Olly cooks with Annabel Langbein

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Somethingyousaid.com’s Oliver Heath hangs with New Zealand food personality AnnabeI Langbein: 

As much as I occasionally enjoy a beer and burger, I’ve been a little bothered lately by how extreme popular eating habits are. No wonder obesity is on the rise. It’s either fried American-style barfood, or Veganism, with little in-between. Surely you don’t need to deep-fry something to nourish your soul? And the fuck you ‘can’t make friends with salad’! Salad is great. Mix it up, why not approach all foods as Sometimes Foods? Live a little. With so many people shifting between reactionary diet cycles, where’s a median? I got closer to an answer during this eating adventure.

I was invited to a “unique blogger experience” with New Zealand TV and print food personality AnnabeI Langbein (pictured, left). I feared it might be dull. I’m not the Country Living type, my idea of a cooking show is Bear Grylls or that Blackmetal Vegan dude. Hopefully though, I can pass as someone who thinks of spatchcock as the small hen – not the stripper move. I put on a tie and contemplated tucking my shirt in.

On my way, I wrote a message to our editor Bobby, asking if it was okay if wrote something negative, or something observational about the gluttonous foodie bloggers. He said, “write anything you like.” Now I want to punch you in your agreeable face Bobby.

Inside the house, AnnabeI’s husband asked me if Pinot was okay, and poured a glass. I chilled out. What was with all the negativity? Oh yeah, I’d been starving myself in preparation, and was so hangry I hated everything. Fortunately I was at the right place to fix this, and after the first piece of bruschetta my civilisation returned. I love you Bobby. I love you woman giving me food, and man pouring wine. My fears were misdirected, I thoroughly enjoyed the whole evening.

What I took away from the evening was a balanced omnivorous way to eat, with an emphasis on taking the time to enjoy life, while breaking bread with people you love. Annabel said, “It’s about connecting with people’s lives… about what you want the rhythm of your life to be. You have to take it back a bit.” Back to nature and taking time to enjoy simple things. Punctuating your life with quality time rather than a TV schedule.

We’re all somewhere between cannibals that would eat a person, and a vegans that wouldn’t eat honey out of consideration for the plight of the enslaved bees. The first is abhorrent; the latter often hypocritical: the bees enslaved to pollenate crops are okay, as are the humans enslaved to make the iPhones that they use to post pictures of their salads. While I’d probably eat a frozen corpse to survive a plane crash, I suspect that most food bloggers would eat longpig at a Tokyo rare meats degustation… providing it was grain fed. I honestly admire vegan convictions, but contrary to assertions of a return to ‘natural’, the growing popularity of Veganism is the most bourgeois diet imaginable, a modern invention. Like our hunter-gatherer ancestors, poor people eat whatever is in front of them whether it’s a handful of rice or a Big Mac; cheap available calories. Many of us who could do otherwise, do likewise just out of apathy. There has to be a more approachable path than these distant extremes.

annabel 1Degrees and measures. My mum was cooking kale for me after my sister came back from LA. I could tell she didn’t like it. It was barely warmed and had lemon on it. I quite liked it, but it was proper eating disorder fare. I asked her why she didn’t just blanch it properly and with a screwed up face she said that this was how it’s meant to be cooked. What’s wrong with a little pleasure on your plate? Misery will kill you faster than cooking the kale will. A vegan recently told me that cheese was addictive, with a devilish twinkle in my eye I said, “I know.” There’s a middle ground, a Joie de Vivre (who’s the bourgy dickhead now?). Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good. Have cheese as a Sometimes Food, you’re miles ahead of the people eating fast food and chugging soda, and you’re still smiling.

I was pleased to discover that Annabel was encouraging people into this more mindful middle ground. I think there’s a really life-positive message in her food. Her dedication to sharing her passion is inspirational; an upcoming show on cable, youtube videos and 21 books in 9 languages. With new media constantly chipping away at the old guard, there’s something very comforting about a cookbook. Even with the inevitability of digital readers in kitchens, I imagine that a really nice cook book will always be around. I liked her recent one so much that I gave a copy to my Aunt. My Aunt has been making a great effort to buy local and biodynamic produce for family meals so she’s definitely a kindred spirit. I was dumbfounded when I looked at the difference between good quality local garlic and the imported stuff. I think perhaps you could skip the vitamin regime if you just got better quality produce.

This much more approachable middleground would be what’s come to be awkwardly referred to a flexitarian: acknowledging that you are what you eat, increasing plant foods, and approaching less healthy foods with moderation. An omnivorous eating that focuses on seasonal foods, high quality produce, and whole foods is a great start. The biggest hurdle is the first effort to break the laziness cycle. Then it’s down to personal choice about how far you want your ethics to take you.

oliver heath


Words and pictures by Oliver Heath. For more of Olly’s stories, follow Something You Said on Facebook.