by David Kitai
“Have you considered going paleo?”
“Oh my god, have you tried Sweet Jesus?”
“I won’t eat anything that isn’t locally sourced.”
The food world is shaped by trends. Consciously or unconsciously our food choices are shaped by what’s hip. The food trends we encounter as students have no authoritative, single source of information. Instead we find ourselves awash in a sea of chattering voices, often pulling us in opposing directions. If you can successfully navigate them, you’ll be able to see which trends are worth listening to, and which can be tossed out. For your sanity (and mine too for that matter) I’ve broken most major trends down into three groups: health, ethics and Instagram.
Health trends in food tend to annoy me most—they speak in absolutes. The headline proclaims, “Gluten is bad,” and consumers decide never to touch bread again. If they’d read a little more they’d realise that a proper loaf made with real sourdough starter can keep them happily eating toast. The same goes for meats and animal fats, which are to be eschewed in favour of insipid and flavourless sources of protein. Or, the paleo diet. It decries GMO foods and instructs its followers to eat a banana, ignoring the selective breeding that turned your banana into the sweet fruit it is. All of these trends are built on good ideas: we shouldn’t eat huge quantities of Wonder Bread, fatty meats or foods built in labs everyday. The problem is that when they get out in the world, the trends demand our extreme adherence. You’ll be happier and better fed if you take each trend with a grain of salt (no pun intended because we certainly can’t miss the PSAs warning against sodium). Plus low sodium diets aren’t good for everyone.
Ethical trends are the hardest to argue with. Some are absurd. Fois gras is no more cruel than any other aspect of meat production. Others are valuable. The idea of a 100-mile diet, eating seasonally and locally (even ‘organically’ [with a caveat]) these are all good things that we should encourage. My only problem here is a social one. Don’t get preachy with your food ethics, folks. It’s awesome that you’ve managed to go vegan—please stop talking about it.
The final trend used to set my teeth on edge, now, I’m a part of it. Instagram has made us share so much more of what we’re eating and cooking. In many ways, it’s awesome. Instagram posts can inspire new ideas, make you reconsider an ingredient, or want to check out a new restaurant. The problem, again, arises when people design their food to be enjoyed on a phone screen rather than in your mouth. Sweet Jesus, a new Toronto ice cream shop with lines round the block, serves crappy soft serve with well-arranged candy confectionaries. They make food that looks nice with the right filter, but won’t give you any pleasure beyond a sugar rush.
If a trend preaches at you, calls a food poison, or overlooks flavour, ignore it.