It's that time of year again: No, not the time when society's ever-emphasized consumerism is rammed even more forcefully down our gullets, disguised in festive Christmas trimmings and manipulative Coca-Cola commercials. It's the time of year when every news outlet and blog in America starts to issue their food trend predictions for the year to come.
I couldn't capture my exhaustion with such lists any more pertinently than NPR recently did in its article "Here Come the Food Trend Lists." Wrote Eliza Barclay on predicting trends for the coming year:
It's a tricky business, because it really depends who you're talking about and where they actually eat (home, work, out?).
And try as you may, you'll either bore the savvy foodies or exclude most Americans who favor simple fare if you try to generalize about the new things people are eating. The reality is we have become a nation of hugely varied tastes and budgets. If you're one of the tens of millions of Americans on food stamps, your options are pretty limited.
So instead of making yet another list -- and you can find predictions for 2012 here, here, here and here, for starters -- we decided to take a look back and see which food fads were predicted for 2007 and which of those five-year-old trends actually flopped.
It should be noted that many articles from 2006/2007 were stunningly prescient in their depiction of food trends not only for the coming year, but also for the coming half-decade. The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette predicted nearly every buzzy trend from Rachael Ray's gradual takeover of our airwaves to the increased emphasis on local, organic foods. Serious Eats, for their part, predicted the molecular gastronomy fatigue that has stemmed from dilution of a practice best performed by its originators and their proteges.
However, the idea of a restaurant "in preview" that Epicurious predicted would continue into 2007 has blessedly disappeared. "They charge the same prices, but aren't accountable for the food because they're in 'preview' mode," wrote Tanya Steel. "Restaurateurs need to own up to what they're putting out and the level of service." It's called a "soft opening" these days, and restaurants may complain about Yelp-addicted diners running roughshod all over the place in its first few weeks, but the fact remains that once you hang an open sign on your door, [almost] all bets are off.
In November 2006, Slashfood predicted that sustainability wouldn't be important to diners in 2007 -- but that buzzword ingredients like açaí berries would. "People are more focused on personal wellness, getting more specific than last year's general interest in 'superfoods,'" wrote Nicole Weston.
And although you do see açaí berries and their ilk in many, preachy, pre-packaged foods, you don't see this stuff on restaurant menus -- thankfully. And savvy consumers are wising up to those pre-packaged, trend-oriented foods that overcharge and under-deliver and are leaving them on grocery store shelves, where they continue to pile up in one massive, shark-jumping mess. Wrote the Dallas Morning-News two years ago: "If you think acai is happening, it's over now because Jell-O is using it."
Weston also predicted increased government regulations and restrictions for 2007, as well as a backlash against those restrictions. And at least one of those predictions is still coming true: In California alone this year, one city banned fast food restaurants, another banned unhealthy food in vending machines and the state itself has continued the ever-increasing ban on trans fats by eliminating them from baked goods.
But where is the backlash? Sure, when foie gras was at stake, Chicago quickly voted to overturn the ban on delicious, delicate goose liver. But is anyone up in arms that the government is moving to ban truly unhealthy food additives? Far from it: Consumers have taken it upon themselves to pressure companies into removing ingredients such as high-fructose corn syrup (although this increasingly militaristic movement could be viewed as a trend itself), relying on buying power to effect change instead of a nanny state.
Peruvian food has been predicted as the next big thing for the last five years as diners explore more areas of the globe. And why not? The cuisine is "a marriage of Italian, Spanish, Indian, Japanese and native cookery" that's damned delicious and easily accessible in both its flavors and ingredients.
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Yet Peruvian food is still making only tiny inroads here and there -- a Pisco sour on the menu at Felix 55, for example, or the Peruvian-style ceviches at Xuco Xicana -- while it's still being proclaimed as "the next big thing" that's just over that next hill! We promise! However, with places like the staunchly Peruvian Latin Bites moving to a larger space to accommodate its hungry fans, perhaps 2012 is shaping up to be the year of the causa after all.
Or maybe we'll just be asking ourselves the same question, right back here again, in another five years.