the researcher sited some horrific statistics of stress in the younger generations and in particular the under twelve’s in our society. Have we advanced so much that our children are experiencing stress long before they can spell it?

Stress is nothing more than a socially acceptable form of mental illness. ~Richard Carlson

My personal belief is that as parents, our role is to protect and prepare our children for situations in life that they are neither emotionally or physically unable to deal with. That consensus seems to be contrary to what’s common in today’s society and some would claim it old fashioned.

Society does change and with that change, so do community values. These values (that shape society) serve to make acceptable, things which a previous generation were unwilling to accept or tolerate.

Local society is now shaped (and often directed) by World values. Pressure is exerted upon us by subtle sources of influence way beyond ones personal values , such as Economic, Political, Educational, Technological, Environmental, Socially, and Legally. We live in an age where business does dictate decisions on the local and national level. Free trade agreements eventually influence decisi0ons made at a family level. Our society is shaped as much by what we DON’T do, as much as what we DO.

“To me, consensus seems to be the process of abandoning all beliefs, principles, values and policies. So it is something in which no one believes and to which no one objects”. Margaret Thatcher.

I am fascinated by people and always have been. Nosey! My mother called me, as I was always to be found asking “inappropriate” questions beyond my years and peers. I have an inbuilt need to know why people think the way they do and what causes them to do what they do!

A couple of years ago, I stumbled upon a quote taken from a book by Neil Howe and William Strauss called; Generations: The History of America's Future, 1584 to 2069. I did some research and added it to my “wish list” and later in the year received it as a gift.

The central tenet of the book is that generations don't age the same way, and when looking at generations through history, the correct way to look at them is by cohort - that is, by groups with similar birth years - rather than by age. In other words, if you're born in 1950 and grow up in the '60s and '70s, you'll be different at age 50 than you will if you're born in 1970 and grow up in the '80s and '90s. Strauss and Howe then trace a number of generational cohorts through American History, and find evidence of a cycle of generational types - usually a four part cycle, but in one case a three part cycle. For example, they liken Gen X (whom they call "13ers"), born in 1961-1980, to the "Lost" generation born in the late 1800s. The book makes some startling observations on the way society is shaped by generational values and furthermore seeks to pre-empt the likely scenarios ahead of us.

“We may consider each generation as a distinct nation, with a right, by the will of its majority, to bind themselves, but none to bind the succeeding generation, more than the inhabitants of another country”. Thomas Jefferson

Stress is alive and well in this generation of ours. It seeks to invade our silence at every opportunity. The effect of stress upon one is found in the way one responds or reacts to it. An issue only has the power or pre-eminence one grants it. When all is said and done, it’s not what’s said that counts, but what’s done.

Quality of life is not about having all ones needs met, but being content with few needs. If ones wants serve to increase ones stress, it’s time to redefine ones needs.

“The man who views the world at fifty the same as he did at twenty has wasted thirty years of his life”. ~Muhammad Ali

"Don't stress, it never solves anything, the best time to relax is when you don't have time for it".

We live longer than our forefathers; but we suffer more from a thousand artificial anxieties and cares. They fatigued only the muscles, we exhaust the finer strength of the nerves. ~Edward George Bulwer-Lytton

Signs of Stress

Wednesday, January 19, 2011


Capitalism – Friend or Foe?

I have been thinking long and hard prior to even attempting to write this blog. I am sure that most “thinking” people will consider these comments before dismissing them. Certainly, all of us should have a considered opinion about the world culture in which we live and have the maturity to distance ourselves from the influencing benefits and incentives that so easily shroud us from sound thinking.

Over the past few years, I have become saddened and challenged, by the widening gap between the haves and have-nots. I have spent most of my adult life serving none profit organisations, through an underlying belief and a commitment to bringing change. Change, that comes via influence and practical assistance, rather than a soapbox mentality.

In recent times, several western governments used the world’s economy as a means to financially bailout many of the faceless corporate entities, citing that without such a move, the world would slip into an unprecedented recession. Laws were passed almost unchallenged (certainly unheeded) and at a pace that would leave an Olympic sprinter out of breath. All these acts proceeded without as much as a referendum by the people or a consultative process. These people acted in the interests of whom?

In our western culture we consider capitalism as many would religion. In fact to many, capitalism isn’t merely a religion it is a god. It dictates not only what we believe but how we behave. When communism adopts capitalism (to the point of excelling on the world stage), one has to question “what is the underlying philosophy that regulates capitalistic behaviour?” Many of the values and motives that our fore fathers embraced under freedom, no longer apply in the world of business.

Recently, I spoke to a business person in connection with a critical issue relating to personnel. Their response was “This is not personal, it’s business.” This statement typifies the lack of ethic and morals that are part of many business decisions and individuals psyche today. For every action there is a reaction!

Whilst shopping in the mall recently, I was literally accosted by a middle aged woman, who frantically dumped facts and figures about the world economy and the world’s most powerful bankers upon me. It was a tidal wave of passion and concern. She held my attention for close to fifteen minutes and departed as quickly as she had arrived. Why me? Out of the thousands of shoppers and at any given time of the day, she chose to dump this on me and left. The very next day, as I was browsing TV, I found myself watching Michael Moore’s documentary “Capitalism, a love story”.

Now I’ve been thinking! When decisions are made based purely on a financial outcome and with no regard for those for whom these decisions ultimately effect, are we acting in the interests of community or bank? Aren’t public servants charged with acting in the best interests of those to whom they serve and are responsible? It seems to me, that the only people to benefit out of the “supposed” recent financial collapse, were the CEO’s and investors that saw it coming.

There is a clear disparity between those for whom income is on a fixed rate and those who can “write off” expenses. In Moore’s documentary he asked the question “How would Jesus view capitalism and what was his response to the capitalists of His day? I’m still thinking!

Today, I received an e-mail with the following attached. I don’t know the person responsible for its collation, but for your interest, it may well sound very familiar?


Send it Around New Zealand

At first I thought this was funny....... Then I realized the awful truth of it. Be sure to read all the way to the end!

Tax his land,

Tax his bed,

Tax the table

At which he's fed.

Tax his work,

Tax his pay,

He works for peanuts


Tax his cow,

Tax his goat,

Tax his pants,

Tax his coat.

Tax his tobacco,

Tax his drink,

Tax him if he

Tries to think..

Tax his car,

Tax his gas,

Find other ways

To tax his ass.

Tax all he has

Then let him know

That you won't be done

Till he has no dough.

When he screams and hollers;

Then tax him some more,

Tax him till

He's good and sore.

Then tax his coffin,

Tax his grave,

Tax the sod in

Which he's laid.

When he's gone,

Do not relax,

Its time to apply

The inheritance tax.

Accounts Receivable Tax

Airline surcharge tax

Airline Fuel Tax

Airport Maintenance Tax

Building Permit Tax

Cigarette Tax

Corporate Income Tax

Death Tax

Dog License Tax

Driving Permit Tax

Environmental Tax (Fee)

Excise Taxes

Local Body Tax

Unemployment (UI)

Fishing License Tax

Food License Tax

Gasoline Tax (too much per litre)

Gross Receipts Tax

Health Tax

Hunting License Tax

Hydro Tax

Inheritance Tax

Interest Tax

Liquor Tax

Luxury Taxes

Marriage License Tax

Medicare Tax

Mortgage Tax

Personal Income Tax

Property Tax

Poverty Tax

Prescription Drug Tax

Provincial Income and sales tax

Real Estate Tax

Recreational Vehicle Tax

Retail Sales Tax

Service Charge Tax

School Tax

Telephone Tax

Telephone , Provincial and Local Surcharge Taxes

Telephone Minimum Usage Surcharge Tax

Vehicle License Registration Tax

Vehicle Sales Tax

Water Tax

Watercraft Registration Tax

Well Permit Tax

Workers Compensation Tax

--- and in 2010


Not one of these taxes existed 100 years ago, & our nation was one of the most prosperous in the world. We had absolutely no national debt, had a large middle class, and Mom stayed home to raise the kids.

What in "Hell" happened?


Monday, January 3, 2011

'Fire In The Hole'

Recently I have been thinking about my early days in the work force. In the days long before the internet, colour TV, and when the only pods we were privy to were pea pods not i-pods. Back in the days when the term uni-sex was unheard of, a mobile hung over a crib and your own mode of transport had pedals. I recall receiving my first transistor radio and marveled at the technology while listening to radio Luxemburg and pirate radio as I drifted off to sleep land.

I was fortunate to be selected from over a hundred applicants for a commis chef position with a prestigious country hotel about twenty miles from my home town. It was frequented and owned by the landed gentry and mobbed most shooting seasons by pot bellied, tweed wearing and gout ridden men with their twelve bore shot guns, deer stalker hats and hip flasks of double malt whiskey. I remember well, walking through their tobacco haze and packs of setters and hunting dogs in an effort to get to the hotel kitchen (from my on-site living quarters) at six a.m. and thinking, so this is what people with money do with their lives.

It was on one such occasion, that I blew up the kitchen and hospitalized two cooks. Not by choice I hastily add! As was my lot, I was on breakfast duty after a late night finish and was tired and weary from a week long week of late nights and early mornings, when I entered the kitchen and began following my usual system of switching on lights, firing up the fryers, lighting the gas stoves, ovens and grills in anticipation of a hectic breakfast shift, which usually began with businessmen always in a hurry to consume copious quantities of bacon, eggs, coffee and toast prior to hooning out of the car park on their way to the next corporate merger.

My first half hour usually consisted of burning at least one tray of bacon and carbonizing a pan of fried eggs whilst my body adjusted the smell of poaching kippers, grease filters heating up and the brewing of coffee from the still room next door. The list of anticipated activities was at times mind numbing at that hour of the morning and it was further complicated, dependent upon the particular waiting staff that were to clock on for duty at seven a.m. On this particular morning, the pace was hectic and several orders arrived prior to the kitchen opening with “In a hurry” written on the docket (as everyone was always in a hurry).

I was just throwing out my first tray of bacon, when one of the cooks turned up for duty and as was always the case moaned about how messy I was and back in their day they would have been fired at best and at worst, whipped and trussed over hot coals. “Ah the good old days.”

“order on!” was the cry from the waitress, alerting me to the fact that the serenity of the hour had gone and I was about to experience something similar to a wildebeest stampede, as the next hour would see a deluge of stressed guests competing for priority waitress service, using every imaginable technique to gain the upper hand over their competitors. At times I would gaze through the port hole from kitchen to dining room and observe these creatures in their native habitat. I often reflected on Richard Attenborough’s wild life series, in particular the dung beetle and would find strange similarities in the observed behaviour. “Bacons on fire!” would be the cry from the cook and tray number two was doomed to the pig bin.
Often we were complemented on our pork (we bred our own animals, poultry and vegetables) and to me it was obvious why the pork tasted so good? In my formative years as a budding chef, I was more focused on filling the pig bin than I was the customer.

The air was now thick with smoke and the aroma of carbon and chip fat, was complimented by the pungent odour of raising bread, porridge and beef roasting for lunch. The second cook had arrived by now and had started making the first batch of scones and other such products for our Devonshire tea menu. The silence had gone now, as I had to endure the two women moaning about their husbands, pay rates, traffic, the lack of visibility in the kitchen, oh and how messy I was. Then it happened. Just like in an old ninja movie. Everything slowed down to a crawl as one of the cooks opened the oven door to put in her first batch of scones. BOOM!

I remember watching this sixteen stone cook being hurled through the air, over the preparation table in the centre of the kitchen and into the fridge. Were I an Olympic swimming judge, I would have had to award 8.5 for dexterity, 9.0 for creativity and a definite 10 for artistic interpretation. It was awesome! Only the Russian judge would have marred the scoring.

I remember the silence that engulfed the place, as I peered over the bench and gazed upon the distraught cook. I remember thinking how quiet she was now. No complaining about her husband or the unfairness of the pay rate. The flash from the stove had singed her hair line, eye brows and the moustache she once had (that always fascinated me), was now gone. There was definite smouldering going on around her uniform and immediately above her head was a sign that said “No Smoking.”

She was no doubt in shock (as we all were), and the silence was now broken as staff from all over the place turned up to find out where the explosion had come from. The manager (whom we all called Fawlty), arrived and immediately made his way to the cook. “What happened?” he asked the cook, (and here’s where the travesty of mis-justice first arose) “He did it” she cried (literally). I mean, come on! Here is a huge woman that was clearly eligible for entry into the Guinness book of records (in at least three categories)’, making such an unproven accusation against my unblemished character (sure, I put my hands up for the bacon burning, but that’s just part of the skill development).

By this time the ambulance had arrived and I had burned my third bacon tray for the day, when the manager pointed out my eyebrows, eyelashes and chef’s hat was shriveled and I had a huge red flash burn on my left arm (which I carry to this day). The cook was hurling abuse at me and threatening to kill me, if she ever walked again. Amazingly her tights had shriveled on the front but were intact to the rear. All the thick black hairs had been removed, (she did thank me later for the best wax job ever). Fortunately, we all came through the event marginally unscathed, the oven doors were re-fitted; I bought the cook a new pair of tights and an eye brow pencil so she could draw eyebrows back on, for special occasions.

I was removed from the breakfast shift, (which I thought was so considerate of the head chef until I found out the morning shift had mutinied and refused to work with me due to fear of a reprisal) and I earned the nickname bam bam!

It seems such a long time ago now, but I can still smell the bacon most mornings and fondly look back on the time when I got two extra weeks holiday, with pay.

PS I am available for weddings, functions and reception work. :)