Food fads: How they differ from meaningful shifts in food culture

People are maturing from obsessions with the likes of bacon, cronuts and kale to a love of all sorts of dishes and cuisines – and with that expanding repertoire come broader interests in wellness, natural and what makes food taste good. Here’s a snapshot of what The Hartman Group sees happening to food culture on a wide scale. It goes far beyond food fads to some of the most meaningful shifts the United States has seen in decades.

As anthropologists and ethnographers with a deep understanding of food culture and what consumers are putting in their grocery carts and bellies, we’ve seen a lot: Cronut madness, burgers sandwiched between ramen noodles, special diets of almost every stripe. They’re fun to talk about, but they also tend to be fleeting and fairly one-dimensional. It’s more fun to delve into the reasons behind these food fads, to figure out where people might be headed next.

Maturing food culture

Take bacon. There’s a fad that keeps on giving: bacon doughnuts, bacon dust on fries, bacon deodorant. The joke ended years ago, but people keep telling it because it taps a rich cultural vein that goes beyond a love of salt and fat. It involves experimentation and exploration and a fascination with discovering unique ways to combine food (and apparently hygiene products).

Next came the craze for kale, a vegetable that so obsessed some people that they become sick of it, or sick from eating too much of it. Kale appeared on T-shirts, in late-night TV jokes, in chip and cocktail form and as a Levi’s jeans colour. People moved on — to quinoa, to kombucha, to such a wide range of ingredients and dishes that they now are becoming immersed in cuisines rather than infatuated with single products. They’re also less likely to post photos of baby pigs with careless captions like “future bacon.”

American consumers appear to be moving beyond their food culture adolescence and gaining a sophisticated and complicated food repertoire. Rather than getting hung up on certain fads, people are experiencing the whole enchilada — and they love it.

This new maturity about food does not stem from more people learning to cook. Although consumers have strong opinions about how ingredients are sourced and prepared, mostly they are not cooking in the traditional sense. Instead, they watch cooking shows on television, peruse photos and reviews on social media sites, talk to farmers and chefs, and take cooking classes for the fun and knowledge of it — not because they plan to regularly use those skills at home.

Food for health and well-being

As people’s ideas about food expand, they merge with other aspects of culture — including health and wellness, which no longer is relegated to a corner of the local health-food store. It’s everywhere, and it’s about staying fit, strong and well in the broadest sense.

Consumers are giving up on simply counting calories or cholesterol or sodium intake and are embracing holistic approaches to health and eating that naturally encompass those elements. They want fresh, whole foods that are rich in vitamins and nutrients — including full fats, sugar and other sweeteners in the right proportions.

Much of consumers’ current thinking about health revolves around digestion as the root of wellness and choosing foods that help their bodies absorb nutrients most efficiently. Many people are not even aware they’re concerned about digestion, but the signs are clear: They talk about how certain foods “sit” with them, how they feel an hour or more after they’ve eaten — and they increasingly are interested in digestive aids, from ginger to fermented foods and beverages such as sauerkraut and kombucha.

There’s even been a fresh bread revival, with people such as Washington State University’s Stephen Jones forwarding the idea that perhaps what some people think of as gluten sensitivity might be alleviated by old-fashioned bread-making techniques, including a longer rising method that allows for natural fermentation and boosts digestibility.

A crop scientist, he’s encouraging people to try heirloom wheat and artisanal breads made with fresh, whole-grain flour — a culinary treat and, many nutritionists say, important for minerals, fibre and other nutrients.

New outlook on protein

At the same time people are showing more interest in how food affects their health and well-being, they’re also peering more deeply into how food choices affect local farmers, the environment and, especially, farm animals. There’s been a marked increase in consumer concerns about how animals are treated…..

Read the full article: The Hartman Group