Photo of some fries topped with parmesan wrapped in newspaper
Matthew Reyes/Unsplash
Opinion

Let them eat chips

If you wait long enough, everything you ever liked will be gentrified. Over the years I’ve watched the childhood meals I used to eat at the table with fork in one hand, book or magazine in the other, become trends for people with more money than sense. The gourmetification of burgers and hot dogs, traditionally unremarkable splodges of meat in limp, pallid bread buns; milkshakes suddenly morphing from watery, sickly sploshes in polystyrene cups into thick gloopy creams crammed with hunks of chocolate bar; Nigella Lawson elevating the humble microwave from non-U to U with an arch mispronunciation.

And now chips. Not that chips are new to such social zhuzhing; fish and chips has long been a target for sharp-eyed capitalists looking for an edge. This headline, from Reuters, however, takes chips to the next level. They’re not just comfort food, or a gentle toe-dip into working-class credentials, they’re a quick bump of private-jet coke in potato form:

Screenshot of a tweet from Reuters saying, '‘New York’s $200 French fries offer “escape from reality”'
‘New York’s $200 French fries offer “escape from reality”’ O-fucking-kay.

The story hanging off this weedy claim is that a restaurant in NYC called Serendipity 3 is following its ‘most expensive burger’ ($295) and record-breaking ice cream sundae ($1000) with officially the most expensive fries on earth, monikered ‘The Crème de la Crème Pomme Frites’ which to my jaded old eyes, reeks of something very common masquerading as the height of luxury. The report drills down into the cooking method in an effort to a) justify the price tag and b) somehow impress the reader that anyone can be bothered taking so fucking long to produce around seven chips, but it may not surprise you to learn that there’s champagne and actual gold involved. The really interesting part, though, is the restaurant owner’s assertion that people visit his eatery and drop a couple of thou on a Happy Meal reimagined by a peak-nosebag Halston so they can ‘celebrate, to really escape the reality of life sometimes’. I understand going all out when you want to celebrate – I once helped my boyfriend’s mother inflate 15 helium balloons for a christening in a church hall – and I will concede that buying $200 chips is an instant divorce from the plain the rest of us exist on. But I can’t stop wondering about the kind of reality people rich enough to eat these chips feel the need to escape from? How bad can it be? What are you blotting out – a lack of sleep from the noise of your butler counting your money, maybe?

It’s not enough for rich people that they have everything, we must pity them too.

This is something I’ve noticed for a long time, and I’m sure I’m not alone. It’s not enough for rich people that they have everything, we must pity them too. Consider the constant rhetoric from well-connected people that they had ‘so much more to prove’ because they had a famous surname or benefited from some other nepotism. Think of all those dramas about well-off people – there are loads – having some kind of crisis in a beautiful kitchen. They may have everything… but are they truly happy? Who gives a shit, frankly.

On a related theme, the trailer for The House of Gucci movie dropped last week. Starring Lady Gaga, Adam Driver, Jared Leto, and a host of other stars doing their best at managing an Italian accent, while it looks like glossy, campy fun, this story of greed, betrayal and murder looks set to glamourise the miseries of the rich even further. Why are we so keen to paint the super-wealthy as helpless victims of circumstance? Conspiracy theorists might assume that if we keep presenting rich people as damaged, fragile individuals, the rest of us will… simply stop wanting to become rich and leave all the money and power to them. We won’t envy them anymore, maybe, because of the increased likelihood of being assassinated by someone wearing just-darling leather gloves, with a gun secreted in a lavender suede pochette, instead of the usual ways life loves to screw us over.

‘Ooh, sure, you think you want to be rich but, no, listen, it’s actually so so hard, okay? People, like, stare at you for wearing nice clothes, and your Jag sometimes gets stuck in the traffic on Sloane Street, and jealous bullies are desperate to take it all from you.’
I’m not denying there is unhappiness to be found in wealth – witness the greed and corruption surrounding Britney Spears and her hard-earned fortune – but for many, it’s still better than the alternative.

‘Being rich sucks’ is a cliché peddled by moneyed and poor alike to make proles feel a little better about not growing up protected from life’s harsh realities by the blubber of generational wealth. The hoary old adage ‘Money can’t buy you happiness’ is a punchline that never quite lands, risible and pathetic but dressed up as deep and meaningful – superficial to a level that would make even a fridge magnet blush. Of course you cannot buy happiness off the peg, it’s something gained through other actions – but often these actions include having sufficient funds to do what makes you happy, be it something as simple as knowing you can stop at the coffee cart on your way to the station and get a latte, or splurging on something designed by eternally sad Gucci zillionaires.

Money cannot buy happiness, no, but the having of it literally magics away a host of other problems that a lack of it creates. You have one less HUGE problem. The potential removal of the worry of not having enough money to survive, or do one little nice thing for yourself, feels, ironically, priceless. What might it be like to be free, to create, to relax, and just be, without wondering when the wolves will next be snarling at your doorbell? Imagine the things you could try out, the time you could take, if you had a safety net? How many potential high achievers from poorer backgrounds have wasted hours and valuable brain space fretting about bills that need paying, debts accruing, and chances that will never be offered because of where they were born and who they don’t know. So many ambitions thwarted by a lack of financial stability. If rich people genuinely want us to believe money only makes you miserable, why buy such nice things? Why flaunt this curse of a bank account with the zeroes in all the right places? They clearly know the gratification that can come from luxury. ‘None of this matters,’ they trill, reeking of a bespoke fragrance that cost more than a Mini Cooper. ‘Material things aren’t important; we should get back to basics.’ While it’s true there’s a lot to be said for simple pleasures, they lose their lustre when they’re the only option.

The thrill of luxury comes from knowing it’s not available to everyone; perhaps if you consume such extravagances every day you become dulled to this thrill.

In 2019, I did an event with literature students at a leading university renowned for being a popular place for well-connected people to study, and during the Q&A one student asked what had been the biggest obstacle to my career, if anything had held me back, what was the biggest problem I’d encountered. I think he was expecting me to say something about writers’ block, or discipline, or some minor creative quibble, but I answered, very honestly, money. People actually gasped. They were shocked. An author, worrying about money? How odd. Surely… now, I don’t know what their thought processes were because I wasn’t inside their heads, but I think they’d been around the block enough to know that unless you are selling a lot of books, you’re very unlikely to make that much money being an author. Six-figure advances are rather rare. It occurred to me that they assumed most writers who have time to write a novel already have some money stashed away somewhere or a source of ‘private income’. There are inheritances looming, or grace-and-favour apartments, or a partner who brings in enough cash for the both of you. But it’s not like that for everyone. I can honestly say that the fear of not being able to pay bills and finding myself out on the street has likely scarred me for ever, it has drained my creativity and, at times, left me exhausted. I don’t do too badly now, tbh. There are dry spells and lush ones. Work comes in, I can pay my bills. I monetise my talent because it’s all I have – nobody is waiting in the wings to die and make me rich; I don’t own my own home; I don’t have any provision for when I’m older. Like millions of other people, of course; I’m not special in this regard. I’m cautious, but I splurge too. I always ask for vouchers for birthdays and Christmas and save them up to buy an incredibly expensive fragrance once a year. I’m always thinking like a poor person, I don’t think that ever leaves you, but it also drives me to moments of madness sometimes, managing my money badly because I start to think, well why shouldn’t I have this nice thing, what am I saving for? Every day is a rainy sodding day. Splurging on overpriced crap isn’t just for the rich; I’m sure there are plenty poorer than me who would happily blow money on those gold-laced $200 fries, not even because they wanted them, but because the having of them makes them feel that anything really is possible, or maybe they want to test out this theory that money can’t bring happiness. I’m willing to bet that with a plate of stodgy, truffle-heavy fries nestling inside your stomach, you’re inclined to agree that being rich isn’t all that – but that’s because you’d have to get the bus home, and peg the washing out; there is no car outside waiting to take you back to one of your apartments.

The thrill of luxury comes from knowing it’s not available to everyone; perhaps if you consume such extravagances every day you become dulled to this thrill. Maybe this is why billionaires are turning to space to get them hard. Sad story, but I’m afraid I can’t cry too many tears for people who need to spend $200 on a plate of fungus-garnished chips just to feel something. A lifetime spent walking on the deep-pile carpets and opening wardrobes filled with clothes laundered and ironed by invisible elves isn’t all it’s cracked up to be? I’m devastated. For far too many ‘meritocracy’ is merely the answer to 7 Across in the crossword of the paper their daddy works for.

If money can’t buy you happiness, or if elevated influence and status dopes’t satisfy, you’re not trying hard enough. Hate having money? At least do the decent thing and sit in the back of your limo and cocaine it all away in private.

Main image by matthew reyes on Unsplash – cropped from original

Further reading

This piece was originally sent out to subscribers of my newsletter The truth about everything* If you want to get this kind of stuff earlier, with more typos, sign up here.

A writer I greatly admire, Otegha Uwagba, has released a new book called We Need To Talk About Money and while I am dying to read it, I’m actually very nervous about starting it, because I feel there will be some uncomfortable, yet relatable, truths in it – especially about my splurges.

I wrote about the devastation of your favourite products being discontinued and how the things we buy habitually are linked to our identity. Discontinued: The products we loved and lost

I don’t think it’s a spoiler to say that my third novel THE FAKE-UP talks about nepotism and money, so look out for that one.

And if you want to support my work and get me closer to feeling sad in a Gucci turtleneck, you can either buy a book or leave me a one-off tip on Ko-fi, for waaaaaaay cheaper than those awful rich-person fries. I appreciate it. Cheers. ❤️

1 Comment

  1. Rich is anyone who has more than you. Waste of space is anyone who flaunts it.
    When you’ve always had to watch the pennies (Don’t get me wrong, I’ve never actually been totally broke.) you learn how to make things stretch, and how not to spend $200 on a plate of anything. My current hate is the holier-than-thou “I don’t waste stuff” culture as demonstrated in that “I’ve turned nothing into something” advert. Well, good for you. Some of us have always had to live that way. We’ve always had to look in the fridge and get creative with half a bell pepper, some pickled onions, and the tail end of a jar of mayo because it’s two days till pay day and we can’t afford to nip out to the shops. And it’s a far cheaper brand of mayo than the advert!
    Sorry. Rant over.

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