Warning to Coles shoppers: ROBOTS TOUCH YOUR FOOD.

You know what the average shopper at Coles Supermarket fears? Robots. Giant robots who touch their food. This secret informs their latest sleight of hand that boasts that their home delivered food is “Hand picked, hand packed and hand delivered”.


Screenshot from http://www.coles.com.au/Shop-Online.aspx/ (full page, 28 June 2012)

This was originally spotted in the wild by Harvest Feast, adorning Coles’ Tasmanian delivery vans.

Coles’ food is however, picked and packed by giant robots at some point in its journey from factory to you. Here’s the video of that happening:

SSI Schaeffer, who installed the systems, are quite proud of their achievements. From their press release:

Automated picking solutions at Coles’ two national distribution centers align with the companywide strategy to deliver store-ready stock more efficiently. Supply Chain Review goes inside the Melbourne facility to inspect the world-class system. At least part of the supply chain transformation of supermarket giant Coles is being handled not by people, but by robots. Automated picking solutions at Coles’ two key national distribution centers (NDCs) in Sydney and Melbourne are, according to the retailer, providing significantly improved store-friendly deliveries while minimizing end-to-end supply chain costs and making warehousing operations safer and more efficient.

(emphasis is mine)

Moreover, almost all of the processed food that goes into Coles’ deliveries was picked and packed by robots (or at least, some automated system) at the original manufacturer. So why the sudden bout of robophobia from one of Australia’s supermarket duopoly?

Welcome to the coopting of handmade. Western luxury is no longer defined by owning perfect objects but by having the time to select pieces that display the tell-tale imperfections of the human hand. It’s what you probably stare longingly at on Pinterest. Just like “artisanal” before it, now well dead and obituarised by The Atlantic, major corporations now battle to appear as if real humans touched their things and by doing so, render the terms meaningless.

I’m no longer certain whether any of these terms are redeemable, but at the very least, we can point out the most egregious of lies.

Is authenticity xenophobic?

My favourite Mexican cookbook is Marilyn Tausend’s Cocina De La Familia because it is not devoutly Mexican. Tausend isn’t Mexican and collated her recipes from interviews with home cooks across America rather than in Mexico. Recipes come with the location that they were collected and the Mexican state where the recipe or cook originated. It captures the evanescent nature of immigrant food; the adaptations and innovation required from living somewhere other than home and cooking for the eternally-shifting tastes of Americans that at some point in the past came from Mexico. It says “authentic” on the cover but it is an uneasy label for a book that documents a cuisine that has thoroughly changed from an imaginary state of origin south of the border.

I like it because it gives Mexican-Americans a huge amount of credit and agency for adapting traditional recipes. Cooking nachos is given equal importance to cooking a more traditional looking sopa. The emphasis is on delicious rather than time-honoured.

With the current flood of Mexican restaurants opening across Melbourne, the laziest way to deride them is decry their lack of authenticity, ticking off your personal list as to whether they serve corn smut or cabeza or whatever other edible markers of tradition apply, making an assiduous note of the ethnicity of the chef. As soon as that happens, you deny that food and culture are mutable, and shifts to accommodate the locals.

Recently, Gustavo Arellano took this up in an interview in the New York Times.

But he is wary of the many non-Mexicans who have anointed themselves as ambassadors for Mexican food in the United States, from Bertha Haffner-Ginger (who taught cooking classes at The Los Angeles Times in the early 20th century and wrote an influential and confusing cookbook called “California Mexican-Spanish Cook Book”) to more modern arbiters of taste like the British expatriate Diana Kennedy and the Chicago chef Rick Bayless.

For Mr. Arellano, non-Mexicans who glorify “authentic” Mexican cuisine, even with respectful intent, are engaging in a kind of xenophobia. “It’s a different way of keeping Mexican food separate, out of the American mainstream,” said Mr. Arellano, who calls Mexican-food purists “Baylessistas.”

Arrellano has excellent form – his now decade old column “Ask a Mexican” in the OC Weekly pokes into the recesses and excesses of Mexican-American culture, often to hilarious effect. To underline his idea of authenticity: he’s a man who takes a great deal of joy in what happens when you translate Vietnamese food for a Latino clientele rather than seeing it as a culinary abomination.

To Arrellano (and me), food is more interesting where cultures butt heads and I can’t imagine a situation more interesting than watching what happens in Melbourne where the previous culture of Mexican food that was wrapped up in the yellow box of an Old El Paso meal kit runs into the current one that seems to revere the taco truck of Roy Choi rather than the markets of Oaxaca.

When fried chicken went awry

He still puts on a white linen suit every morning, rides in a chauffeured white Cadillac, visits Kentucky Fried Chicken’s white column headquarters and plugs his “finger lickin’ good” chicken around the country.

But Harland D Sanders, everyone’s favourite Kentucky colonel, is disturbed about what has happened to his chicken and to America’s dining habits.

While it sounds like an alternate history from Adbusters archives, it’s from an interview with Sanders in The Milwaukee Journal, 1975. You know something has gone terribly wrong with food when the mascot starts decrying it.

Melbourne Restaurant Name Generator: Mexican Edition

Since the City of Melbourne passed an edict that no new restaurant can get a liquor licence in Melbourne unless it serves a fish taco, my Melbourne restaurant name generator has become redundant. I’ve been meaning to write some reviews, but most of the new joints do a pretty good job of satirising themselves. So inspired by this tweet from Beechworth chef Michael Ryan, here’s a Mexican edition of the restaurant name generator. Name that new restaurant:

Los Lobos

Press reload for more authentic Mexican suggestions. Also, inspired by my original generator, Willamette Week in Portland has made a local version.

Footscray Market Opening Hours – Christmas 2011

Another year down, another year where my local market, , fails to build a website. Opening hours for the market over the Christmas/New Year’s period are:

Saturday 24 December (Christmas Eve): 7:00am-5:00pm
25-27 December: Closed
Wednesday 28 December: 7:00am – 4:00pm
Thursday 29 December: 7:00am – 6:00pm
Friday 30 December: 7:00am – 7:00pm
Saturday 31 December: 7:00am – 5:00pm
1-2 January 2012: Closed
Tuesday 3 January: 7:00am – 4:00pm

The regular opening hours for Footscray Market continue to be:

Tuesday and Wednesday – 7:00am-4:00pm
Thursday – 7:00am-6:00pm
Friday – 7:00am-8:00pm
Saturday – 7:00am-4:00pm