The reason you can’t afford to buy a house is because you eat out too often.
Bernard Salt – a Baby Boomer and columnist for News Corp – delivered this thought in a column over the weekend for The Australian. After reeling off a long list of grievances against “hipster cafes” (milk crate seating, overly loud music and menus printed in the smallest font possible …), he arrives at this:
“It gets worse. I have seen young people order smashed avocado with crumbled feta on five-grain toasted bread at $22 a pop and more. I can afford to eat this for lunch because I am middle-aged and have raised my family. But how can young people afford to eat like this? Shouldn't they be economising by eating at home? How often are they eating out? Twenty-two dollars several times a week could go towards a deposit on a house.”
Predictably, this tiny paragraph sent the internet into a meltdown; to the point where you wonder if the whole article wasn’t actually a masterful exercise in trolling. Twitter exploded (the results of which were collated nicely by Buzzfeed). The Guardian has also responded.
More commentary will follow. And like the stories above, each successive article will seize gleefully on Salt’s poor grasp of maths. That being: $22 “several times a week” (let’s say three) equals $3,432 a year. And given that the median house prices in Sydney and Melbourne are $1 million and $725,000, respectively, giving up your beloved smashed avocado for an entire decade would get you no closer to owning a house.
Who pays $22 for smashed avocado, anyway? At Melbourne’s Higher Ground (not exactly a place that skimps on quality), avocado with citrus salt on sourdough will set you back $14.50. At Sydney favourite The Grounds of Alexandria, $12 will net you an Avocado Box containing sheep’s curd, caramelised pumpkin, heirloom tomatoes, nuts and seeds. Even adding a side of bacon and eggs won’t get you to $22.
All that is beside the point.
What Salt was really getting at was that millennials are frivolous spenders and houses would be more attainable without the drain of endless eating out, semi-regular trips to Europe, music festivals and so on. In other words, all the things that make life worth living as an 18-to-35-year-old.
So how on earth did a pile of mushy green fruit on toast become the mascot for all this?
Simple. It’s available everywhere; people under 30 seem to revere it, and people over 50 seem baffled by it. But most importantly, it’s easy to make at home. This makes smashed avocado seem like a luxury, similar to outsourcing your ironing or hiring a cleaner.
Of course, it is a luxury. We live in one of the wealthiest countries in the world and, on average, eat out as much as anyone. But where Salt gets it so, so wrong is assuming that millenials eat out because they’re too lazy to cook.
More than anywhere else, cafes have become the primary space for millennials to catch up with their mates, who are invariably spread geographically wide – unlike their parents, who grew up in more parochial cities.
Cafes are an escape from tiny rental apartments with galley kitchens and no dining table, or from cramped sharehouses . And forget about the family home. There are few 20-somethings in Australia who’ll sit in their parents’ kitchen discussing their Tinder adventures with friends over smashed avocado, no matter how easy it might be to prepare.
And those nasty milk-crate seats? In the beginning, before they became an aesthetic choice, young cafe owners used them because they couldn’t afford real chairs. Ditto for the mismatched vintage look. It was only later that cheap became synonymous with cool.
Of course, none of this was an issue in the 1970s, when degrees were free and universities held jobs fairs where employers set up stalls to try to compete for new graduates. And those newly employed graduates could then, if they chose, use their first pay cheques on a house deposit.
In the mid-70s, the average house price was around four times the average annual salary. In the past 40 years, it has doubled, with the average house price now around eight times the average salary. But the problem, clearly, is breakfast.