Poisonous Luxury

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One of the themes of the early retirement philosophy is that the pursuit of luxury is fraught with danger. And I think that there is a lot of truth to this.

On one hand life is a precious resource, and I can see nothing wrong with squeezing a little extra pleasure out of it. (I’m not so attracted to self deprivation.)

But on the other hand there is a kind of sad willed helplessness that surrounds the pursuit of luxury. A never-ending pursuit of a life without struggle and work. The desire to be waited on by other human beings. The infantile need to be swaddled and protected from the world and it’s reality.

The best bit of writing I ever read on this theme was the wonderful and hilarious essay by David Foster Wallace. It is entitled “A supposedly fun thing that I will never do again”. It is a brilliant depiction of what it is like to go on an ultra luxurious cruise. I think the byline for this essay could very well be “luxury as hell.”

I won’t say too much more about it other than to implore you put a copy of his book on order at your local public library. Or if you have the patience to read it in front of a computer screen, there’s an easily found PDF version of the essay available in seconds.

And I will admit that there’s a certain hypocrisy to me writing about this now as I am sitting poolside in Maui watching my kids splash about under a fake waterfall guarding an artificial cave accessible only by swimming pool.

But the reason I bring it up is that I just finished another book of a similar theme.

“The Man Who Ate the World,”is a culinary travelogue written by Jay Rayner. From what I can gather he is a London restaurant critic who’s famous by virtue of having been a judge on a reality cooking show called Top Chef Masters.

I knew nothing about him before reading this book. But after reading the book I can vouch for him as a good and honest writer, a funny
observer of himself and the world, and a foodie in the best sense of the word.

As you may have gathered, I am the type of person who attaches huge significance to each successive meal. Each time I eat is an opportunity for deliciousness, for pleasure, and for meaning.

Food is political, philosophical, and interesting, but mostly it tastes great, and this is why I love it.

But it is safe to say that Rayner loves food much more than me.

In particular he loves fine dining more than I ever will.

I have never had much of a hankering for multi course tasting menus, or fancy food.

(The one exception to this generalization was a ridiculously expensive meal at a Beverly Hills sushi restaurant called Urasawa. I walked away from that obscenely expensive dinner feeling that it was a bargain , so pristine were the ingredients, so expertly prepared.)

My tastes tend towards the hidden pirozhki shop. The yunanese chicken and rice food cart where everything is wrapped in a A square of butcher paper, The charred slice of street pizza.

But Rayner? Not so much. Early in the book he recalls a hilarious scene from his privileged childhood where , while seated alone at a Swiss chalet, he heatedup his escargot platter too hot with the table side burner so that he could flash fry his baguette in the garlicky butter, and in so doing nearly set the restaurant on fire.

This is a man of big and expensive appetites.

And so he sets out on a globetrotting tour of the worlds Michelin three star restaurants. He writes about his epic meals in Las Vegas, Moscow, Dubai, Tokyo, New York, London, and Paris.

His mission is simple. He is in search of the perfect meal.

And certainly, as with all pursuits seriously undertaken, he achieves moments of brilliance and transcendence.

The pea soup at Guy Savoy’s comes to mind, which leads Rayner to the realization that “the point of cooking at this level is to make every ingredient taste as much of itself as possible.”(based on his description I would happily buy a bowl that soup for 80 bucks.)

But mostly his journey is a sad Long march of excess, and pampering, and plastic surgerized diners, and luxury. And all of these seem to extinguish his appetite for the most part.

He has cutting remarks about the ridiculous chairs in three star restaurants, with drawers in them, to store the diners’ jewelry and handbags. He remarks on the sadness of a person whose job it is to escort adults back-and-forth from the dining table to the bathroom.

And the ultimate chapter in his journey is a grotesque seven day, seven meal marathon of Michelin three star restaurants in Paris. And aside from the pea soup, the reader will envy him little of it. It sounds like a form of punishment for gluttony in Dante’s inferno.

Which is why the one meal I ended up most envying him having tried was the pastrami sandwich from the iconic Katz’ Deli in New York.

That sandwich sounded like a true value proposition.

Note: I wrote this from vacation in Hawaii. Thinking about this trip I thought I would have plenty of time to write blog posts.

I was wrong.

The best thing about vacation is getting to spend all day with my family every day. But there is little time for anything other than swimming and eating and changing the kids and showering and driving.

Which is a long way of saying, I’ll probably have time for one more blog post by the end of the week, before I resume my normal posting schedule next week.

Stick with me…

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3 Responses to “Poisonous Luxury”

  1. Glo March 26, 2014 at 2:25 pm #

    Hi Alex,

    This is probably not the right blog post for this question but it will be great to get your comments on it … In the process building your assets and financial independence have you given any thoughts to unexpected events ( list is large) that can throw your planning process in a ditch and any strategies to have yourself or your loved ones recover from that? Life and other insurances are fine but what about protecting what you built from going away to state and federal govt.? Making a will or trust and other things?

    I apologize if I missed this topic in any other post or follow up comments …


  2. Miles Dividend MD March 26, 2014 at 3:51 pm #


    This is a great question. And one that sadly I’m not qualified to answer at this time.

    I know that white coat investor has some very good posts on forming trusts, and estate planning. So be sure to check there.

    Creating a will is always a good idea to keep your family’s assets out of probate In The unfortunate event of your death.

    Let me do some research and write a post on it! This is a topic worth covering.


  3. glo March 26, 2014 at 8:20 pm #

    Thanks for responding Alex. I am going to look for some more information online and send it your way if it makes sense to me.

    Enjoy your vacation!!

    Hopefully Miles and hotel points made the trip mostly free… food is expensive in Maui!!!

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