I turned the corner and almost recoiled in horror. There was a dorky DJ playing boring dance music and he was surrounded by bowls of fruit-flavoured chewy sweets. Around the booth were very serious looking men in yellow t-shirts putting stickers with the product’s logo onto all the mousy women they could lure into their kingdom of sugar. Ah yeah, it was 2002 Food Show.
I wasn’t planning to go, but there I was, wandering the halls of the Auckland Showgrounds, stabbing bite sized chunks of food with a toothpick. Fortunately none of the other stands had gimmicks quite as spectacularly awful as the DJ. Really nice people, often the owners of small companies, staffed most stands.
The usual Food Show crowd was there. The old people who stick with the familiar (i.e. cheese), the nervous women who keep coming back for chocolate samples, the men who try and get as drunk as they can on tiny plastic cups of wine, and, yeah, people like me who feel a need to say “mmm” after trying something.
There was plenty of organic stuff. Now it’s no longer the small companies that are getting into it. Big food companies are launching organic lines of products.
Mothers Against Genetic Engineering were there. It was a scary, high-pressure stand. One of the mothers was having a calm conversation with someone she appeared to know, when she stopped mid-sentence, blurted out “here’s some information about GE!” and thrust a brochure at a passing guy. She later handed me a bumper sticker “for your car!”
As I walked around sampling various foods, I somehow felt that if people were going to give me free samples of their products that I should express some sort of enjoyment or gratitude. “Mmmm,” I’d say with a mouth full of tofu sausage. “That’s good!” On numerous occasions I’d say, “very smooth flavour”. I’m not sure what that means, but I used it to describe olive oil, chocolates, fruitcake, yoghurt and aioli (oh, aioli is this year’s hummus.).
It was hard to fake enthusiasm for the stuff that didn’t taste so good. Fortunately most of that was products of large companies, things like Indian curry sauces (with very little spice and a weird jelly-like texture), muffin mixes that looked and smelt good but mysteriously had very little flavour, and some really boring tomato pasta sauce that would probably only be appreciated by old people on bland diets.
But there was also some really delicious stuff. I really enjoyed the Del Monte Gold pineapple, Cinnamon Twist’s Chocolatta drink, Fresh and Fruity’s baby and toddler banana custard, Leader Brand broccolini (that was really good) and the Monteith’s pilsner. I was also delighted to find some real pretzels, big ones, not those little mini snack ones.
But best thing I tasted was from the sparsely decorated Cambrian Meats stand. A friendly fellow was cooking some cubes of beef on a portable barbecue. It smelled really good. He served up the meat on a dish; I took a toothpick, got a piece and tried it. It was tender and had a nice, full flavour. That little cube of meat was delicious. And not a DJ in sight.