Australia: Land of the Refined Carbohydrate
Like many Aussie kids, my childhood was saturated with the full spectrum of beige to golden refined carbohydrates. They were the stuff of breakfast cereals, tuck-shop orders, after-school snacks, birthday parties, post-netball refuels, sticky bun bakery runs, BBQ’s and country town pub meals. For myself, their allure pulsed with greater intensity, for my mum rarely indulged us in bringing them into the house and including them in our school lunches. While other kids had little packets of Smiths Chicken Potato Chips seemingly every day for recess, I got a little blue Tupperware of Vege Chips as part of a snack for my weekend choir concert.
But it’s not like I went without. They were everywhere.
Roll-Ups, LCMs, Tiny Teddies, Shapes, LeSnacks and Mamee’s Monster Noodle Snacks were the currency of the school playground. Bargaining and trading at recess, to sample the favoured foods and flavours of your peers, was the social etiquette of the primary school schoolyard. A now bygone act - passing a sole chip or biscuit, ripped, snapped or broken morsel with sticky, crumbed fingers (the dandruff-like flavour you most definitely could see) to a friend, was a love language in itself.
Cordial and assorted Arnott’s Biscuits (Assorted Creams if you were lucky) were provided at weekly evening choir rehearsals, Maggi 2 Minute Noodles guzzled on after school play dates and Natural Company Snakes pulled by wire-adorned teeth after weekend netball matches. Birthday parties featured buffets of Cheezels, Twisties, chocolate crackles and fairy bread, and on road trip holidays my parents allowed the luxury of little boxes of cereal, for the sake of ‘convenience’. Bargaining for the sweet oval shaped varieties instead of the fibre-fuelled flakes, was an easy win with my brother – he had two more years of ‘healthy choices’ drilled into him by my parents.
The one Aussie pantry hallmark we did stock reliably, was a medium sized tin of Milo. Ladling heaped teaspoons of the malty rubble into a transparent coloured IKEA cup and flooding it with milk - I frequently ate alarming quantities of the stuff. Legs curled under at our desktop computer with a dozen tabs open, I slowly caught up on all the food blogs I read with a ravenous interest. My left hand curled around the alarming ratio of Milo to milk, while my right tickled the powder up to the surface half a teaspoon at a time, before spooning the cold crunchiness into my mouth. It was consumed less as a drink and more as a ritual.
When I hit my teens and was given a purple and silver road bike for Christmas, I would ride to the shops to browse freely the full range of items previously scuttled past or not allowed, with more interest than if it were a museum. On one occasion, I remember riding to our local Foodworks to peruse the selection of pads, tampons and other exciting and newly applicable items in the realm of ‘Feminine Hygiene Products’, without the gaze of my mother coming up the aisle. Bravely buying a box of mini tampons, and couriering them home in an otherwise empty backpack, I treated myself to a single cinnamon donut and small Chocolate Big M from Brumby's, after the sweat inducing feat.
Now older, gluten-intolerant and my palate matured, these tastes of childhood no longer provide the comfort they once did.
Thinking about these foods lauded so ‘quintessentially Australian,’ that our Prime Minister bought a bag full of them to donate to bushfire victims in January 2020, I can’t help but relate this country’s love of manufactured beige foods, to its love of shortening things.
Being after all, the land of Oz.
Invaded to become a place of exile for the crooks, felons and criminals of society, the tonality of this land shifted away from England’s refinery, tradition and class values. Settlers’ accents broadened as the land moulded its inhabitants to be – as a stereotype – laid back outdoorsy people with a stubborn white superiority complex.
The arresting landscape would refashion the white Englishman in to one of practicality and lethargy, both in language and life, as broadened nasal vowels blended words into one another and consonants were included, willy-nilly. A process that discarded the willingness to to talk candidly about living on stolen land.
A conversation about our identity, as a whole.
Maybe it’s time this land eats the green, and the gold.