Image: Tina Tiller

The 10 New Zealand food moments that defined the decade

Looking back on 10 years of wild, weird and wonderful food stories in Aotearoa.

It’s been a hell of a decade for food here in New Zealand. Sure, there have been tedious trends aplenty – the rise of bloody kale, bloody coconut oil, bloody poké bowls – but the following list is not about fads; it’s about food-related goings-on that were buzzy, baffling and/or batshit. These are the 10 food moments that, in The Spinoff’s humble opinion, truly defined the past 10 years.

Cancelling Cadbury 

In 2010, Cadbury’s six-year run as New Zealand’s most trusted brand came to an end in spectacular fashion. The year prior, the Dairy Milk palm oil news broke (Cadbury backed down after customer pressure), its Auckland factory closed and the production of several products moved offshore. Things went from bad to worse in the new decade, with the now-rubbish UK-made Creme Eggs breaking hearts in 2010 and again in 2015 when the chocolate shell turned thin and nasty. That same year, the company downsized its family blocks of chocolate, removing an entire row.

The nail in the chocolatey coffin came in 2017 with the announcement that Cadbury’s Dunedin factory was to close. The last product – pineapple lumps – rolled off the production line in March 2018. Later that year, Roses turned to shit. Then it was marshmallow Easter eggs. Then they reduced the size of the family blocks again, and we officially gave up. So long, Cadbury. Thanks for breaking our hearts. 

The old Roses (RIP)

God bless you, ghost chips 

It’s one of the greatest lines ever uttered on New Zealand screens. “You know I can’t grab your ghost chips.” An anti-drink-driving ad shows a young chap torn about whether to tell his intoxicated mate he shouldn’t drive home, which spirals into a complex imagined scenario of having to move in with his mate’s family (“puzzle time”) and be haunted by his ghost. Cut to a scene where our hero is walking along the road and his ghostly friend offers him a hot chip from his punnet, which prompts him to utter that iconic line. Honestly, it’s all just perfect.

Now, I know what some of you are thinking – “that ad’s not even about food”. Um, firstly, this is my list and I’ll fill it however I want, and secondly, ARE HOT CHIPS NOT FOOD!? Are they not one of the finest foods we have in this fine country?! Of course they are. Ghost chips went viral, inspiring Facebook pages, songs, bands, Trade Me listings, T-shirts, sunglasses and beers. It was a wonderful time to be alive.


Marmageddon 

In March 2012, Sanitarium announced that its stocks of Marmite had run out due to its sole production line, which was damaged in the previous year’s devastating earthquake in Canterbury, grinding to a halt. The company warned people not to panic, but also suggested Marmite lovers might want to ration their supplies. What happened? People lost their shit. Jars were listed on Trade Me for $800. The news was reported around the world. The shortage officially ran for a year, with production restarting in March 2013. The crisis was over. We survived, but at what cost?

Fishy business 

David Shearer led Labour for a not particularly successful 20 months from 2011 to 2013 and his departure was punctuated, as Toby Manhire put it in 2016, “with the whiffy closing quotation marks of two snapper held aloft in the house of representatives”. It happened during a debate about a proposal to change snapper quotas for recreational fishers. Shearer brandished two of the tasty buggers – one small, one large – to show the size commercial fishers were allowed to catch compared to their recreational counterparts.

It is not known how long they had been sitting in his briefcase before he brought them into the House,” reported Stuff. Problem is, it went down like a lead balloon, and he was “completely owned” by John Key. A couple of days later, Shearer stepped down as leader, saying he didn’t believe he had the full support of his caucus. What happened to the fish is unknown. Hopefully both were filleted, battered and served up for tea with a side of chips.

David Shearer and his snapper

An unheralded Kiwi hero is found

Nestlé said she was dead. But Hayden Donnell didn’t give up – and thank god for that because the plucky lad’s penchant for Kiwi onion dip and his firm belief its inventor should be lauded as a true New Zealand hero led him on an emotional journey that produced one of the greatest food stories of the decade (if we do say so ourselves). Donnell found Rosemary Mount, née Dempsey, in an Auckland retirement village, where she charmed him with her class and wit, regaling the star-struck reporter with tales of his beloved dip’s genesis in the Nestlé test kitchen, and the company’s subsequent failure to give her the props she so clearly deserved. A special friendship was forged, and a legacy rightfully restored. 

Rosemary Dempsey in the Nestlé test kitchen (Photo: Nestlé)

Bill’s spaghetti shame   

What was Prime Minister Bill English’s greatest legacy? Will he be remembered for his commitment to the social investment approach, his conservative views on abortion, his handling of the Todd Barclay affair? His walk-run, perhaps? No, English will forever be known for bringing shame upon the nation when, in April 2017, he put tinned spaghetti on a pizza. Personally, as a fan of nostalgic Kiwi classics, I didn’t have a problem with English’s choice of topping – que sera sera, as they say in Dipton – but many were horrified. Bill’s blunder went global, with Jimmy Kimmel calling it an act of war and John Oliver labelling it a hate crime. Did pizzagate have anything to do with Winston’s fateful decision to go with Labour some five months later? You be the judge. 

Bill English’s pizza in uncooked form (Photo: Bill English)

Avogeddon 

What symbolises the 2010s more than the avocado? Smooshed on toast, it’s now a byword for Instagram culture, for millennial excess and corresponding boomer outrage. People are so damn obsessed with avos they lose their shit when there’s a shortage (read: they go out of season). And if that’s symbolic that the #worldisfukt, consider this: in the past few years, a shady, sinister avo underbelly has emerged in Aotearoa, whereby thieves target orchards under the cover of darkness to sell their fleshy green bounty on the black market, with each pillage costing the grower up to $100,000. Home growers aren’t immune, with some resorting to barbed wire and sophisticated security systems. The world was as shocked by this development as we were, with the Guardian reporting a spate of thefts in 2016, and The New York Times taking notice in 2018. A sign we’ve truly hit guac bottom?

The messy mountaintop mystery

Rarely does a day go by when I don’t think about the massive pile of spaghetti someone dumped on top of Wellington’s Mt Victoria in March 2018. Freshly cooked and perfectly al dente (OK, I don’t know that for sure), it was placed upon Summit Rock like some sort of starchy offering to the gods of bolognese. The Spinoff Food section was still three months away from its launch, so this monumental event went by uninvestigated. From whence did the spaghetti hail? Who put it there, and why? If you have any information, please, I beg of you, email aliceneville@thespinoff.co.nz in strict confidence. 

A pasta puzzle (Photo: Wellington City Council)

A sizzling scandal 

In November last year, Bunnings Warehouse issued all stores across Australia and New Zealand with a “serving suggestion” for their much-loved sausage sizzles: onions should be placed underneath the sausage, directly on the bread, rather than in the traditional atop-the-saus fashion. The reason? To prevent the onions falling off the sausage and creating a slipping hazard. Across the nation(s), minds were blown. Allegiances were questioned. Outrage was tweeted. Follow-ups were written. Mad Chapman had a full-blown existential crisis. All in all, just a typical day in the 2010s.

A battle for the ages

Bamboozled

Chirri garrick prawn dumprings”. “Eja ku rait”. “Suk sum teet”. No, these aren’t the scribblings of a dim-witted 13-year-old racist, it’s the menu of Christchurch Asian fusion restaurant Bamboozle way back in… the 1950s? The 70s maybe? Nope, it was posted on Twitter in January 2018, prompting a widespread WTAF, but Bamboozle proprietor Phillip Kraal said his customers loved it.

While condemnation was widespread, many commenters said everyone should lighten up and take a joke and it was just PC gone mad and so on and so forth. Cool, cool. The most tear-your-hair-out-and-hurl-your-computer-at-a-wall part? The menu had been in place for at least a couple of years, with nary a complaint seeing the light. In January 2019, to the disappointment of racists who like shit food, Bamboozle shut its doors for good, with Kraal citing overwhelming challenges (and verbally abusing a reporter).


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