lifestyle

These milkshakes bring all the lemmings to my yard.

By Alex McClintock

When the Nutella milkshake came to the cafe in my building the “foodie” hoards descended like extras in The Walking Dead. Yet I soon realised this wasn’t about enjoying it, but being seen to be enjoying it on social media, writes Alex McClintock.

A couple of months ago I moved into a new apartment in Sydney’s inner west with my girlfriend. It’s our first non-share house and we are just thrilled to be paying half our combined salaries in rent if it means our cheese will be safe.

At first we enjoyed playing house and visiting IKEA. I even got over the crippling fear of Bunnings Warehouse I developed at age seven, when Dad left me and my brother in the car for an hour while he “popped in for a packet of screws”.

Even better is the suburb, which is often described as a village due to its bars, shops and nearly 10,000 residents moving in each year.

There was even a café in the base of our building – a relaxed little place you could go to read the paper or grab a quick takeaway coffee.

It was a perfect life. Then the milkshake came along.

The first I knew of it was when I saw the mob outside the café. Though initially it looked like they were trying to hitch a ride on the last chopper out of Saigon, a woman informed me that they were in fact queuing for a Nutella donut milkshake served in a mason jar (with handle), which had been featured in the Sydney Morning Herald the day before. Soon similar monstrosities were appearing across the nation.

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And so began our long, milky nightmare. The line swelled every day as more and more “foodies” appeared on the horizon, loping towards us like extras in The Walking Dead.

In my eyes, the crowd began to take on the attributes of the very beverage they so desired, their creamy faces staring at the piles of Nutella jars just inside the café doors. With the impassivity of dairy cattle, they stood on the road blocking all traffic, seemingly content to wait for hours.

Initially the surrounding streets were filthy, with flies swarming around discarded milkshakes and donuts in varying stages of decomposition. Soon, however, the herd began to develop its own complex culture and way of life. The rubbish disappeared.

Once, as we began the taxing 500-metre odyssey to the next-closest café, we witnessed a dispute amongst the milkshake people. Two young men were screaming at each in their strange dialect and it seemed like things might turn violent.

My girlfriend moved to intervene.

“No,” I said. “We have to let them settle this according to their customs. It would be unethical to get involved.”

As time passed, we saw some strange behaviour: women sprinting down the street at 3.59 pm to make sure they wouldn’t miss out; children vomiting their overstimulated little guts up; and a grown man with tears in his eyes, seeing the “closed” sign in the window, realising he’d arrived an hour too late.

But the one thing we’ve never seen is somebody actually enjoying the milkshake. From Tongan church groups to leather-clad bikies, everyone drinks with a look of grim determination – barely able to summon a smile for the obligatory Instagram.

But obligatory it is, because the milkshake is not a gastronomic experience. How could it be? Drinking half a litre of milk, ice cream and sickeningly sweet choc-hazelnut paste would be difficult enough without throwing a stuffed donut on top and putting a straw through it.

No, the pleasure is derived from being seen to consume the shake. Not the chocolate-smeared, bowel-cramping reality of it either, but the X Pro II/Mayfair-filtered, contrast-enhanced version.

The milkshake is a logical product of the way many people now relate to their food – it’s purely visual; taste never enters into the equation. Check out #cleaneating if you’re in any doubt.

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The other day a friend reported seeing a group of young women in a restaurant who spent 10 minutes arranging and photographing their plates. By the time they were done the food was cold, so they promptly sent it back.

At the risk of going full old-man-shouting-at-clouds, whatever happened to eating for enjoyment?

It all seems rather wasteful and, dare I say it, disrespectful to food.

I know that sounds like the kind of thing you hear from earnest gastronomes who believe the world’s problems would be solved if only the Israelis and Palestinians would sit down together and enjoy a good, honest farm-to-table meal. But that’s not me. I like eating, but I’m not a “foodie” (unless I’m also a drinkie and breathie, in that I also need those to survive).

When, at a certain type of restaurant, the waiter approaches the table to explain that the biodynamic sea lice were hand-caught in the River Styx, I’m generally so overcome with embarrassment for all involved that I slide down my chair and under the table, only to emerge courses later for the glitter soubise.

But surely there’s some middle ground between exalting the eating experience and caring so little for it that you’ll buy (and throw away) something virtually inedible just because it looks wacky and everyone else is doing it.

Instagram your food, it’s fine – just make sure you enjoy it as well. It’s trite, but sitting around the dinner table with friends is still the only way to share a taste.

The big winner has been the café, of course. Its owners announced last week that they plan to open a Nutella-themed dessert bar serving “Nutella cheesecake, Nutella banana bread, Nutella macarons, Nutella brownies, Nutella cruffins, Nutella cronuts and more.”

When I heard the news I was dismayed and confused. How could so many people like this stuff? Is our civilisation doomed? What in God’s name is a cruffin?

Then it hit me. As soon as the next choc-nut fad comes along, the milkshake people will be gone – they’ll metamorphose and be reborn as cruffin people.

And I’ll finally be able to get a coffee again.

Alex McClintock is the deputy editor of RN Online and a writer. Follow him on Twitter @axmcc.

This post originally appeared on ABC‘s The Drum.

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