Survival Chic

There is a collective desire for something stripped back & stripped down … a push towards the pared-down parts rather than the complex whole … the core, rather than the skin or flesh … the essential elements of our humanity; bare with us as we talk this through…

Recently we detected the not-so-subtle undercurrent of a return to basics (see earlier post). Primarily a ‘devolution’ of life experience, this cultural drive encourages us to strip back our lives and embrace the pure, primal elements of life rather than the excess of its disposable trappings. Now, we’re not just happy with making our environment a testament to simplicity and austerity, but are turning inward, focusing on our sense of being human and asking a lot of the same questions. What are the basic elements of humanity? What lies at the stripped back core beneath our skin and flesh? What is excess and disposable versus what is enduring and sustainable?

The commercial success of television such as Man vs. WildSurvivor ManNaked and Afraidas well as blockbuster films such as Gravity, 127 hours, All Is Lost and The Life of Pi are testament to the fact that there is a growing curiosity around skills & attributes we’ve all but left behind in our specialised modern existence. They have popularised the allure of getting ‘back to basics’ as humans and ridding ourselves of all the superficial/artificial trappings of our evolved selves and focusing on lower order, physiological & safety needs – such as food, warmth, shelter, security etc. We’re flipping the Maslow hierarchy. Culturally, we’ve reverted to a more devolved sense of who we really are. Basic survival is now uber-chic. We’re no longer chasing the best things in life, preferring instead to dig deep for the primal things that ensure our sustainability as human beings.


This recent advertisement for South Australia’s Barossa region is a perfect example of the celebration of all things pure & primal.  The ad takes a far more stripped back approach to tourism advertising than the glamour and wonder we have grown accustomed to. It goes beyond rustic, into primal territory with shots of earth, fire, sex, death, food and desire set amongst harsh landscapes beckoning to be tamed. What we have here is less focus on the dressed-up product and more focus on ‘getting to the source’, the land and the elements. With Nick Cave as the backing music it doesn’t get much more raw than this. The Barossa is certainly targeting those consumers who crave a ‘real’, unprocessed travel experience by talking to this evolving curiosity around our more basic human drivers.

So what else can we expect in this space? A resurgence in hunting and gathering? Communal living arrangements? Tribal dance & polygamy? Group exercise fads designed to test our physical limits? (Wait, we’re already there with Cross Fit & Tough Mudder). Perhaps here in NSW our Premier had his finger firmly on the pulse in legalising hunting in national parks. After all, it would be wrong to deny us this essential element of our humanity.

How many friends did the chicken have?

All this talk of community gardens, locavores and provenance has got us wondering whether the radical agricultural and social policies of Pol Pot - forcing the bourgeoisie to work the farm - might have had more popular support had they been enacted in modern day Brunswick, Williamsburg or Paddington. We’re joking of course. The answer is most probably not. Bringing the table to the farm has less metropolitan allure than bringing the farm to the table. 


A group of young Sydney entrepreneurs are currently working on doing just this with the construction of the first urban rooftop farm in Australia. Green up Top are all about making good of unused space, reducing food miles and producing sustainable organic food. And they’re certainly not alone in their quest.

Cornersmith is a café in Sydney’s inner city with a similar raison d'être. Most of the food served at Cornersmith is made from scratch on site or by the team/family of staff. As well as featuring the incredible range of locally sourced masterpieces the blackboard celebrates locals who grow and supply ingredients (which are often exchanged for food). With jars of home made pickles, jellies, cordials and jams filling up most flat surfaces, it doesn’t get much more ‘back to basics’ than this. For Green Up Top, Cornersmith and the growing back to basics movement food isn’t just food - it’s art, nostalgia, morality, goodness, and a celebration of community.

As is often the case, the clever satirists of Portlandia articulated and skewered (pardon the pun) the farm to table trend while we were busy stuffing our faces with house-made ricotta and quince on Brickfields sourdough. 

This heightened epicuriosity and its obsession with local produce is mainly driven by a handful of key factors:

  • Heightened food awareness due to a number of recent controversial events (horsemeat scares, abattoir cruelty, botulism-casing infant formula, and so on)
  • A desire for greater transparency and some degree of control over the food that lands on our plate and the process it has been through (organic, chemical-free, etc)
  • Prime time television programs romanticizing the notion of ‘back to basics’ food experiences and ‘from scratch’ food preparation
  • High disposable income and a willingness to pay for ‘good’, tasty and nourishing food – there’s not a lot of this sort of behaviour going on in our less salubrious neighborhoods
  • ‘Little guy’ advocacy in the face of the increasing agricultural and financial dominance of large grocery chains
  • The desire to reduce our food footprint and eat local (hey, it’s fresher)
  • The growing number of food related allergies and the desire to control for this
  • The feeling that we are part of something real, authentic, bigger than ourselves and communal (we have talked about this before in previous blogs – an enduring cultural theme or need)

This list probably goes on and certainly each of the above is worth a blog entry in itself – stay tuned on that. But we may be missing the simplest explanation of all. Food that is thoughtfully farmed is usually thoughtfully prepared and more often than not, just tastes (and feels) better.