Would you pay $48 for a dozen eggs?

"PUMCINs like me clearly can afford $8 for a dozen eggs and $69.95/kg for steak and all those other pricey free-range, seasonal, biodynamic, organic, artisanal, local, line-caught, heirloom ingredients. "

"PUMCINs like me clearly can afford $8 for a dozen eggs and $69.95/kg for steak and all those other pricey free-range, seasonal, biodynamic, organic, artisanal, local, line-caught, heirloom ingredients. " Photo: Getty images

How much would you pay for a dozen eggs? How about $48? That’s the price some in a certain well-to-do Sydney community are prepared to pay for a dozen biodynamic (evidently gold-plated) eggs, or so I’ve heard on a reliable grapevine. No? I thought not.
What about $8 then? That’s what I pay for a dozen eggs from a colleague’s little farm. When I crack the evocatively dirt-smeared shells and poach my 66 cent egg for breakfast I picture his happy hens pecking around in the south-coast sunshine hoovering up the family scraps and pecking up a worm here or there.

I threw the question out on Twitter and the consensus seems to be that between $6 and $10 for a dozen free-range eggs is about right. “Six dollar no more,” said @jonathaningram3. “Around $8 but don't trust many labels,” said @dimityp. “I pay $10.99 for ‘open range’ eggs … don't buy mass market free range because the definition is too lazy” — that from @RachaelLonergan. (Woolworths ‘Select Free Range Eggs’ are $4.49 for a dozen.) “$10? I would do without now rather than buy cage eggs again,” according to @stinginthetail. “$7 for organic free range at Galluzzo in Glebe. Even the King Island eggs are only $9,” said @SimonThomsen. (Lucky those living in the country: “The going rate at farm gates our way is anywhere from $3.50 to $5,” relayed @royalmailhotel from Dunkeld in Victoria.)

The price of food, and what people are prepared to pay for it, has been a recurring theme in my conversations lately. I love the story that a friend shared after her recent trip to Daylesford: “An old lady in an antique shop was telling the owner that she couldn’t believe how much the butcher had wanted for six lamb chops — ‘They were $10 — I told him to put them back!’, she said.” (When the owner asked the woman what she liked to cook, she apparently replied, “Trevor likes my seafood bolognese”.)

During an interview for my recent article for the(sydney)magazine on the changing face of Redfern, local activist Ross Smith talked about the effect gentrification has on prices and services. “You can go down to Mick the butcher, been there for donkeys, and for $8 or $9 a kilo you can buy the meat that if you go to the (new) upmarket butcher you can buy for $14 or $15 a kilo; a lamb’s a lamb,” said Smith, who was behind the campaign to get an Aldi supermarket into the area so the public housing community has access to reasonably priced groceries. (Aldi opened on the corner of Bourke and Danks Street earlier this year.)

Meanwhile, my mother and I nearly came to blows over the subject on the weekend. We were the ones in an inner-city butcher’s shop on Sunday afternoon hissing fiercely under our breaths at each other. “Did you hear that?,” she said, jabbing me in the ribs, “rump steak for $9.99 a kilo”. I dragged my attention away from the sausages to see a butcher spruiking his steak at the entrance to the shop. Great bloody slabs of the stuff. I turned back to the sausages.
My mother nudged me again: “It looks good to me.” My concentration on the important issue of whether my nieces and nephew would prefer chicken and leek or pork and fennel for dinner was shattered. I glanced at the steak. For a start, I had some moral grounds for my lack of interest. For a while now, rightly or wrongly, I’ve been trying to buy only organic, free-range, grass-fed beef. (This primarily for environmental reasons although, during a recent interview with environmentalist Tim Flannery for a piece I’ve written on the paleo diet for this weekend’s Good Weekend magazine, I discovered that some Australian feedlots lay claim to having practices that result in their product having less environmental impact than the pastured equivalent.) Besides, rump is not a cut I chase — give me something marbled, please.

My mother, a sensible, frugal, budget-conscious woman, was in my ear again: “You didn’t even look at it!” She was right, I wasn’t interested in the rump steak. At $9.99 a kilo, it seemed inconceivable to me that that meat could be worth my interest. How could it possibly be any good? And how had the beast from whence it came been treated? How had it died? How had its flesh been processed? Cheap food has a back story. The Michael Pollan/Ruth Ozeki/Food Inc. messages rattle around in my privileged, middle-class mind.

I don’t tell my mother that the organic, free-range, grass-fed eye fillet I buy from my regular butcher is $69.95/kg. I’d never hear the end of it. (Although she might spare me some of her Depression-era wrath if I told her how I treat my organic, free-range, grass-fed eye fillet: When I cook a steak for myself at home, and it’s certainly not every night, it’s a very, very small steak — around 200g. A $14 steak. A treasured $14 steak. Not cheap by any stretch, but nor is it the $49 I’d pay for a 220g piece of Scotch fillet at Rockpool Bar & Grill.)

Business advisor and commentator Bernard Salt is fond of using the acronym PUMCINs to describe people like me: “professional urban middle class in nice suburbs … ensconced inside the goat’s cheese curtain” which is, apparently, as much political as it is edible and geographical (yes, it is true, there is goat’s cheese in my fridge right now). PUMCINs, says Salt, are the aspirational, alfresco, foodie artsy-fartsy types; the people who live in the “chichi inner suburbs” as opposed to “the dreary middle and outer suburbs in metropolitan Australia”.

PUMCINs like me clearly can afford $8 for a dozen eggs and $69.95/kg for steak and all those other pricey free-range, seasonal, biodynamic, organic, artisanal, local, line-caught, heirloom ingredients. But what about the rest of the country? There’s a huge gulf between us and them. Those who won’t settle for less and those who couldn’t care less. Those who can afford and those who can’t.

I suspect that, despite her countryside address, Alla Wolf-Tasker, owner of the Lake House restaurant in Daylesford in country Victoria and a fierce critic of cheap food, might have a bit of PUMCIN in her too. When I spoke to her earlier this year, she had a bit to say on the subject: “When you go to a real food-culture country ... people will spend money on food; it’s at the top of the pyramid. At the top of our pyramid is holidays to Bali and having ... 2.3 plasmas per family, two cars in the garage,” she said. “Whereas when you travel in a country that has a real food culture, people will walk across to the other side of the market because they know that particular stall holder has better ham, not because he’s got cheaper ham, but because he’s got better ham and ... you buy a little bit of the best rather than a whole lot of the cheapest.”

Wolf-Tasker continues: “Should we be prepared to pay for quality? The answer is a resounding ‘yes’ (but) then you get tipped into the bucket with ‘you don’t care about the poor people’. Well, let me tell you that the poor people in food-culture countries care about the quality of their food, they will pay for it. I don’t put up with that argument. A blue-collar worker in France will tell you about the tiny little piece of Reblochon (cheese) they’ve bought and will go on about it for hours and they’ll sit and look at it the piece of veal they’ve bought and think about how they’re going to cook it.”

And here’s Wolf-Tasker on the subject of the humble chook: “If you buy a $6 chicken in the supermarket you would have to ask why is it $6, because someone has to grow it, pluck it, process it, wholesale it, truck it, and then retail it, and (at) all of those steps people have to make some money, so why’s it only six bucks? Well we know the answer, it’s a battery hen … it’s badly processed, there are issues with the way it’s cleaned, it gets dunked in chlorine afterwards to make sure that it doesn’t have any traces of the bad processing — that’s cheap food.”

Wolf-Tasker’s argument is that there’s no such thing as cheap food because at some point down the line, there’s a price to pay for cheap food in terms of the toll on our health, the environment, animal welfare, communities, our food culture. “I mean, the thing is, if you’ve got an expensive car and someone offers you two bottles of oil to use and one’s the ‘no-brand, look, we’re not sure where it comes from, but it’s half the price and it should do the job’ and then they give you the other brand and it’s BP Petroleum and you’ve known it for years and it’s used by Choice magazine or whatever; you’re not going put the shoddy oil into your car.”

I’m not sure my mother, who has eaten well but extremely frugally all her life and who, at 76, is in fighting-fit form, would agree. She’s a persistent woman and on Sunday afternoon we left the butcher with a two-kilogram bag of $9.99 rump steak. It went on the barbecue next to the sausages. I ate it, fighting back irritable words. It was edible. I’d say no more than that about it.

I won’t be paying $48 any time soon for a dozen eggs but now that my mother’s visit is over, I will be ducking back to my favourite butcher for that grass-fed eye fillet — once I’ve gone through that pile of wretched rump steak in the freezer.

38 comments

  • So we have articles about how 45,000 families in Australia are living below the poverty line one day, and then we get to read about how some people are willing to pay $69 per kilo of steak meat. I love my food, I love good food but no one in a food loving culture is willing to pay ridiculous prices for food because that's the chic thing to do (what is a biodynamic egg and how come humanity has been fine without them until now?). Here we have children going without food and people on the other hand debating if they're happy to pay $48 for a dozen eggs. How disconnected are they from reality? Good quality food can be bought cheap (try going to a market- an actual market not one where you buy $48 eggs by the dozen). It is infuriating that in the name of being a "foodie" or loving food PUMCIN's are willing to overlook the gap between people in Australia. There is no guarantee that a $69 steak had a happy life frolicking in the fields, the same way as you have no idea if the $9.99 rump steak had a miserable existence.

    Instead of spending $69 on some meat, how about buying the $9.99 kg rump steak and donating $60 to Anglicare, World Vision, the Salvos or Red Cross, or any other organisation that aims to help people who are going without food tonight.

    Commenter
    Enigma
    Location
    The Stable
    Date and time
    October 18, 2012, 8:45AM
    • "There is no guarantee that a $69 steak had a happy life frolicking in the fields, the same way as you have no idea if the $9.99 rump steak had a miserable existence."

      The fact is, organic and biodynamic growers have a vested interest in keeping their animals healthy, because they don't have the option of pumping them full of antibiotics. For this reason, the animals tend to be better cared for.

      While the examples of $69 meat and $48 eggs are extreme examples, the basic ethic here is sound. The use of chemicals in agriculture may give us a bit of cheap food in the short term, but I believe the long-term impacts (water contamination, soil erosion etc) aren't worth it.

      It's too much to expect poor families to start forking out for organic/biodynamic food, so the change needs to come from government, starting to provide incentives for farmers to reduce their reliance on chemicals, and subsidising farmers that are doing the right thing by the environment.

      Commenter
      Angus28
      Date and time
      October 18, 2012, 9:13AM
    • While I agree with the use of less chemicals, better agricultural practices and 'cleaner' food, the fact remains that while the majority of the Western world overconsumes and under produces and continues to gain most of its calorie intake from meat the drive will be there to produce lots of meat quickly.

      And yes there should be a push from government to be concerned with getting farmers weaned off pesticides, herbicides, and badly feeding animals with the hope of pushing up their weights quickly to onsell but that doesn't change the fact that there are thousands currently going hungry in Australia and people are more concerned with whether there's enough marbling in their meat, or whether it is heirloom tomatoes they're consuming. That's when people should ask if they have their priorities straight.

      Commenter
      Enigma
      Location
      The Stable
      Date and time
      October 18, 2012, 9:24AM
    • And also the same week as World Food Day, which aims to draw attention to the millions of people worldwide living in hunger...

      But let's not worry too much about the vast majority of people who aren't PUMCINs, Stephanie, it's definitely far better to fret over the 'wretchedness' of that $10/kg rump steak inconsiderately left in your freezer.

      It all seems pretty tasteless to me.

      Commenter
      SenselessThingy
      Date and time
      October 18, 2012, 9:38AM
    • Um... the article makes perfectly clear that the writer DOESN'T go out and drop almost $70 on steak alone during her weekly grocery shop, rather that her decision to prioritise eating ethically means she has steak as an occasional treat. Way to push your barrow and insert your irrelevant agenda into the comments though.

      Commenter
      DisDis
      Date and time
      October 18, 2012, 11:28AM
    • @Enigma

      Why is it you assume people who are spending $69/kg for steak are not also giving generously to charity? I do and I'm not going to feel guilty if I want to spend a lot of money on food! It's my money and I work hard for it. I also give very generously to World Vision, Dr Without Borders, and the Salvation Army! At the end of the day, it's not my fault people are poor. I'm not going to forgo buying something I enjoy just because somebody else can't afford it. This is my incentive and reward for the work I do. If I couldn't buy myself little luxuries, I may as well just quit my job and live on benefits!

      Commenter
      T
      Date and time
      October 18, 2012, 4:03PM
    • @Enigma instead of giving my money to certain charities for them to use on marketing and "creating awareness" and so forth, I'm happier to pay more for my meat and produce every single week and directly support/reward farmers and suppliers who use ethical and sustainable processes and ensure that their animals are kept well and live the most pleasant lives possible. It's a conscious decision that I don't feel an ounce of guilt about. I'd also say I'm contributing a lot more to a good cause than someone who throws the odd $20 at whatever charity is promoting themselves the loudest on some randomly designated day and who then gets on their high horse to question and ridicule other people's spending habits.

      Commenter
      Lara888
      Location
      Sydney
      Date and time
      October 18, 2012, 5:18PM
  • Im an inner city suburb man but for me food is just fuel for my body unless it is a special occasion.
    On a usual morning I can consume 6-8 eggs depending on my workout so the cheapest eggs always win out.
    Even if people can afford to spend more on this stuff do people consider it a waste of money? Unless i'm making a nice meal for my partner I don't see the point in my day to day life.

    Commenter
    Frost
    Location
    Sydney
    Date and time
    October 18, 2012, 9:05AM
    • $69 a kilo? Wow. Maybe once... for a christmas bbq, or curiosity. But I'm a man, not a chef. I know I'm not going to turn that marbled steak into a masterpiece. I'm not going to treat that marbled cut with the respect it deserves.
      It's going to be a bit burnt on the edges, smothered in bbq sauce, and served with iceberg lettuce, tomatoes, cucumber and heaps of bbqd onions.
      Same goes for eggs. $10.99 is a joke. Mine get a 30second poach in the microwave and served on toast.
      I'll happily take that "wretched rump steak" off your hands. I've got some great marinade recipes for it.

      Commenter
      Not a PUMCIN
      Location
      not in a PUMCIN suburb
      Date and time
      October 18, 2012, 9:10AM
      • Buy a chook then, at $5-$10 each you get free (well, you still need to feed them, but that doesn't cost you much) and fresh eggs every day. If you have extras sell them to the people that want to pay $48! Some basic maths: 1 chook costs $10, a bag of food for 6 months cost $20 (plus scraps). 1 egg a day for six months is 182.5 eggs, that's 15 dozen eggs. Even if you sell them for $5 that is still $75 so you are ahead by $45 already.

        Commenter
        J
        Location
        Melb
        Date and time
        October 18, 2012, 9:11AM

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