Something's Fishy

We’re always intrigued by the appearance of the new in our immediate urban fabric – not just because we hope it adds to our sense of enjoyment and participation but because of what we can learn about the bigger picture beyond our little ecosystem.

A fish butchery has arrived in our hood – not a fish monger, not a fish + chip shop – but a fish butchery.

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Apparently, it is the first fish butchery in Sydney, and the aim is to do for fish what a butcher does for meat; engage, provide expert advice, educate, remove barriers to consumption, prepare and add value, slice, dice, fillet and smoke to order the best and most sustainably sourced fish available (nose to tail of course) and in a beautifully curated space; in other words, create an experience around “fish” that dedicated and specialist meat butchers have been doing for yonks.

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Did we mention the reputable chef who stands on centre stage filleting and plating exceptional fish cuts? Fish-mongering has been repositioned and it is quite an experience. 

Retail 2.0 is all about experience these days, battling the digital marketplace by offering something unique, interactive and multi-dimensional – but it is worth looking a little closer at what this small but brilliant business – let’s go ahead and call it a brand - is doing.

  • Firstly, it is totally re-framing an older, established category (“fish”);
  • Secondly, it acknowledges the physical retail context around it as historically being one of transactional commerce, but it builds upon this context by adding education, experience and even curation to the mix;
  • Thirdly, it welcomes people into a total world – including a nod to the digital world with an entry display “for instagramming” and a stage for showcasing the chef’s knife skills
  • Finally, it is focused (via said education, experience, re-framing, nods to traditional meat butchery, curation) on removing barriers to purchase in the category.
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There’s a sense that immediate, transactional purchase may not be the end game of this particular brand. Perhaps, rather, the game is geared towards driving people to the co-owned restaurant a few doors down the street; perhaps the intention is to generate a return visit in the coming weeks for some perfectly filleted Spencer Gulf herring (head and tail included or course) along with some very clear cooking instructions; perhaps it’s to buy a t-shirt; or perhaps it’s about coming back on Sunday evening for some exemplary fish and chips with the family (although there is nowhere to eat on premise as of yet – another reason to visit the restaurant a few doors up). In other words, Fish Butchery isn’t just about a singular experience but delivers brand touchpoints which are not always immediately tangible.

Who ever thought we’d be gawking a fish parts - guts, heads, tails and all the bits in between and viewing them in a whole new light? Got to love an innovator.

Cultural Othorexia: It’s All About What We DON’T Eat

A reductionist, 'denial'-based, prohibitive philosophy is shaping what we do and don't eat.

Steven Bratman M.D. coined the term orthorexia to explain worryingly unhealthy restrictive eating. Essentially, orthorexia is a mental health problem experienced by a minority of individuals in our population, characterised by a deliberate and irrational denial-based, self-punishing relationship with food, based upon a continuously diminishing pool of foods and drinks deemed emotionally and psychologically acceptable to the individual. While this and other forms of mental health is cause for great concern, compassion, care and appropriate professional assistance we are observing that a milder but non-the-less concerning version of cultural orthorexia is playing out in the wider population - the search for healthy eating has become unhealthy.

Cultural orthorexia appears to have entered the general psyche; examples - beyond the individual – abound. Now a large number of people are being serviced by a food industry that is busy excluding; think about the latest fad, the presumed caveman-style Paleo diets excluding dairy, cereal products and a range of processed foods. However we can relax, as it doesn’t seem to require hunting and gathering in the open fields or forests, fighting wild animals or each other, and the need for a continual seasonal migration in order to survive.

Cultural orthorexia is presenting as a reductionist, ‘denial’ and prohibitive philosophy applied to food and the consumption of food. It is evidenced by the Western cultural trends toward exclusion: take out the gluten, banish sugar, eliminate carbs, don’t touch dairy, avoid all processed foods, quinoa but no other grains, a liquid-only diet (cold-pressed juice is de rigueur), no this, no that!

While farmers + food producers feel the heat, people are walking our cities smugly eating in cafes - like this one in near our office in Sydney - that play to this philosophy of denial. 

This café has virtually no food, taste or appetite cues apparent at first glance and you’d be hard pressed to even identify ‘food’ on display. Conversely, the mind is nourished with lots of stories on the wall, ‘philosophies’ of eating, and tons and tons of ingredient and nutrient based information – food is articulated as tables, metrics, words and numbers. Although, it looks like philosophy might not sustain or nourish one alone, but certainly helps to keep things tidy and pared back.

One suspects that a large degree of disassociation and control is required when one chooses to embark on a cultural orthorexic lifestyle. But, cultural orthorexia may be providing

the sword and shield against every kind of anxiety (and there seems to be a lot of them) we are experiencing in developed nations. It’s probably not stretching things too far to say that there’s a degree of status involved – exerting ‘orthorexic’ control over what we consume is a badge proudly displayed to others. What we DON’T eat helps to set us apart rather than what we DO eat.

The Australian Food Pyramid was recently re-launched. It has tweaked a few things yet still promotes balance and a bit of everything. We DO need to eat well (or is that just a highly unfashionable perspective held by us here at Stancombe?), and that old adage ‘everything in moderation’ looks like it may be due for a revival.

On a final note, a recent article in The Independent  struck a strong chord with us. It seems the cultural is now becoming more pathological and the debate around recognising it as a medical condition takes on a new vigour:

http://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/health-and-families/health-news/orthorexia-an-obsession-with-healthy-eating-not-yet-recognised-by-psychiatry-a6722426.html

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. 

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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.