Sunday, March 3, 2024

TOWN TALK: The Sunday roast is a ritual of the past

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You could be forgiven for thinking millennials are to blame for the demise of the Sunday roast and that smashed avocado on toast has replaced a great family tradition.
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After all, at almost $5 each, a kilogram of avocados will set you back about the same amount as a leg of lamb. It’s the modern-day equivalent.

The time-honoured tradition of eating a weekly roast meal was alive in New Zealand until at least the 1980s when a cut of fatty lamb was cooked well-done till browned and blackened, accompanied by vegetables cooked in the meaty juices.

But then fat became the enemy and now we’re more aware of our health, our wallets and the environment and, if you’re like me, eating a leg of lamb each week is extravagant for all those reasons.

We’re not alone. A recent study found only one in five Brits regularly sits down to a roast each weekend, citing reasons such as not having time to cook such a meal.

So is the #FoodTrend generation in any way responsible for the demise of the Sunday roast?

Who better to ask than Beef + Lamb NZ’s chief executive Rod Slater, a former butcher who cut his teeth in the trade when poultry was scarce and chicken was served at Christmas.

He agrees social media has played a role in swaying consumers away from red meat – we’ve all read the health and lifestyle messages that lean towards eating plants and fewer animals.

For many the cost of meat is a factor. Most of NZ’s premium lamb is exported, which drives up the price we pay at the supermarket.

But there’s a wider story behind the end of the weekly roast.

“The issue really is the change in lifestyles and other proteins that have come on board over the years, even chicken, which has gone from being a luxury item to an everyday item,” Slater said.

Plus, the repertoire of food we can eat in any given week has expanded dramatically thanks to the many cultures represented in NZ, free trade and celebrity chefs.

Which brings us to the question of what the next #FoodTrend will be if the Sunday roast is gone and avocados continue to be priced like hot potatoes.

If most of us are following our doctor’s orders and eating red meat less frequently, perhaps we’ll buy the best we can afford and seek out quality.

The answer could lie in the creation of ultimate free-range meats – such as a lamb that is being hailed as the world’s best tasting lamb – the Wagyu of lamb, if you like.

We’re talking about Te Mana lamb – a new brand created by a group of farmers in the South Island’s hill country.

This brand has high polyunsaturated fats (the good kind that we need to eat) and omega-3 fatty acids (again, tick). This lamb is being sold into restaurants here and in Hong Kong.

The story of Te Mana lamb is one of accidental discovery. While breeding sheep to be healthier and better adapted to high country environments, its backers discovered sheep with a different type of fat, an intramuscular fat, higher in omega-3.

Te Mana lamb has emerged from a decade-long breeding programme and is part of the Omega Lamb Project – a partnership between leading food company Alliance, a group of progressive farmers and the Government.

This super-eating style of meat has created a stir in Auckland’s foodie scene, with some of the city’s top chefs adding it to their menus and talking to customers about where it comes from.

As for carving out a future for NZ meat, Slater said producers need to establish niche markets and deliver luxury products.

“The product has to taste good and the nicer it tastes the more of a treat it becomes. We’re not just eating to survive any longer, we’re eating for enjoyment and for social interaction.”

I’ll eat to that #FoodTrend.

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