The Dominion Post

A delicious and costly obsession


We all have our favourite flavour and our favourite way of eating it. Some take off the top and squirt in the sauce. Others use a knife and fork. Every day thousands of drivers perform the gymnastics of using one hand to eat a paper-bagged pie while steering their car with the other.

Pies are New Zealand’s dominant lunch morsel. We have a national obsession with the $4 pastry parcels and, lately, it’s got its own superstars.

Baker Patrick Lam is the biggest. The country’s most prolifical­ly awarded pie maker, his mince and cheese is the current Supreme Pie title holder.

Since the Tauranga baker won the award last week (for the seventh time) he’s been selling 125 pies an hour. That’s more than two a minute. That’s a lot of pastry, a lot of mince and loads of cheese.

Pies, delicious as they are, are a dietitian’s nightmare. They’re full of those ‘‘bad’’ things: butter, animal fat and salt.

They are one of the most efficient caloriedel­ivery vehicles that humankind has ever invented. And loving them is part of being a Kiwi.

In their nutritiona­l negativity they are much like all the other foods we love as part of our culture.

Fish and chips are so eye-poppingly terrible they should probably be outlawed. Tomato sauce has more sugar in it than L&P, our favourite sugary fizz, and any potential that lamb roast with all the trimmings has for being healthy is generally lost when it’s slathered in fat-based gravy.

Dishes such as these contribute to our obesity problem. A third of us are grossly overweight and it’s what we’re eating that’s doing it.

Obesity, among other things, is a ticket to diabetes, heart disease and several cancers.

When a third of your population is at an increased risk of such conditions, you’ve got a problem. Especially when the health system is stretched to breaking point already.

Our obsession with fat-laden food, whether you’re one of those who loves a fish burger and chips or not, affects everyone’s ability to access timely and well-resourced healthcare.

Campaigns to get the population to eat more fruit, vegetables and lean foods have certainly made us all aware of what we are supposed to eat.

But it seems they have not achieved the goal of changing the nation’s dietary habits. If they had we’d annually flock to taste the wares of New Zealand’s best kiwifruit grower.

That’s to be expected, though. Fatty food is not only relatively cheap and affordable, it tastes great and is immediatel­y gratifying.

Part of the winning appeal of Lam’s mince and cheese pie was how it felt in the judges’ mouths. Creamy, they said. Hundreds flocked to the bakery to get that feel for themselves.

When it comes down to it, a kiwifruit, orange or stick of celery is never going to be able to compete with all a pie is offering. Nor can they beat a scoop of chips, a burger, a bowl of fried noodles or a bucket of fried chicken.

The only way healthy food will ever have the advantage is through a subsidy or a tax. Such a thing used to be the stuff of fantasy. But one of those is coming.

Once the playing field is levelled for sugar, fat will surely be next. The days of cheap pies are numbered.

A kiwifruit, orange or stick of celery is never going to be able to compete with all a pie is offering.

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