For almost half of the twentieth century, train passengers travelling into Sydney from the western suburbs and beyond could observe a large sign, painted in drop-shadow lettering, on the vast blank brick wall of an industrial building facing the tracks between Redfern and Central. It carried the message: TEAGUE’S HAMBURGER ROLLS – WHAT YOU EAT TODAY, WALKS AND TALKS TOMORROW.
Adam Smith’s economics foresaw that capital would seek new ways to save us kitchen time, to brighten the dinner table and to stop us for a roadside snack, but each time an investment saved a minute here, lifted a moment there, filled a gap in the market, it separated eaters further from the source of food. The ‘middleman’ slandered agrarian values, insulated us from the seasons, took away the diversity of distance, compromised quality for price, and then distracted us from the deterioration with the baits of cheapness, convenience and gourmet entertaining.
That statement on page 229 more or less summarises Michael Symons’s book and indicates several of its basic muddles. Yet in many ways it is an invaluable pioneering history and, if it often exasperates, it at least leads the reader to some stimulating and constructive fury, in a very enjoyable way.