2023 Killed The Cheap Food Era, May She Rest In Peace
Words: Shamim de Brún
Words: Shamim de Brún
Ladies, gentlemen, and fellow aficionados of gastronomic frugality, we are gathered here today to mourn the passing of the era of cheap food. It was the briefest of times, but it was a privilege to have known them.
If there is one thing that capitalism lives on, it is that when prices go up, they rarely, if ever, come down. With that in mind, I would like to say goodbye to the best era that ever existed. Born some time in the post-WW2 globalised world, the Cheap Food Era brought with it the kind of deals now wistfully looked upon as almost magical. This was the age of cigarettes for under a tenner. When you could get a round in without going broke, and you could get a taxi home without taking out a loan. These were the good old days of not even ten years ago.
Today, we bid a fond farewell to the Cheap Food Era, that glorious age when the term “value” was an accurate descriptor and not just a vague and bandied buzzword used to sell too-expensive chicken fillet roll meals. We all feel ripped off all the time everywhere now.
The deli sausage roll hit €2 this year, and the pint hit a tenner. The tiny breakfast at Bewley’s, where once a fiver, is now more than a tenner without a cuppa. Everywhere you look, there are next-level price increases that do not align with the current rate of inflation. The five-euro soup is dead and gone, with O’Leary in the grave. This year people were paying €12 for porridge, traditionally the cheapest food on the land. It’s what they fed the orphans in Olive Twist.
As we stand on the cusp of a more expensive future, we can’t help but reflect on the golden age of affordable indulgence that was ours only for a moment. There was a time when you could split a naggin for a fiver. Ah, the memories! A time when the question was not “Can I afford to eat out?” but rather “How much can I cram into my backpack for a fiver?” There was an age where even Dalkey-ites would laugh at a €20 burger. These days, it’s almost the norm.
Let’s take a moment to remember the unsung heroes of the Cheap Food Era – the deli workers who, armed with those weird mayo-spreading knives and unwavering commitment, kept the flame of affordability burning bright when you could get lunch for €2. Their mastery of the art of the deli was nothing short of Harry Potter level wizardry. The alchemy of transforming questionable meat by-products into nuggets of gold deserves a place in the hallowed halls of common man history.
Who can forget gazing at the dazzling array of options in the chipper, each more budget-friendly and guilt-inducing than the last? The snack box that gave you a change of a fiver. Or the fish and chips that could be yours for a tenner. Never forget that you could get a box of wings from any deli for €2. These were not just meals; they were symbols of an era where the people could afford to eat without having to do Girl Math to justify it.
As we brace ourselves for the uptick in child food poverty, the inevitable increase in shoplifting (or “borrowing” as is the new phrase for it on TikTok), a barrage of ‘How much is too much’, ‘Rip off Republic’ tweets, think pieces and chats with our mates; at least we will have the memories of a pint, a toastie and package a crips not breaking our actual banks.
The demise of the Cheap Food Era was inevitable in a world where the never-ending profitability of multinational conglomerates is viewed as essential as WiFi passwords. But that doesn’t mean we will let it quietly into that good night. Oh no. We shall be waxing lyrical about the chronic unfairness of the price of a burger till we are blue in the face.
As we tighten our belts and pull ourselves up by the bootstraps again, we remember an age where you could get a bag of chips for €2, a pint for less than a fiver, hell, even a cocktail for a tenner. We will look back fondly at a time when butter and milk were seen as essentials not priced out of the common man’s grocery budget.
Never again will we be able to feed a family of four on €50 for a week. Students will no longer be able to flail their way through their degrees, hoping from student deal to student deal now that those self-same deals are almost double what they were at their peak. Triple, in the case of the deli counter, now marketing a €2 jambon as ‘value’. The word has lost all meaning.
As we bid adieu to the glory days of cheap eats, let us not forget the lessons we’ve learned. Moderation may be the new mantra, and a tenner may be the new fiver. Crouching tiger hidden naggin might be the new king, but the memories of those legit cheap eats will never fade. The euphoria of finding loose change for a quick snack will forever be etched in our souls.
So, here’s to the cheap food era, the unsung hero of the working class, late-night cravings, and those who dared to dream of a world where flavour and frugality coexisted in perfect harmony. May you rest in peace, wrapped in the foil of nostalgia, forever immortalised in the annals of snack history.