|4 out of 5 stars|
Kale. Spicy sriracha sauce. Honeycrisp apples. Cupcakes. These days, it seems we are constantly discovering a new food that will make us healthier, happier, or even somehow cooler. Chia seeds, after a brief life as a novelty houseplant and I Love the ’80s punchline, are suddenly a superfood. Not long ago, that same distinction was held by pomegranate seeds, açai berries, and the fermented drink known as kombucha. So what happened? Did these foods suddenly cease to be healthy a few years ago? And by the way, what exactly is a “superfood” again?
In this eye-opening, witty work of reportage, David Sax uncovers the world of food trends: Where they come from, how they grow, and where they end up. Traveling from the South Carolina rice plot of America’s premier grain guru to Chicago’s gluttonous Baconfest, Sax reveals a world of influence, money, and activism that helps decide what goes on your plate. On his journey, he meets entrepreneurs, chefs, and even data analysts who have made food trends a mission and a business. The Tastemakers is full of entertaining stories and surprising truths about what we eat, how we eat it, and why.
I found this an interesting book—in the same ways that Michael Pollan’s food books are endlessly fascinating to me. Sax is also trying to figure out how the world of food works, but he is looking at it from more of the marketing point of view. He still talks to a LOT of influential folks and attends a LOT of events.
Significantly (to me at least), he debunks the whole notion of a “superfood,” a notion which has always bugged me. Who decided that pomegranates are a superfood? Why a pomegranate producer, of course! Sponsor a rather anemic study and then get out there and proselytize, baby! It makes me grumpy despite the fact that I love the fruit and have never been known to turn down a pomegranate martini. Eat your veggies and fruits, people! They all have valuable nutrients and anyone who is trying to tell you that you should skew your consumption towards one plant is trying to make money from you.
On the encouraging side of the equation, it seems to be a very hit-or-miss proposition as to whether a carefully planned campaign will actually achieve full blown trend status. As much as Indian cuisine has been attempting to become trendy for decades now, it keeps misfiring (at least in the US). I found that mystifying, as when I go out with friends we more often than not choose an Indian restaurant and curry is one of my absolute favourite things. Seriously, I have 2 friends who hate it and I have a hard time cooking for them when they come to my house—I use a lot of curry!
Another positive revelation: although the food establishment may try to declare a trend over, the people of the world do not necessarily listen to them! Hence the enduring appeal of cupcakes and bacon! The chapter on Baconomics contains amazing stories of the strength of the love of cured pork bellies.
Basically, food suppliers are attempting to imitate the fashion industry, with “what’s in and what’s out” each year. Perhaps this works in the world of clothing, but consumers feel very strongly about the food that they take into their bodies and they are not going to stop loving cupcakes just because a few food bloggers are tired of them!
Just for the record: I love bacon and pomegranates, I tolerate quinoa, and I absolutely loathe kale (and can hardly wait until it’s in the “what’s out” category). I am agnostic on the matter of cupcakes.