They’re at best silly, at worst offensive, and definitely unnecessary: enough with the year-end food trends, already.
OMIGOSH BACON. Bacon cookies, candied bacon, bacon salt, bacon bourbon, bacon lip balm, the Bacon Explosion (bacon lattice-woven around a bomb of more bacon, plus sausage, lest we forget). Bacon remains the behemoth of the contemporary American food trend — fueled by the internet, bacon went big, absurdly so, and bacon had staying power. It would wane, but then oinkily come back again.
Food writer Josh Ozersky (R.I.P.) unpacked the bacon trend for Food & Wine in 2014, when, he said, it’d already been A Thing for maybe a dozen years, and was still baconing right along. He noted that the vogue belied bacon’s history as a colonial staple, and that bacon and eggs as one American breakfast, indivisible, was one of the first successes of the dark art of public relations (brought to us by a nephew of Sigmund Freud!). Baconmania, he observed, arose in the late ’90s as the most anodyne kind of badassery. To a generation raised to just say no to drugs and other risky business, the naughtiness of eating a bunch of fatty-salty-smoky-cured meat was tantamount to rebellion. The embrace of bacon was, according to Ozersky, “vaguely edgy but still utterly safe — a kind of culinary Coldplay.” The trend did, finally, stop. But do you know what’s still good? Bacon. (And baconaddicts.com soldiers on.)
Wait: kale!!! Kale Caesar, kale chips, kale crackers, kale toast, kale cereal (I made that last one up — I think). Kale could be seen as a post-bacon rebound relationship, akin to the popularity of the Paleo diet morphing to that of a plant-based one. But so many things have had their modern moments: cupcakes, doughnuts, quinoa, Cronuts, sriracha, pumpkin spice, avocado toast, rainbow everything. And why have just one trend, all sad and lonely, like ramen or poke, when you can smash two together to get ramen burgers or sushi burritos?
Prepare your mind and your Instagram: The end of the year is the appointed time for out with the old foods, in with the new. Internet headlines breathlessly herald the changeover, almost as if there’s a propulsive force extruding fresh food trends as fast as, or faster than, we can adopt them. Oh, wait — there is. It’s a little thing called capitalism, with its special friend already mentioned above, P.R.
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A Chicago Tribune story this past spring called “Why kale is everywhere: How food trends are born” details the extremely deliberate alchemy it takes to turn a leafy green that few had ever encountered, much less eaten, into the It Food. A food trend may start organically, with a chef’s creation or a street-food innovation; then the machine kicks into gear, packaging and promoting it to harvest the leafy green cash. Companies track and calibrate and report on food trends through the “menu adoption cycle”: phases include “inception,” “adoption,” “proliferation,” and a “final” one that apparently cannot be named (the dreaded “saturation,” maybe?).
These companies and their offshoots send press releases to people like me. This end-of-year, I have been put on email notice that meat alternatives are set to “disrupt menus” (can we please, please, PLEASE end the trend of this use of “disrupt”? But I digress), and that cocktails will have vegetables in them (“and we’re not just talking garnishes,” OK?!). Souffles are being resurrected; fish sauce shall become ubiquitous; on the spice front, all hail both za’atar and berbere.
Already heard of some of these? Playing trendier-than-thou is another aspect that makes the New Year’s trend game unfun, even though, really, there’s no new food under the sun. The mashing-up and trumping-up of what we’ve already got just furthers the fetishization of the most basic of human needs — we’ve all got to eat.
So it may be dumb, but it’s all in good, commercialized fun, right? It gets more complicated, and a lot worse, than that. Delving into the recent Filipino food “trend” this past summer, Khushbu Shah observed on Thrillist that “declaring an entire ‘ethnic’ cuisine a trend is inherently dismissive … [it] ignores and blows past the history of a cuisine.” Though non-Filipino celebu-chefs and all manner of media outlets can climb on the bandwagon, Filipino food is not a fad to the millions around the globe who eat it as their main source of sustenance, and have for centuries, she points out. And the trending of an “ethnic” cuisine (usually code for nonwhite, Shah notes) means it gets co-opted and capitalized upon, with its original community benefiting far less than the established, generally white, male chefs who already run the game.
Likewise, Chef Mark “Gooch” Noguchi wrote about the problems inherent in the popularization of poke for First We Feast in 2016 — the commodification of Hawaiian culture, not to mention the environmental issues surrounding the sourcing of fish. “People are writing about the poke trend,” he said, “but no one is paying attention to the history of it … here’s my question: Do you know and respect where the dish came from? If not, then you have no business making it.” The same might be said for the use of “trendy,” “new” spices like za’atar and berbere.
If a food trend is just something that’s been around forever that we’re deciding to suddenly pay attention to, how about the commodification and disrespect of nonwhite cultures? The sexual harassment of women in the food industry, from the fields to restaurants — it seems like acknowledgment of that might finally be trending. Climate change is a real, evidence-based trend that might eventually have a real, catastrophic impact on our food system; same with income disparity and labor policy. One trend that’s evergreen: people not having enough to eat, including children, even right here in the U.S.A. But somehow I don’t think my year-end list of food trends would be a popular one.