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.

The organic debate

If you get time, please check out this interesting article. It attempts to provide some rationale around when it might be appropriate to purchase 'Organic' products

The article highlights that it's almost impossible to scientifically compare the nutritional density between organic and non-organic food (...well yes it's possible but incredibly expensive to do).

So in reality, many people (knowingly or not) are purchasing the philosophy behind organic food, not necessarily it's superior nutritional value.

It all comes back to conceptual consumption, i.e. we often buy the idea behind the product, not just the product itself.

Underground dining is becoming more sophisticated...digitally

Underground dining is nothing new (yet not exactly mainstream), but what is interesting is how these small organisations have become so proficient at marketing themselves digitally (and most likely on the cheap).

The people who form part of this greater community seem to have that hipster knack of bringing to life the serendipity, sense of community and home cooked meal avantgarde'ness of underground dining. Check out the cool stop gap video below (note: they also give the music they used a plug by showing their myspace's all about community)

ENJOYING FOOD - The return of Sensuality

Susan recently forwarded me this article about the rise and rise of 'Masterchef' on channel 10 pulling 1.3 million viewers 6 days a week across demographics.

The key to the program (a hypothesis at this stage) may be how it celebrates the sensual experience of food. See the quote below:

"This revelling in food is not about gluttony nor nutrition - there is no talk of calories or fat, and some of the meals look defiantly like gout material. It is about creating something which gives pleasure, about "flavour" and "texture" and "harmony", about elevating the senses of taste and smell."

Either way, it's clear that our relationship to food is changing. At the very least, we are becoming more engaged with food on both a physical and emotional level

It also appears others have caught onto the trend that people need physical and emotional is another interesting extract from an article about the success of a food retail chain in the US.

"Darden turned to research. "The key consumer insight was that people missed the emotional comfort and connectivity that comes with family," says chief operating officer Drew Madsen, then the chain's head of marketing. "People come to a restaurant for both physical and emotional nourishment. The physical is the food; and the emotional is how you feel when you leave."

Taking the positive spin on the negative - an opportunity for the food giants?

There have been a few docos like this in past (think Micheal Moore or Super Size Me), but maybe this one will gain traction too.

With people now more distrusting of big business (especially those in America), the perfect storm might be brewing. We now have more people interested in growing their own food and cooking it (think Master Chef). I wonder if there is an opportunity for Masterfoods, Nestle, Goodman Fielder and the likes to capitalise on a 'wholesome local' position before this documentry lands in Australia?

You are what you eat?

I wonder if what we eat defines who we are?

In a world where choice is so abundant, our editing of that choice and the resultant bodily intake of our choice surely tells so much about eat of us as individuals.

Does our food say much about our socioeconomic status, our life aspirations, our body image an level of self-esteem, our (intended, supported or desired) social image as surely we try different things to eat when we are 'out'

What do you think?

Underground food movement hits SMH

Wow...SMH is on the ball here!

A great little article hit the front page (of the website) on underground dining. They comment that its appeal is in the intrigue of the unknown, community building spirit and getting to meet new people. It's also about giving 4th/5th year apprentice chefs a chance to show their skills and get away from high pressure demanding 5 star restaurants for at least a night

Check out the

Underground food movement

I'm a real sucker for edgy of the wall stuff like this.

PSFK explains...

"Underground restaurants are the dining equivalent of a speak-easy or a rave. Whether they are entirely legal or not is a bit of a grey area. But this is part of their allure. There’s something very intoxicating about the combination of being “in the know” and illicitness that creates an experience that people can’t help but talk about. It’s word of mouth marketing at its most powerful."

"The reasons are twofold. The easy answer is the recession – as money has got tighter diners are looking for something more exciting but for less money. The second part of the answer is the internet. The online foodie community is very dynamic in London"

For more info (yes we have one of these Sydney) check out the link

Supermarket Snobbery

More on current cultural attitudes to food, this time from the incomparable Julie Burchill writing in the Guardian.  Burchill takes aim at the inherent snobbery against supermarkets in the organics / sustainability / 'slow food' / 'return to high street' movements.  Entertaining and insightful.  Embrace your inner Woolworths!

Organics Are The Domain of the Rich

This article by A.A. Gill (one of THE best writers and cultural commentators around) is a review of the newest Gordon Ramsay enterprise in London - but also much more.  Gill's point (quite correctly) is that the "organic movement" has repositioned 'eating properly' as the sole domain of the rich and well-off, a position that food hasn't held for about 100 yrs.  Beyond that he brilliantly deconstructs the marketing-driven 'Emperor's New Clothes' at the heart of the movement - in the end, it's only accountants who can "tell the difference" between what's organic and what's not:

Food, Sex and Morality

A weighty, unnecessarily long and academic paper on sex, food and morality from Stanford University - however if you persevere and read between the lines there is some terrific insights around how our culture has evolved the contemporary discourse around food to include a moral / self-righteous dimension.  Great context for some of the emerging themes already identified here around the return to comfort / risk eating, and the cultural meanings of obesity / "organic" / sustainability / etc.  (It's always great when some poor PhD student does all the work for us!)

Comfort Eating

The current economic crises has prompted an increase desire and spend on comfort food. People are increasingly becoming concerned about the economic climate and are choosing to spend money at super markets.

Also on the sales increase are the following franchises : Donut King, Michel’s Patisserie, Brumby’s Bakeries and bb’s café franchise systems indicating that Australian consumers are still willing to indulge their taste buds with comfort foods.

A number of takeaway franchises, including McDonald’s, Domino’s, Pizza Hut and Bakers Delight, report that their sales continue to grow. Restaurants and cafés have taken the greatest hit during the downturn, thus far.  

Nielsen’s annual Grocery Report indicates that, as consumers seek ways to reduce their household costs, many are choosing to entertain at home more, cut back on non-essential grocery items and look for cheaper grocery alternatives such as Private Label brands. 

As a result, DIY cooking categories enjoyed robust growth in 2008, with many of the fastest growing grocery categories indicative of the move toward more in-home cooking - including: flour, cream, baking aids, butter, bread mixes and baking additives. Other products to make the fastest growing categories list reflected the consumer search for convenient and/or healthy meal solutions such as hot cereals, sports and energy drinks and frozen meals.