The Gallivanting Gourmand
Greg Duncan
Greg Duncan
is a freelance writer based in the Montreal region. He is particularly keen about good food. In his day job, Greg is the executive director of the Quebec Community Newspapers Association.

His previous columns are archived HERE.

Posted 04.04.08


Our Gallivanting Gourmand returns from Down There, tanned and plump as a beer butt chicken

Perhaps you have heard. There is a national mortgage meltdown in the good old US of A and the economy is in a slump. My recent snowbird jaunt to southwest Florida revealed a number of curiosities that come along with any good old-fashioned recession.

While it is painfully true that economic slowdowns can have a devastating effect on cash flow, apparently there is an upside. Or a fat side more appropriately. Wallets may be getting thinner south of here but waistlines are definitely are not.

Desperate retailers in the US are scrambling to entice any and all available customers who just may have a few bucks left, and will do anything to get them to buy with over the top offers. Be it a car or a meal, a customer has more choices for discounted goods than ever before and while it may be very difficult to find a lender for a house purchase, if you have cash you are king or queen.

The sub prime crisis has had little visible effect on your ability to drive a behemoth SUV or a luxury car. While I heard lots of grumbling about the rising price of gas, you does not see many eco friendly or economy vehicles on Florida's sun-scorched roads and I found out why when I browsed the lot of a luxury car dealership when they were closed. This is the best way to avoid over zealous sales people don't you know.

Prices for almost new Hummers, Jaguars, BMWs, Mercedes, and Cadillac (all V8s, of course) were so low that I reeled in disbelief. I too could drive a Jaguar in Florida for the same monthly payment I make on my recent Hyundai Sonata. The car of choice in Florida for 7-11 employees seems to be a new Mustang, if I have this right.

Meanwhile, you can drive these bling-things all over to feast on cheap eats. you see high-end cars at the drive-through everywhere, prompting me to wonder what all the fuss was about. Believe me, I found out.

Heck, in Florida they are almost giving away fast food, I kid you not. In fact, if you are a resident, the US postal service delivers an appetizing array of culinary offers each morning, thereby eliminating the need to cook real food.

During my stay at Orange Acres I hurried to the mail each humid and dewy morn just to see what crap I might get to eat for free that day. When the flag on the post box is up it means a coupon for a free sandwich has arrived.

If you don't believe me just ask any respectable trailer park senior living on fixed income about the excitement this can generate. Not too many complaints about mail delivery in Sarasota, no sireee.

Despite my recent commitment to weight loss and healthy foods, I could not resist free Chick fil-A sandwiches (best fast food chicken sandwich -- bar none) and I crumbled at daily offers for a choice of seventeen sandwiches for under a buck at Checkers.

My order of a double crispy fish sandwich, a chili cheeseburger, seasoned fries, a big chili dog and a bucket--sized strawberry shake was some good for the measly four green bucks I forked over, you bet. I would make daily trips to the giant grocery stores just to wander the aisles asking the perpetual question of why we can't get spray cheese in a can up in Canada, and wondering how they can offer maple syrup from Quebec at cheaper than Quebec prices.

My daily forays also taught me that one might consume all manner of freebie treats at grocery stores too. Namely at Publix, which is perhaps Florida's best-known mammoth food purveyor.

I enjoyed a green chili and chicken tortilla soup and a piece of cake one day and each subsequent visit revealed more prepared foods for free. This provided an altogether salivatory form of amusement, and I highly recommend the notion of eco-cheap-culinary tourism. Waste not -- want not, I say. Florida is known for serving up key lime pie in addition to gator and grouper. All of which can be had at Publix for near to free prices too apparently. Oh... and the wine.

> I found better prices and better years on Californian and Australian vintages at Wal-Mart and Walgreen's than at Quebec's SAQ or Ontario's LCBO. While not free, I found Little Penguin Merlot at five bucks and Jacobs Creek Shiraz at four dollars. Even an organic Cabernet came in at under ten.

I cooked a couple of times while I was in Sarasota but seriously questioned if the effort truly delivered bang for the buck. Doing this had its nutritional advantages perhaps, but factor in the labor and dirty dishes and you end up in deficit. One good home made meal came in dirt cheap and free thanks to some visiting relatives from California who grilled a couple of plump beer butt chickens and bought the wine and cheese.

I checked the mail here at home this morning and did not find anything but bills. No free sandwich coupon in sight, and it's back to potholes and poutine chez nous I guess.

I wonder if the treadmill still works...