What a giant purple cauliflower taught me about variety

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When I saw the enormous, purple cauliflower at a local farmers’ market, I instantly knew I had to have it.

In that moment, I wasn’t thinking about what I’d do with it. I was simply awestruck by its deep lilac colour and its size, about the circumference of a large frying pan. I’d never seen a vegetable like it.

A giant purple cauliflower taught me that perhaps variety is not the spice of life.Credit: Stephen Kiprillis

It was only driving home, the absurdly large cauliflower on my partner’s lap, that I realised it would actually take quite an effort to eat the whole thing.

I’m telling you about my purchase of a huge vegetable because it forced me to be creative cooking-wise, and made me think about the costs of variety.

Over the past few years, variety has been the spice of life.

The number of streaming platforms has ballooned from just Netflix to a variety of competitive options such as Apple TV, Disney+ and Prime.

Fast fashion has gotten faster as companies such as Shein take off in popularity, offering trendy clothing for less than $10 a piece.

The food options have also never been greater. Good cafes, restaurants and cheap eats are everywhere, and if you don’t want to leave home, you can have takeaway treats brought right to your door through ride-sharing apps.

I’ve lapped all this up with the best of us. At one point, my partner and I had subscriptions for about six streaming services.

But after more than a year of high inflation, cost-of-living pressures mean that variety is getting more and more expensive.

Back to the cauliflower for a moment. Because it was so huge – it weighed about six kilos, once the leaves were removed – we needed to eat it for both lunch and dinner every day for nearly a week to ensure we didn’t waste any.

To make sure we also didn’t hate cauliflower after day two, it required some creative thinking. So we had cauliflower soup, roast cauliflower and veggies in salads for lunch, and cauliflower fritters.

It was an extreme reminder that it can be cheaper to eat if you have less variety. That doesn’t mean eating the same thing every day, just using the same ingredients different ways.

It also made me think of a recipe book I have that was first written in the 1920s, meant as a guide for daily cooking for people on a budget. Past the recipes, at the back, it has weekly menus planned for the entire year divided by season.

The menus are not exactly simple (there are a couple of courses for both lunch and dinner) but they are quite economical.

The same vegetables and proteins are used throughout the week, so there might be a couple of variations of the same soup used as starters every day. Meat is not part of every daily meal because meat is expensive, and because the menus are seasonal, certain vegetables such as zucchini, tomatoes or cabbage are relied upon throughout each week.

That’s because what was in season would have been the only option for households a century ago, but while we can get just about any fresh produce – no matter the time of the year – today, seasonal is still the cheapest.

It was also a reminder, like the cauliflower, that you can do quite a lot of different things with just a handful of the same ingredients.

It’s also much cheaper to buy a bunch of whatever is in season and incorporate that into everything you make, rather than planning entirely separate meals with unique ingredients for breakfast, lunch and dinner seven days a week.

That tenet works beyond the kitchen too. Having a handful of basic clothing items in neutral colours gives you enough room to create different outfits that all go together, without having to buy a new top or pants online every other week.

Often called a capsule wardrobe, the idea is about mostly eschewing trendy items to have a consistent base of items you can wear all the time.

There’s nothing wrong with buying a new outfit, but relying more on what you already have and using it in different ways never hurt.

When it comes to streaming service variety, there is also absolutely such a thing as too much. Realising there was no way I was going to scroll through all six services every night, we’ve halved our services and now if a new show appears on a platform we don’t have, we can always sign up to that and ditch another we’re not using.

All of that hasn’t saved me a ton of money, I’ll be honest – certainly not enough by itself for a house deposit. But it does feel less wasteful, and that can only be a good thing.

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