If you ask Irish people when they think consumerism was most out of control they will generally refer to the Celtic Tiger years of the early noughties, peaking in the property bubble of 2007 and the subsequent crash.
For me that was simply a repeat of the 1980’s. My symbols of peak consumerism are Nouvelle Cuisine and Beaujolais Nouveau.
Nouvelle Cuisine was developed in France in the post war years in response to shortages of certain ingredients, but also in a quest for lighter, fresher and more elegantly presented food. Nouvelle Cuisine attained its height of ridiculousness in the 1980’s when it reached the executive dining rooms of major corporations. C-suite executives of the day were comparing heart bypass operations and it was clear that the culture of steaks, chips and pints after work was unsustainable.
Enter the Nouvelle Cuisine extreme version: a fantastically expensive plate of up to a dozen ingredients presented like a work of art, but gone in two bites.
Then, to go one further, we had the excesses of the Beaujolais Nouveau races. Beaujolais Nouveau is a fresh wine, something to be consumed in the year it is made. One wine critic described it as something unfinished, decadent and a bit naughty, like eating cookie dough.
It is a red wine served fresh and chilled slightly. It is the perfect foil to nouvelle cuisine, new wine for new money. Each year the producers set a day to release the wine, in November, and the races begin. At the peak you would see helicopters delivering wine to restaurants in London, Concorde jetting it across the Atlantic to New York, and a plethora of sports cars and private aircraft bringing caches to clubs all over Ireland and the UK.
Beujolais Nouveau was, and remains, an excuse to flash the cash for a fleeting fad. Good wines cost hundreds of Euro because time is money and time in the bottle is required to ripen a claret or a port. Beaujolais Nouveau costs hundreds because … loadsa money! If you have it flash it. Loadsamoney became a stock comedy character in the Harry Enfield show in the 1980s. A barrow-boy become stock trader with no class but lots of cash.
In November 1984 nine Irish men died in the Beaujolais Crash in Eastbourne en-route to France to collect their stash. On board were four journalists, a wine merchant, a restaurant owner, hotel owner, hotel manager and the pilot. For me that was the day when consumerism went out of control.