Honest Tea

Food as fashion: We eat what we are

What we eat and drink has become such an emotional roller coaster for so many of us that it’s utterly changing the way that restaurant, food makers and grocery chains do business. Food used to feed our bodies. Now it also needs to feed our brains. Our egos. Our nostalgic memories. And maybe even our social-media appetites.

“While we have always had an emotional relationship with food, what’s different is we talk about it more, and the discussion is much louder,” says Harry Balzer, food guru at researcher NPD Group. “Food is fashion. You wear your diet like you wear your clothes.”

Talking about food has become so fashionable that we may be doing more of it than ever. Social-media chatter about food — which is where we do much of it — is up more than 13% over the past year, says NM Incite, which tracks buzz across social networks, blogs, forums and consumer review sites. That’s millions of additional social morsels just on food. The hunger for food news seems insatiable. Food Network, which had 50 000 viewers per night in the mid-’90s, now averages more than 1.1 million.

Foodmakers are listening in. They know that one of the strongest emotions that many American consumers feel toward the food they eat is fear. One week the fear is over pink slime. Then, it’s about chemicals in milk. Or mad cow disease. Or too many calories stuffed into a large, sugary drink. Or even some worker’s fingertip getting chopped into an Arby’s roast beef sandwich.

“Every week, something raises distrust for our industrialized food system,” says Gary Hirshberg, co-founder of Stonyfield Farms. “There’s a real-time awareness that our food may be making us sick.”

The emotional hits or misses that people feel toward the food they eat can determine everything from what Whole Foods stocks to the thickness of Stonyfield’s next yogurt to the look, taste and smell of a new appetizer that Applebee’s will add to its menu this fall.

The article outlines examples of how food companies are tapping into the emotional attachment to food in the following ways:

• Respond to consumer concerns

• Concoct nostalgic food

• Sell better-for-you stuff

• Cater to “mouth feel”

• Get more local

• Serve “comfort” at 30 000 feet

USAToday: Read the full article