Digest Debate

parry & thrust

It is sad to see the lengths that some people will go to win over food writers! That became very evident as debaters in the third annual New Zealand Guild of Foodwriters Mid-winter Debate battled over whether New Zealand has a food culture.

A little confusingly, the affirmative moot was that we do not have a food culture, but Anthony Tringham, Jenny Yee and Sam Mannering did not let that put them off. Despite his considerable skills with a kumara (some obscure point was meant to be made relating to the oft-repeated saying “the kumara speaks not of its own sweetness”), MC Vaughn Davis was unable to hold the irrepressible trio to time.

Mr Tringham, representing the nation’s farmers in a fine plaid shirt and gumboots, reminded us that food writers were biased; we have a vested interest in promoting a food culture. He gave the best quote of the night – “In our smug farmers-marketty way we feel refined and cultured” – but it was, perhaps, not representative of the masses. Jenny Yee sported an embroidered Chinese wedding jacket to make the point that much of what we flaunt as our food culture is ,in fact, borrowed and adopted, while Sam Mannering, resplendent in a kilt, burst our smug bubble with a lengthy yarn about an evening with foreign backpackers who had no idea what Kiwi food was.

Your reporter (we multi-task in the Guild) was fortunate to be on the team arguing that, yes, we do have a food culture. Niki Bezzant, a late substitution for Lauraine Jacobs, who was called away on new-grandmother duties, had googled her way to domination, slaying ‘em with facts (Did we know, for example, that little old New Zealand has as many mass-market magazines as those food giants Italy and France?). Chef Martin Bosley, sporting the body of a man who had eaten 5000 pies only the week before as judge of the national pie awards, reminded us that food culture was about hospitality, giving, manaakitanga. He also bribed the audience with chocolate fish and won the sympathy vote with his tales of how transformational food, and cooking, are for the prisoners he works with at Rimutaka prison. This correspondent didn’t have much more to add.

The cleverly themed table decorations by Fiona Smith (featuring our much-loved onion dip, Vogels, mini pavs and kiwifruit, jaffas and jet planes) and food showcasing our land and sea prepared British-, Asian- and Italian-style (including sausage rolls and apple pies) merely helped the debaters against the moot. A stack of book prizes (East – thanks to Antony Suvalko and Leanne Kitchen – and The New Zealand Cook’s Bible) and some great vintage Kiwi cookbooks (Graham Kerr, you handsome old bugger) helped too.

Three cheers for the ref, and thanks to the ladies for their plates. It was a debate of two halves, and food was the winner. Catherine Smith