I have a bit of an unhealthy obsession with food writing. I love to eat, and I love to read so for me, books like this are really the best of both worlds. I loved this book, not just because it was informative, well written, and so interesting to read, but because David Sax is from Toronto (Shout out to Amaya for trying to rise above the notion that Indian Food is only good for cheap-take out). It’s always fun to read about places that you actually recognize, especially in a book about food trends where a majority of the focus might be on places like New York and LA.
Sax takes the reader on a journey through the life of food trends, how they are born, why some catch on more than others, the factors involved with making a food trend, the money, the politics, and eventually the death of trends. He interviews people who predict trends, food writes, chefs, and heads of corporations like Whole Foods to gain a better understanding of how food trends work.
He starts by introducing us to cupcakes, and the rise of “cupcakeries,” which everyone will be familiar with. Taking off after 9/11 he mentions that the cupcake boom was due to the American search for comfort and safety after the attacks on New York, and what could possibly be safer than a cupcake? Cupcakes also became tied to a certain type of lifestyle after “Magnolia” appeared in an episode of Sex and the City. He talks to a cultivator of exotic Black Rice and a family growing Red Prince Apples in Ontario discussing the risks involved with trying to start an agricultural trend, (an entire species can be wiped out due to mother nature). He also profiles the popularity of chia seeds and how health fads come and go.
When looking at how food trends break out, Sax takes us to the Fancy Food show, a trade show that I would love to attend, and sits in on focus group meetings for marketing and naming new products. (Canola oil was originally called Rapeseed oil before everyone realized that it would never sell with a name like that). He then looks at the importance of food trends such as how food trends have the power to open people’s minds to different cultures, affect legislative change, and of course money, using the popularity of Bacon as an example for how that food trend has entirely reshaped the market for pork bellies.
All through Sax’s writing it becomes clear that food trends are a relatively new phenomenon simply due to the media. We have an entire network devoted to food where chefs compete in T.V shows to be the most creative, and shows like Eat St. and Diners Drive-Ins and Dives help propel food trends. Would cupcakes have become a major trend if it wasn’t so easy to take an instagram photo of a perfectly iced cupcake and upload it for the world? Maybe, but we won’t know for sure.
Sax points out that while there are down-sides to food trends, such as the constant one-upmanship and desire to be as outrageous as possible, (You need only visit the CNE to understand, in fact Sax uses the Cronut burger fiasco of 2013 to illustrate just how fragile food trends can be) food trends are also an expression of the creativity and democracy associated with North America. He writes that the Cronut never would have taken off in Paris, nor would the Ramen Burger have become popular in Japan. It is in North America that we allow food trends to grow and thrive be it for better, or for worse.