Luxury Food is a Scam


Every year, the Vancouver Rowing Club hosts an event they call Champagne & Caviar. It’s NOT really Champagne and caviar. We’ve gone a couple of times now, and it’s basically all-you-can-drink prosecco, other miscellaneous sparkling wines, and a lot of tobiko. Technically speaking, there’s no actual sturgeon caviar, and only about 10% real Champagne. However, with tickets priced at a very reasonable <$30, NO ONE CARES. Why? Everyone there knows it’s “close enough” and just as good! There’s no need to pay more! Let me explain.

Marketers are mostly responsible for why common things cost so much. They’re why industrial diamonds are cheap (and are literally known as bort), but an engagement ring can be $36,537. They’re why a fancy lobster dinner can cost $60 or more, even though lobsters used to be prison food. They’re why a Rolex can be $31,625 when there’s literally no reason for anyone to wear watches anymore. It turns out people like Veblen goods, and like to pay more to feel rich! It’s the most glorious scam ever orchestrated in the name of capitalism, and it’s working! Luckily, we see it for what it is. Usually.

Well, as someone who fell for luxury goods and luxury foods for years, I believe we should savour the cheap shit. I have yet to taste a $500 Champagne that gave me more satisfaction than 25 bottles of decent $20 cava. Yet, to the average consumer, everyone claims to love Champagne, all without even knowing why, how it’s made, its history, or even where it comes from! I think that’s fucking insane. I mean, doesn’t that sound a bit like pursuing someone else’s idea of value, and not our own?

Admittedly, I fell for this again just a few nights ago. Being a food nerd, I was excited to visit a restaurant that served jamón ibérico de belotta because I’d never had it before. On paper, it sounded amazing. Iberian ham from free-range pigs fattened on acorns, roaming dehesas their whole lives… I don’t know how, but they somehow made ham — the most common thing ever — into something almost romantic. I fell for it hard. As I watched them carve 60g off a jamonera centerpiece, I couldn’t wait for these wafer-thin slices of top-shelf charcuterie to blow my mind. Surely, this would make run-of-the-mill prosciutto seem like Purina! Schinkenspeck might as well be Spam! I chuckled at my culinary superiority, lifted the first slice to my mouth, and took a bite. Any second now, this would be the best thing I’d ever eaten… Yep, any second now… I swallowed. Huh. Um.

That was it?

This happens all the time. I touched on this in “Bitching and Wining”, but there’s so little difference between cheap food and expensive food, there’s really no reason to EVER pay more than $20 for a meal. Wanna try sturgeon caviar? Not for $125/10g, you don’t. Try ikura for $20/113g. I think I actually prefer it. Truffles for $275/oz? Literally everyone I know prefers fake-as-fuck truffle oil. I’ve never understood the appeal of real truffles. Every time I’ve had them, they’ve either overpowered my food or added a dirt-like component. Maybe rare cognac is your thing. Louis XIII cognac is $3,300/bottle. As someone who’s had it twice, meh. It’s not even that rare. Right now, in the Richmond suburbs I live in, I know of at least two bottles within walking distance. You’re paying to seem rich! It’s all just marketing!

I’ve had “the good stuff”. It’s a rip-off. It’s one of the reasons I’m in debt. Expensive food only tastes better because we take the time to taste it. I’m not saying you should live off 7-Eleven beef teriyaki anytime soon, but I’ll leave you with this: For some reason, 7-Eleven beef teriyaki was a better food experience to me than dining at Lasserre.

It turns out once you see through all the bullshit, food is food. No matter how rich you get – as Bill Gates once said – “it’s the same hamburger”. I’d rather pay $5 for it instead of $500.

Let us know what you think in the comments.

Bitching and Wining


I used to spend thousands on fine wine. My photography was going great so I was bringing in lots, but I somehow got it into my head I wanted to be a sommelier as well. Long story short: Goodbye, money! I can’t even say it was worth it.

Before I even had a clue what I was doing, I was adding to my microcellar. I own a small wine fridge perfectly calibrated for cellar aging, and it currently holds mid-range Bordeaux. Highlights include a 2005 Château Montrose and a 2011 Château Palmer. I know what I’m doing now, but I bought my first $100+ bottle when I was only 20. I HAD NO IDEA WHAT I WAS DOING. I was a “label drinker”. To this day, I sometimes still am. In fact, I’d say 99% of wine drinkers are. It’s damn near impossible to have such a vast working knowledge of wine that you know exactly what you’re buying each time. For me though, that’s the fun.

I actually went to school for this. I hold ISG Level 1 and WSET Level 1, and I hope to achieve WSET Level 3 and French Wine Scholar someday. I’ve also done some pretty extensive tasting outside my courses, and know enough random crap to talk a big game. I can get seriously revved up about Loire Valley whites, and I’m also pretty passionate about my hatred of BC Cab/Merlot. I’m an intermediate wine drinker now, and if I can offer only one piece of advice to a novice wine drinker, it’s this: UNLESS YOU HAVE WINE EDUCATION, DO *NOT* SPEND MONEY ON HIGH-END WINE.

I’ve bought a lot of high-end bottles in my life. Most of them were old and improperly stored. My $250 bottle of 1979 Spring Mountain? I bought that from a very reputable store, but either its extreme age or improper cellaring made it flat and lifeless. I once cracked a 1983 Recioto at a dinner party. Same thing. My $150 glass of 1962 Amarone back in January was overwhelmingly meh as well. Hell, I’d take a 2014 Nota Bene any day. It’s not even the fault of the winemakers! When an ancient bottle isn’t in the possession of someone who knows how to take care of it, THE WINE BASICALLY DIES. Also, virtually no one takes care of wine properly. Try keeping a bottle at 55° F for 10+ years with no fluctuations. Then, consider humidity, vibration, light, and security. If a reputable liquor store can’t handle it consistently, HOW CAN YOU WITHOUT A MAJOR INVESTMENT?!?

Then, there’s the argument that most people can’t tell what they’re drinking anyway. I could pour Barefoot into an empty bottle of Osoyoos Larose and most of my friends wouldn’t notice a difference. Remember my rant about Veblen goods? Nowhere is that more apparent than in the wine world! Half the time, you’re buying the label! How good the wine is is subjective, and it’s a waste to pay extra HUNDREDS for a slightly different flavour profile!

The best wine I’ve ever had was memorable because of other things going on. I once cracked a top-notch bottle of 1999 Barolo at my grandfather’s 80th birthday. I remember savouring that bottle for hours. My roommate and I opened an Amarone at his 23rd, and I remember that clearly because the wine was just awesome enough to blow his mind. Wine only serves to complement an experience. You all remember that scene in Sideways when Miles drinks his 1961 Cheval Blanc alone, right? Without a great experience to add to, a great wine became forgettable! It’s like putting gold leaf on a turd. Not worth it!

If you’ve ever been tempted by high-end wine, there are better things to spend your money on. 100% of the time, I could’ve found an objectively better “cheap” wine if I’d just put in the effort to look. All it takes is doing some research and picking the best bottle of $20 Rioja or Argentinian Malbec you can find. Trust me, you wouldn’t notice a difference. That’s for wine scholars to agonize over. YOU can take the extra $100 you WOULD’VE spent and either up your meal’s food game, or put it to good use via snowflaking or investing. MOST OF YOU HAVE NO BUSINESS BUYING HIGH-END WINE.

I drank out of a free 3L box of Pinot Gris in a parking lot this week. Still more memorable than that 1979 Spring Mountain. For now, I’m saving my money and making no more purchases for the microcellar. Hell, I’m even thinking about selling off my bottles. Seriously, the fact I used to drink and collect rare wine shouldn’t impress you, but disgust you. I was a sucker, and I paid lots for the privilege. I’ve had positive high-end wine experiences TWICE in my life, and I study it.

Stick to $20 bottles when you’re feeling fancy. The high-end wine world is just rich people patting themselves on the back and paying for labels. Think of it as Asshole Tax. I paid it because I was an Asshole.

Sorry, winemakers. Am I wrong though?

Veblen Goods and Conspicuous Consumption


In 1899, an American economist named Thorstein Veblen wrote a book called “The Theory of the Leisure Class”. In it, he describes the phenomenon of Conspicuous Consumption, and explains how trying to earn social status through material goods can make for poor buying decisions. This idea became so prominent that modern economists now refer to luxury items as Veblen goods. Basically, Veblen goods are average items marketed at a high price point to prey on The Rich, and The Rich fall for it every damn time. Demand actually increases as the price increases. Examples include Hermes handbags, any Rolls Royce vehicle, and artwork by Christopher Wool. Seriously, have you seen that guy’s “art”? It makes me angry every time (so I guess he must be doing SOMETHING right).

Now that you know this, you can probably sell your Rolex and start ignoring Michelin stars. The entire luxury goods market is aimed at insecure people who have money, but little faith in their social status. They need to SHOW they have money. Think of it as a tax they pay to impress people. What really boggles my mind is there’s zero financial gain from having luxury goods. I suppose you could theoretically say driving a Maserati Quattroporte when you’re a real estate agent could help land higher-level sales, but by then, YOU’VE ALREADY SPENT $115,825. For the other 99.9% of us, expensive cars are bullshit when you can get from A to B in a decent $4,500 commuter car. You’ll rarely hit 100 MPH on city roads anyway, and if you do, enjoy your traffic tickets. I say it’s lose-lose. Had you invested your $115,825 at 35 and let it sit until 65 at 5%, you’d have HALF A MILLION. One shitty luxury decision can ruin your retirement.

So am I saying you should have ZERO luxury goods? No, not exactly. I’m just saying you should look at a product’s practicality before its brand name. Don’t spend $1,200 on a handbag that does the same job as a 0.1¢ plastic bag. Don’t buy a 1961 Cheval Blanc just because you saw it in a movie when you like Barefoot. Don’t spend $500 at a ritzy restaurant and walk away hungry. There’s spending on things that are worth it, and then there are Veblen goods. I actually smirk a bit when I see people showing off their expensive cars now. In many cases, I know they’re financing them, and I can’t help but picture them stuck in traffic behind a Smart car while cyclists blissfully pass them in the bike lane. Everyone these days seems to own a luxury car, but how many can escape 40 hours a week making someone else rich?

Once you pay that much money for something, you also start to lose leverage when you’re dissatisfied. I dined at a two-Michelin-star restaurant in Paris once, and dropped $600+ for the privilege. My fish was unevenly cooked, my sommelier was oddly passive-aggressive, and they deliberately seated me in a corner away from their more opulent clientele. I could’ve complained, but what’s the point? I’m sure their staff regarded me as a commoner anyway, looking to milk an upper class establishment for all they were worth. It’s a different kind of club up there, and it’s not worth trying to get in. I’m still not sure why I tried.

Finally, Veblen goods are particularly dangerous to the faux riche, and I willingly admit I fall into that category. At my current level of Debt, I shouldn’t be buying ANYTHING except basics, but here we are. I have an Apple computer, bottles of $400 Bordeaux in my cellar, and enough PlayStations to run an arcade. That’s why, right now, I pledge to spend only $100/month on material goods. I’ll roll that limit forward if I have any left over, but that means only blowing $600 on material goods between now and Christmas. Bug me and make sure I post updates. With some luck, maybe I can be Rich for real.