WHENCE, THEN, ARISES THE ENIGMATICAL character of the product of labour, so soon as it assumes the form of commodities? …The equality of all sorts of human labour is expressed objectively by their products all being equally values; the measure of the expenditure of labour power by the duration of that expenditure, takes the form of the quantity of value of the products of labour; and finally the mutual relations of the producers, within which the social character of their labour affirms itself, take the form of a social relation between the products.1

Children of the first decade of this century have found their relationship to food revolutionised by the entry to television of a special genre of cooking show: competitive cookery. Food shows are as old as the medium, and the cook-off is hardly a new form of competition. The genuinely new format is the cooking spectacular with glorious winners and a hyper-marketed process of competition, the entry of reality TV into the field of food. In Australia there was first the Iron Chef on the niche broadcaster, but Masterchef is now a defining cultural artefact and a popular touchstone. Snow Eggs will be this young generation’s Flaming Moe—a one-time success, the recipe given to the masses to be shared, a fading glory set on fire by an imitator on every corner.

Is food about cooking, eating, winning or losing, being professional or amateur, opportunity or waste? Should young people dream of leaving school to the security of a white collar or the glamour of a paper puffy hat, and is there much glamour anyway about working in a professional kitchen? Deliberately or otherwise, we are linking three concepts into a Masonic triangle: food, competition, work.

And food is almost a perfect proxy for the relationships of work. Labour value, use value, exchange value—we make the things we eat as commodities, share them and consume them with the people with whom we have social relationships. Is there a better illustration for capitalism’s commodity fetish than the food porn of our television and magazines? Would this blog or the hundreds of thousands of other tedious food blogs like it have a basis without a twenty-first century culture of cookery enjoyed solely as mediated through print and broadcast institutions?

A more positive example is the Bake Off, a communal workplace competition run in a workplace somewhere in southern Sydney.2 As simple as it sounds, the honest knowledge workers have brought competition and collaboration together for their once-a-week shared themed lunch. Everybody eats, but only one team can be the winner; it’s a forward striving for excellence and a provision of lunchtime for all. Tony Blair’s Third Way in action from below. (I mean that, ah, in a good way).

The rather too-topical theme was the PIIGS.


It’s this one, well more or less, imitated vaguely and forced into a smaller and higher baking dish than was really specified.

Cheese being mixed in a bowl

Chop and crush a lot of spinach leaves, quite a bit of feta, a spoonful or two of ricotta and a bit of parmesan, a few breadcrumbs, olive oil, a spring onion and five eggs.

Now lay out half a packet of filo pastry, sheet by sheet, each one brushed with melted butter, in a pan. Yes, half a packet. You will use the other half for the top.

Spanakopita cheese and spinach mixture in filo pastry

Brush the top with butter and make some pretty slices. I seem to remember I proposed spelling out some kind of clever phrase but was overruled.

Brushing the spanakopita on top

Bake it for oh about forty minutes and maybe put some aluminium foil on top to stop the top burning about half an hour in. When it’s done, admire it…

Spanakopita, done, sitting cooling on the stove

…put in the fridge overnight, then take it on the train down to work and share it out for lunch.

Leftover spanakopita on a plate, with a spoon

Top marks, or so I heard.


1 Marx, Karl. Capital, chapter 1 section 4

2 Not, alas, mine. Some call it helping with the cooking, I call it alienation from labour.



Add a comment

This is a gravatar

FDB · 11 October 2011, 19:48 · #

Nice one. Looks like your oven’s about as even as mine but!

I think I’ve bugged you about this before, but if you’ve got any room at all for planting you should try Bower spinach (aka NZ spinach, Warrigal greens, &c &c). For some reason I prefer Bower spinach.

It’s native (in fact I saw some growing on the cliff walk near Bronte, so it’s practically local for you), incredibly easy to grow, self-sows continually, and tastes tops. Not so great raw (a bit fuzzy-textured and bitey-flavoured, maybe lightly poisonous?), but after a blanching it’s like a peppery spinach. For spanakopita or similar, mix in 1/3-1/2 with your actual spinach, and totses awse bush tucker is yours.

This is a gravatar

Liam · 12 October 2011, 07:24 · #

The stovetop might resist scrubbing and defy the spirit level, with non-euclidean surfaces and a pervasive sense of horror too profound for the mind to grasp, but nothing escapes my seasoned eye when it comes time to fill out the rental inspection report. Ia! Ia! I’ll just put down “damaged”, then.

you should try Bower spinach

Sounds intriguing, I’ll keep an eye out for it.

In the meantime, on the theme of the post, for you.


Commenting is closed for this article.