There was a point there, back in the doldrums of the recession, where a few of my friends were giving College another bash. I was too, having put an end to my “gap year” after the fifth summer. I was doing Animation out in IADT Dun Laoghaire and was bringing my own struggles with me to that. My friends were in Trinity and I’d meet up with them when I got into town. We didn’t have enough money to do anything but hangout and, if we could, get a chicken fillet roll. The magic number was two quid. There was the main Centra on Dame Street that was leading the charge. It must have been a loss leader because the Londis and Spars could never match that price, besting only €2.50, and usually with caveats like only tomato and lettuce. And Centras further out of the city centre were never €2. But in their two shops, Dame Street and Temple Bar, you buy a roll with plain or spicy chicken and any two salad toppings and that was including cheese. Maybe they made the money back hoping you’d buy a drink, crisps or a bar. But me and my mates could only ever make the two quid and that was enough. The two euro roll was there for many days when we would have gone without. I used to always think “why’d you get anything else?” After a while the city got back into an upswing and the prices went up. Me and my friends had long since dropped out of college at that stage as the delis were rejigged to be more artisan and other fad food chains popped up as we gentrified. It seems like the best deal in town is no longer the best deal in town. They have convinced us to buy something else. Or we have convinced ourselves to buy something else.
Take the Burrito that spread like a rash through out the city. It was the same demographic, students and young city workers, that wanted something for lunch that they could take, walk or sit in the park and could eat quickly and fill them with enough variety. But a burrito goes for around €6.50 to €8.50 plus. Now you’d need the guts of a tenner instead of a two euro coin. And what your getting for that is a tortilla, rice and beans, which are all very cheap. You also get your chosen meat, which could be the cheap offcuts that have been stewing in a hotplate all day. And then what we get excited about when ordering is the hot sauce and salsa. And that’s only a few drops or a spoonful. I’m not saying it doesn’t taste nice but it should it cost that much? Burritos are traditionally peasant food. What we’re paying so much for is down to having to supplement the branding, the advertising, the increasing rent. And no longer are competing stores trying to undercut each other for the best deal. It’s about the “experience” now. How authentically we must feel sitting in these dark wooden alcoves with the Mariachi music playing on the PA. And it’s no longer about getting the deal out to the most people and having a neverending queue out the door. Don’t advertise big, advertise smart. Engineer social media campaigns and strategic advertising to the right clients. The yuppiess and city trendies. Those who think it’s a good deal. Those who feel like they’re slumming it. Those that will believe what they’re told. The internet is flooded with natter of the best burrito, lists out of ten different restaurants, clickbait hot takes and other forms of native advertising. To get us all thinking that “this is what we’re thinking”. And a lot of people want to have an opinion if they think everyone else is having an opinion. And soon we’re eating expensive burritos and having little debates about the taste of beans, rice and stringy warm beef.
The other thing that’s happened is that as the economy, allegedly, picked up and there was a bit more money in the pot we graduated ourselves. I used to think that “why’d anyone eat anything else than a €2 Chicken Roll?” and that if I had six quid in my pocket then couldn’t I have a Chicken roll 3 days in a row. Or even 2 now if I was really hungry. And that’d still leave money in my pocket. But we don’t do that. If we have extra money we progress ourselves to the next tier of consumption. They’re not set in stone and the categorisation is under ongoing analysis. Roughly say you might graduate from Aldi/ Lidl to Dunnes Stores, then to M&S. Or you might drink whatever is cheapest, the Spar brand American Cola, and it’s fine cause it’s something to drink and your main impulse at that time is thirst. For less than a euro you can quench that and get a sugar hit. But then say you get a job or run into a bit of luck, you don’t buy the American Cola and pocket the difference and put that towards something better. You tell yourself that you deserve the “named” brand. The famous Coke-a-Cola. It’s twice the price but it fits in better with what the world is like. The signs, the ads, the jingles, the cups at the cinema, what you mix your rum with, what others are drinking. It’s coke, the original and the genuine. The life story you’re living and writing day to day is starting to look more legit, more like everyone else’s. It’s a step forward,and you can pretend you’ve always been standing there. The American Cola is yuk, mank, rotten. You can rile yourself up with how much you hate it. It’s a plagiarism and a fake. Fuck that. You’re better than the imitation and you deserve better, anything else is an insult. But the tier goes up again. There’s the drinks that break €2.50, these fancier drinks with their real exotic fruits and health benefits. Because now that you’re making real money you need to be giving yourself what’s best for you. Coke is sugary trash. It’s bad for you. You need to look after yourself because you’ve got a reason to live longer: money. Others will lie on the sofa and drink coke and let their bones and teeth rot away. Wasters. You’re out looking after body and mind. Being the best. And it goes up. There’s no upper limit to the price of something. All you have to do is tart it up and give enough reasoning and if it sells than you’re right. If you charge a fiver for iced tea and people buy it than you picked the right price. Only then the thought willl creep in to the seller’s mind that maybe they’d have paid six euro. The seller won’t be happy with a sale. They’ll be cursing themselves for the money they could have made. And they get into an arms race, chancing your arm and with picking the right marks. And work has been tough, you might as well enjoy spending. And, as opposed to the best deal which can only go so low, there’s always something better to buy. You can be better from buying better.
Perhaps there still is something out there like the €2 chicken roll that the young kids are eating and filling themselves up and enjoying with a cheap off brand coke. And then getting back to kicking about with fuckall else to do but plod the streets and make each other laugh. Perhaps it’s just an unprofitable passage that isn’t worth the sellers time now that they’re all focusing on rinsing the gentrified. I’m at a stage now where I’m unfamiliar with town that I feel so bombarded in the vast delis now that I get flummoxed into over paying because I can’t brave the embarrassment of asking for the prices of things.
And isn’t that the perfect state they want us in.
Mark Baldwin 2018