Local governments roll out the red carpet to attract outside businesses like Amazon, but what do they do to breed and nurture local entrepreneurs?
In the 1970s, quiche and fondue were all the rage. Now kale and cupcakes are everywhere. Could grilled cheese and beef jerky be next? We explore the economic and cultural factors that spark food trends and consider reasons why some having staying power, while others fizzle out.
- Rebecca Cooper Restaurant and Hospitality Reporter, Washington Business Journal
- Neil Irwin Senior Economic Correspondent for The Upshot at the New York Times
- David Sax Writer and Journalist; Author, "The Tastemakers: Why We're Crazy for Cupcakes but Fed Up with Fondue" (PublicAffairs 2014)
The Tastemakers Project
David Sax’s Tastemakers project explores food trends and values across the country. Learn more about the series in the video below.
2014 Food Trends
Cooking Light took a look at what’s flying off shelves this year, from savory Greek yogurt to “protein-packed everything.”
MR. KOJO NNAMDIFrom WAMU 88.5 at American University in Washington, welcome to "The Kojo Nnamdi Show," connecting your neighborhood with the world, it's Food Wednesday.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIIn the 1970s Fondue was all the rage, dinner party guests grabbed long pointy forks to spear a piece of bread and swirl it in a pot of melted cheese or a piece of fruit to dunk in a pot of liquid chocolate, fast forward 40 years. Everyone's eating cupcakes, waiting in long lines to buy a single individual mound of baked dough, piled high with frosting.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIIt's no surprise that food trends wax and wane over the years. Yesterday's quiche replaced by today's quinoa. But how do you explain the public's changing tastes? What are the economic and cultural catalysts that make food trends build to a feeding frenzy and then fizzle out? Why do some trendy foods have staying power while others fade away?
MR. KOJO NNAMDIJoining me for this Food Wednesday discussion is Rebecca Cooper, restaurant and hospitality reporter for The Washington Business Journal. Rebecca, good to see you again.
MS. REBECCA COOPERThanks for having me, Kojo.
NNAMDIAnd also joining us in studio is Neil Irwin, senior economics correspondent for The Upshot at the New York Times. Neil Irwin, thank you for joining us.
MR. NEIL IRWINThank you.
NNAMDIAnd joining us by phone from Toronto, David Sax, writer and journalist and author of "The Tastemakers: Why We're Crazy for Cupcakes but Fed Up with Fondue." David Sax, thank you for joining us.
MR. DAVID SAXMy pleasure.
NNAMDIYou too can join the conversation. What's your favorite food trend? Give us a call, 800-433-8850. David, you take a reporters approach to food trends, exploring their origins and evolution. Let's start with the cupcake craze, which certainly took root here in Washington. How did the hip television show, "Sex and the City" make cupcakes sexy?
SAXYou know, it's very surprising because for years now, every article that's talked about cupcakes is pretty much mentioned "Sex and the City," and yet they only appeared in one scene of the show about 20 seconds long, in one episode, in one season. But what that did was, it sort of changed the reference point of cupcakes and the story around cupcakes, from something that was a kids treat that you would have at birthday parties, to something that was an indulgence for adults.
SAXIt sort of put them on par with the $500 shoes the show associated with. And it was suddenly something that was feminine and sophisticated and urban and sexy. And what that did was, it opened up the cupcake market to a far broader, faster growing base then just, you know, kids who were turning three.
NNAMDII quote you from an interview, "It was about this as a symbol of femininity, sexually liberalized capitalist feminism. This is the stiletto, the Cosmo, the rabid vibrator equivalent." Is it really all of that?
SAXIt is, I mean, when there are certain, for example, I took the "Sex and the City," bus tour. Which even though the show's been off the air for, I don't know, close to 10 years, you know, the bus tour still goes several times a day in New York City. And the stops along the way are all sort of punctuated by shopping spots to buy a vibrator, the rabid vibrator at a certain sex store, have a Cosmo martini at the certain bar, look at, you know, $500 pairs of Jimmy Choo heals at boutiques in the West Village.
SAXAnd eat a cupcake in front of Magnolia. They actually give out cupcakes from another bakery on the tour, after an early dispute. So what it does, is it reduced that shows whole image and ethos down to several items and several, sort of, symbols which, of course, were then repeated in every article, in every sort of feature, in every travel article by, you know, a Peruvian travel magazine that talked about New York and "Sex and the City," you know, and when you're in New York, you know, go to Magnolia and eat a cupcake like Carrie did and then go across the street and buy a pair of heals at the Marc Jacob store and whatever.
SAXBut what it did is, again, change the narrative of cupcakes from something that was just ordinary and occasionally interesting into this trend that took on a life of its own.
NNAMDINeil Irwin, you measure the evolution of food trends by counting how many times the food in question is mentioned in the New York Times. Talk about friend calamari and it's rise in popularity. When did it first appear in the Times and how quickly did it become common place?
IRWINYeah, it's a funny thing. I used this as a window into food trends. Obviously, you know, mentions in a newspaper isn't perfect but it's a window into how much a thing is being mention in the popular conversation. And I thought this was a great example, fried calamari. Now, as you know, it's on every chain restaurant menu in America. You go into a suburban pizza shop or a chain restaurant and you can get some friend squid.
IRWINIt's actually a relatively recent thing that that was -- that that evolved, as recently as 1975, the term fried calamari had never been mentioned in the pages of the New York Times. It didn't become at all widespread until the 1980s. And it actually peaked in the mid 1990s, in '96. So what seems to be happening with foods like that and many others is an ark where food items start as a, kind of, exotic thing that, kind of, restaurants in the city might serve and eventually become a mainstream classic that everybody has, all over the country.
NNAMDIRebecca, let's look at some local food trends, as measured by the restaurants that are opening and are closing here. Talk about the arrival of sandwich shops that specialize in grilled cheese or in subs.
COOPERRight, yes. The grilled cheese phenomenon seems to be taking off. I think it's something probably having to do with the amount of comfort a lot of us took in grilled cheese, growing up. But, yeah, there's a new wine bar, The Pursuit, on H Street Northeast, that their food menu is almost completely devoted to grilled cheese.
COOPERAnd then you have GCDC, which is Grilled Cheese D.C. and again, they're -- most of their menu is devoted to grilled cheese. They just started a cheese share program like a CSA that you can have them ship you cheese and related products once a month for a fee. And then this, it's a New York based grilled cheese place called The Melt Shop, they've just signed a lease and are coming here. So clearly they see a market for it and don't think that it is, don't think that it's saturated at this point.
NNAMDIAnd the sub shop may soon be coming to a location near you, if you live in Roslyn, Va.
COOPERRight, indeed. Yeah, Capriotti's, it's a chain that started in Delaware and now has dozens and dozens of locations. They are, they are opening in Roslyn and Georgetown and they have one that Joe Biden has already patronized, downtown. But they have others on their heels, these kind of national sub chains are all eyeing the D.C. region. Jersey Mike's is one, another is called Jimmy John's, they just, kind of, again, appeal to this -- it's like a -- I'm from New York, so I think about it like a deli, but it's a little faster paced.
NNAMDI800-433-8850. Let's go to Colin in Arlington, Va. Colin, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
COLINHi, Kojo. I just wanted to make a quick comment regarding the friend calamari discussion.
COLINI have spoken to employees in multiple chain restaurants around the area and I know this is gonna sound vulgar but apparently pig anus is often used as a substitute for calamari on menus, at local restaurants. I was just wondering if any of your guests could comment on that and I will take my answer off the air.
NNAMDIDid you have to share that? Did you feel you absolutely had to share that?
IRWINI guess, the nose to tail movement is alive and well in the chain restaurants of America.
NNAMDINeil, care to comment?
IRWINI am deeply skeptical of this idea, but I am not an expert so I don't really know.
NNAMDIWell, thanks a lot Colin. David, you have identified four factors that can make certain foods and styles of eating popular. How do culture, agriculture, well known chefs and health concerns each prompt new food trends?
SAXWell, they often work in concert. But, you know, the cupcake trend is a great example of a cultural trend. Where something already exists and is out there but suddenly because of something like, for example, "Sex and the City," mentioning it and it become popular or just a lot of media attention around, let's say, a celebrity eating it or just, maybe, it's due to a chef. It suddenly becomes something cool. And something of the moment. And something of the zeitgeist and becomes elevated to a food that's now trendy, fried calamari or fried pig parts, let's just say.
SAXYou know, an agricultural trend is something a little longer term. That involves someone on a farm essentially or an agricultural school growing or developing something that is eventually bred and cultivated to the point where it's released into the market and, you know, has an impact. So think about the Honey Crisp Apple, which didn't exist until a few years ago, came out of, you know, universities in Minnesota. And all of a sudden, a couple years ago was the apple to have. It was, sort of, everywhere, an omnipresent and, you know, there were stampedes to get Honey Crisps at the grocery store.
SAXChef driven trends are much more, sort of, straight forward and top down. You know, a great chef in D.C. like Carla Hall or Jose Andreas will do something at their restaurant that becomes a hit dish. And, you know, let's say it's Jose Andreas' gin and tonic, which I remember was an incredible drink, when I'd had it a couple of years ago, you know, if that takes off and becomes the hot thing that the food blogs are talking about, then other restaurants around the region and then outside of the region are gonna start emulating that and they'll do their own spin on a gin and tonic.
SAXThey'll do gin and tonic ice cream or gin and tonic, you know, breakfast sorbet or all sorts of different variations, which again is, sort of, driven by the creativity and the products of that chef. And then health trends are somewhat different. Health trends are much bigger, much more powerful and I tend to find them much more dangerous.
SAXThat is often, you know, a significant change in eating habits, whether it's a diet like, you know, large numbers of people adopting the gluten-free diet who don't necessarily have celiac disease or a strong gluten intolerance. Or the embrace of certain products that are termed, I don't know, super-foods. So chia seeds or go goji berries or people drinking coconut water, which then, sort of, spreads out throughout the food system to capture everything because it sells.
SAXSo, you know, essentially, what you're doing is you're marketing to people's fears and so there's some sort of quasi scientific message that says, some studies have shown that antioxidants can be, possibly, promising in curing, you know, dealing with certain types of cancer therefore our antioxidant berry flavored 7-Up can cure cancer. And people buy this stuff. And it's very powerful. The Federal Trade Commission has been trying to crack down on what amounts to just tremendous amounts of false marketing and advertising around this.
SAXThey slapped Palm, the makers of, sort of, all those pomegranate products with the big, multi-million dollar fine for essentially saying that, you know, their pomegranate juice could do...
NNAMDIBut that doesn't necessarily stop it from tending does it?
SAXNo, of course, not. It takes a long -- it's a lot harder to, sort of, stop that behavior because the majority of people, they just want to eat well and they want to live a good healthy life. And so if they hear, you know, on the playground of life, so to speak, that, you know, antioxidants are gonna somehow cure cancer because Dr. Oz mentions something...
SAX...like that in their show, they'll go out and buy it and...
NNAMDIThat's what's gonna be hot, yep.
SAXThat's gonna be hot.
NNAMDIDavid Sax is a writer and journalist, author of "The Tastemakers: Why We're Crazy for Cupcakes but Fed Up with Fondue." He joins us along with Neil Irwin, senior economics correspondent for The Upshot at the New York Times. And Rebecca Cooper, restaurant and hospitality reporter for the Washington Business Journal. Rebecca, how does today's technology including ubiquitous cell phone cameras, social media, how do those things fuel food trends?
COOPERWell, certainly social media is, you know, an enormous part of creating buzz for certain dishes and restaurants and because people can -- I mean, these things can trend in the span of a night, you know, if you have enough critical mass of foodies in one place. So, you know, there are different approaches, as I know you have talked about, as to whether or not restaurateurs really encourage this kind of use of devices in their...
NNAMDIWe talked about it last week, yeah.
COOPER...in their restaurants. But, you know, there are other ways -- there's a lot of times I go to events now, where I have restaurateurs or their marketing people make sure I know the hashtag, make sure -- they give me a cheat sheet with the handles. You know, so they are -- they definitely want that kind of buzz. There are some chains and, you know, I've seen iPads popping up more and more in the -- as a menu, possibly, or, you know, I hear that it's happening a lot and more often. I haven't seen it in a ton of places in D.C.
COOPERThere is a new pizza restaurant that is opening in Arlington in the next few months called Pizza Vinoteca. And they have everyone order on an iPad. And you can kind of -- and it's all for takeout or for sit-in. So -- and you can sort of let the server know how frequently you want them to come back or not. If you just kind of don't want to be bothered and you want to order your pizza and not talk to anyone, you can do that.
NNAMDIHow does this complicate life for you, Neil Irwin, because it's not just the New York Times anymore. It's everywhere.
IRWINYeah, I mean, the good part of this is, I think, across the country people are more attuned to what they eat and what different types of foods are available. You know, 20 years ago you -- if you went to a small city or a small town, the odds you could find sushi or Thai food where -- it was just unthinkable. And now I think you're seeing a much faster propagation of these trends. And part of it's social media. Part of it's even television.
IRWINYou know, there's the Food Network on TV. There's -- you know, people can read any kind of coverage they want online. And I think that's actually a healthy thing. I think the fact that people all over the country are able to taste new things more quickly and more widely than they might have a generation ago is a sign that I think we can all be happy about that.
NNAMDIBut marketing is still playing a big role and that's one of the things we'll talk about after we take a short break. You can still call us during that break, 800-433-8850. What bygone food trend do you still subscribe to? Are you still a friend of quiche, fondue, sundried tomatoes? Give us a call, 800-433-8850 or shoot us an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWelcome back. It's a Food Wednesday conversation on how food trends develop and fizzle. We're talking with Rebecca Cooper, restaurant and hospitality reporter for the Washington Business Journal. David Sax is a writer and journalist, author of "The Tastemakers: Why We're Crazy for Cupcakes But Fed Up With Fondue." And Neil Irwin is senior economics correspondent for The Upshot at the New York Times. We're inviting your calls at 800-433-8850. You can send email to email@example.com.
NNAMDIDavid, I said we'd talk about marketing. What role does it play in creating food trends? How is the bacon craze an example of marketing-driven popularity?
SAXWell, yeah, it's interesting. You know, marketing fin the food world is always trying to create a food trend. But when it succeeds it's often obscured. It doesn't necessarily get a lot of credit. You know, the bacon trend of the past decade, which I'm sure we've all encountered, everything from, you know, extra large bacon burgers to ice cream with bacon, brownies with bacon and bacon just ending up in all sorts of places, was the product of a concerted effort by the pork marketing board in Iowa to drive up demand for bacon during, you know, the late 1990s after years when bacon sales were extremely low due to the low-fat diet craze.
SAXAnd pork belly prices were, you know, cents -- pennies per pound. And pork farmers were really losing a lot of money on it. And what they did was they worked with fast food restaurants and the restaurant business to develop sort of precooked spiral bacon, round bacon that could fit perfectly atop a burger or a sandwich. And then develop menu items that would sort of feature this bacon.
SAXAnd what that did was it provided such a scale and such an impact for bacon sales that it then fed into the sort of creative independent restaurant world where you had chefs all of a sudden putting Brussels sprouts with bacon and making bacon brownies and creating this culture of bacon-loving that really kind of touched every level of American society.
NNAMDINeil, you noticed that a generation ago it took an average of 24 years for a food to go from first mention to peak trendiness. Now it only takes about ten years? Why do foods become popular so much faster today?
IRWINI think it ties in with what we've been talking about. Part of it's the rise of social media, the fact that there's more communication today. There's TV, there's different kinds of media. And what David was talking about of marketing is surely an aspect as well.
IRWINYou know, some of the examples I looked at were things that emerged in the late '70s, the '80s, sundried tomatoes, pesto, goat cheese, ingredients that were not very widely used outside of New York and a few other big cities back then that took many years, took decades really to become just a widespread part of the American diet. You see that with whether it's bacon or short rib or you name it. You see so much faster food trends happening today.
COOPERYeah, and I think the bacon has had some staying power. I decided to do something a little bit along the lines of Neil's piece and check how many stories referenced bacon in the Washington Business Journal. And I checked it for the year 2011 and then this year. So there were 16 mentions including one for Canadian bacon, which might be controversial. People don't count that. Sixteen stories in 2011. This year, 13 so far and we're a little more than halfway through. So the bacon trend, it doesn't seem to be dying down as much, from what I've seen.
NNAMDIBacon is still trending. We move on to Bruce in Manassas, Va. Bruce, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
BRUCEHi. Good afternoon. I am all for the democratization of eating well that has taken place over these last, you know, number of years. I grew up in the San Francisco Bay area. I was very fortunate. You know, it's a great food city, a great food production area. And I remember the times when you'd go to a small town, as was mentioned, and it was hard to find a good meal.
BRUCEOn the other side though, I hate this term foodie. I wish it would go away. Everybody is a foodie now. And it diminishes the value of what that even means. It used to be people were called gourmets. Even that was a little bit too stuffy. But I find that so much of this food trend is about people wanting to punch their ticket at the hottest restaurant or claim that they've eaten the trendiest food. And it doesn't really provide much long-lasting information or insight as -- you know, for long term trends.
BRUCEAnd it seems more like ticket punching. And that's why I find sites like Yelp almost useless because you wade through it and it's impossible really to discern the value of the different reviews that are given.
NNAMDII'll start with you, Rebecca. To what extent is, as he is pointing out, this driven by people who just want to do what's trendy at the time? And to what extent is the term foodie still trending or is it slowly disappearing? I hope the latter.
COOPERYes, I do think it is. And you'll notice that I did use it in terms of a bunch of people who are probably going to tweet about what they're eating, was probably the perfect definition of foodie. So, yeah, I do. I think I'm seeing it used less. You know, as far as whether, you know, the culture -- you know, those -- the thing is that restaurants still want those people to come. They still create buzz for a restaurant. Whether or not they call them foodies, you know, they are an important part of restaurants' business.
COOPERNow, you know, the part that is sort of the other side of that is that when you have so many restaurants opening, as we do here in Washington, D.C., the -- you can find that everybody goes for the first month and then something new and better opens. And so, you know, restaurateurs need to figure out how to keep these people coming back. And if they're a good enough restaurant, they will. But there definitely is the attitude of, like, if you haven't tried something you better go there and not go back to somewhere you've already been.
NNAMDIDavid Sax, to what extent is this driven by those of us who always want to be a part of whatever the happening thing happens to be?
SAXYou know, I think here's where we sort of drop a line between trends and fads, to get to the caller's point. You know, a fad is very much something that is of the moment and people want to sort of jump onboard it because it's popular. They're reading about it, they're hearing about it. It's the edible (word?).
SAXA great example is last summer's cronut craze, which, you know, to talk about what Neil was saying, this sort of hyper speed of the lifecycle of a trend. I mean, this was a donut married with a croissant that appeared in New York. And within a week the name had been trademarked. There were line-ups around the block and bakeries...
NNAMDII think we might have done a whole show on it, but go ahead.
SAXYeah, bakeries around the world began copying it because they didn't have to go travel to New York to get a Dominique Ansel Bakery. They could just read about it online, see pictures of it on Instagram and create their own version in Beijing or Manila or here in Toronto where they all sort of have them. And that was very much, you know, something of the moment and everybody sort of went to eat it. They'd eaten it, they took their Instagram with it and that was it. They didn't go back and have a second one, even if it was good because it was that single experience.
SAXThe long term food trends are things like the rise of local and organic cuisine, farm-to-table cuisine or sort of locally sourced products and organic food. And that's something that, you know, some people dismiss it as a trend. Some people will dismiss it as something that, oh, people only ask for this because it's a fad. It's not necessarily better for you. It doesn't necessarily have a bigger impact but it keeps growing and growing every year. And it has changed the fundamental culture of how we eat and the way we expect to eat, whether it's at home or in restaurants.
SAXAnd so contrary to the caller's point, I think that it's easy to dismiss these things as sort of, you know, shallow movements of the fashion of eating. But in reality they do have a significant impact. And if something like Korean food, for example, becomes popular, Kimchi tacos, if you want a good example, because of a chef like David Chang at Momofuku and, you know, the foodies flock in there and taking their pictures. Well, for all the Korean restaurants out there and for all the Korean food companies that are selling food in America, that's a significant difference that over the course of, you know, more years, you know, actually is a noticeable change.
NNAMDINeil, it's hard to imagine today, but at one time pizza was considered a new fangled ethnic food. Now it's as American as, well, apple pie. What other ethnic foods have gone from trend to culinary staple, tacos, bagels and cream cheese, sushi?
IRWINYeah, I think that's an important connection to what David was just saying which is, there are some foods that really stand the test of time and aren't just fads. It's not just a thing that shows up and people talk about it for a few years and then it goes away. And pizza is the ultimate example of that. As recently as the 1950s, very rarely mentioned in the pages of the New York Times, when it was mentioned they would often explain what it was.
IRWINAnd then of course over the second half of the 20th century, it became a really central part of the American diet. The most popular casual food. In fact, if you look at pizza versus hamburger, the lines passed in the early 1970s. And now pizza far exceeds hamburgers and how often it's mentioned in our paper. You know, this is a phenomenon where something starts as kind of exotic and it becomes main stream. But that's now the only thing.
IRWINYou know, if you think even hamburgers and hotdogs, those are both German dishes that have become, you know, fundamentally American over the last few generations. And as you say, there's a number of new things that are taking on that mantel now. Tacos recently actually passed hotdogs as the number two most popular casual food in the pages of the New York Times. Sushi is something that really you never saw in the U.S. before the 1980s and now you see in every grocery store all over the country.
IRWINAnd I think this really speaks to the staying power of some of these dishes. Is it something that's tasty that people like to eat that, you know, uses ingredients that are easy to acquire? If so, it has a much better chance of becoming a main stream part of the diet than something that's a kind of exotic thing that might have a couple of big years and then go away.
NNAMDIDavid, talk about what you dub the food battle of the century between pizza and hamburgers for the stomachs of Americans.
SAXDid I dub that?
NNAMDIThe food -- no, I'm sorry, that was Neil who dubbed that, the food battle of the century. Sorry about that.
SAXYeah, I don't want to take credit.
NNAMDIGo ahead, Neil.
IRWINYeah, it's this remarkable trend line where they -- you know, hamburgers were mentioned go back to the 19th century. Hamburgers have been an important part of America's casual eating for many, many decades. Pizza surpassed it again in the early 1970s. And now it just absolutely trounces hamburger in terms of mentions, in the pages of the New York Times at least. It's something like 1400 a year to a couple of hundred. It doesn't change too much if you add cheeseburgers to the mix either.
IRWINYou know, now how much that correlates with how much people are actually eating, you still have fast food on every corner that might make hamburgers and cheeseburgers more widely available than pizza. But the fact that pizza is so fundamental to the American diet, and what was once viewed as this, you know, kind of obscure Italian import that people had to explain, is a real sign of kind of how the American diet shifts overtime.
NNAMDIOne of the surprising things also that you wrote, that the hotdog has never been top dog?
IRWINHotdog has never been top dog. Had a couple of years where it surpassed hamburger in 1925 and 1928 but it is now in third place.
NNAMDIWhat does this say about America as a culinary melting pot?
IRWINIt says a lot. I mean, you know, here we're talking about the foods that, you know, if you go out and look at people's lunch tables right now, you'll see people eating all over the country. And these are dishes that have their origins, again Germany for hotdogs and hamburgers, tacos are from Mexico, pizza's from Italy. And, you know, this is what America does. We take in both people and foods and traditions from all over the world. We change the ingredients, we change them up and make them our own. And they can become as American as anything.
NNAMDIWell, you talk about culinary melting pot. Well, with melting pots come another kind of problem which Kevin in Washington, D.C. I think wants to address. Kevin, your turn.
KEVINHey, thanks for having me on, Kojo. I'm curious to ask you guys about a term that I've heard for, I don't know, maybe a couple months now called food gentrification, about foods that are normally associated with low-income folks that end up getting hip and then expensive. And then the people who invented the original cuisine can't actually eat it. I'd love to hear you guys talk about that some.
NNAMDIAre you talking about Ben's?
KEVINWell, Ben's is easy but, I mean, it's anything from -- it's -- I think the easiest is African American food in the U.S., from collard greens to ham hocks to whatever, the prices have increased all over the country.
NNAMDIFood gentrification, Rebecca.
COOPERI think the Washington Post just did a story recently on mumbo sauce.
COOPERAnd so that's a great example of this, although I believe that writer was making the argument that, like, mumbo sauce is delicious. And whoever wants to eat it should just eat it. It doesn't have to be an issue. But, you know, I think it goes back to what I was talking about as with grilled cheese. It just -- those are comforting foods. And people are -- it's -- you know, you could be the healthiest eater but there's just some days you really want, you know, this comforting food. And for a lot of people it's fried chicken. You know, for me it's a bagel. You know, I don't eat a bagel often but when I'm having a bad day, I really want one.
NNAMDIAnd are you therefore, David, willing to pay more for it? Because that's what our caller seems to suggest by food gentrification.
SAXI mean, I think there's a spectrum. The only place where you sort of see it where it becomes completely unaffordable is in a commodity sense. So for example, the rise of quinoa as a health food the past couple years has increased quinoa prices in Bolivia and Peru so dramatically that the poor indigenous people in those countries, for whom that was a staple, can no longer afford to eat it. In that sense it is.
SAXBut here in North America, you know, I think even with, you know, African American soul food, there are every sort of price level of it. So you can go to Carlisle's (sp?) restaurant and get sort of a very refined, you know, fried chicken. But you can also go to places like -- I'm trying to think of -- there are always these ones that I saw in Brooklyn when I lived there, it was like -- it wasn't Kentucky Fried Chicken, it was Kennedy Fried Chicken, it was Lincoln Fried Chicken.
SAXAnd then there was Warren G. Harding fried chicken. And they would always have, you know, ten -- you know, for, I don't know, $5 an entire chicken. So I think unless it's priced out as a commodity, you're always going to get a range of products at different price points and quality levels.
NNAMDINeil, you made an interesting observation in running the numbers on trendy vegetables that kale and Brussels sprouts seem to spike in popularity during tough economic times. Any idea why?
IRWINYeah, these are two dishes, two ingredients that have -- are much more buzzy in the last few years than they have been before. Kale is just remarkable, the rise of kale. You seem to see it in every menu that you see these days, Brussels sprouts as well. The same thing happened in the early 1930s actually. There was a real spike in mentions of kale and Brussels sprouts in recipes, in restaurant coverage in the New York Times. You know, it could be a coincidence but it could be a reflection of, you know, when times are tough you go back to basics and you look at straightforward things.
IRWINI think you also saw in the aftermath of the last recession and when the economy was really rough, you know, you saw some items on menus more often that we think of as kind of more affordable food, fried chicken, meatloaf, mashed potatoes. You know, part of that might be psychological. Maybe people want a kind of homier existence when they don't want to be seen being flashy. Maybe they just want things that are affordable. But whatever the reasons, there's a clear trend where when times are rough people like ingredients that are both affordable and kind of homespun.
NNAMDIWell, back to comfort, grilled cheese. Here's Scott in Washington, D.C. Scott, your turn.
SCOTTGood day. I really like grilled cheese, but I remember a New York writer, a few years ago when New York was opening up a whole bunch of new places, trendy places downtown called Bouchier (sp?) Croissant. And she said, yeah, I'm thinking of moving to Paris and opening up a place called Hello Toast.
NNAMDIThat would be trendy in Paris, right?
NNAMDIWell, what were you going to say about grilled cheese?
SCOTTOh no, I like grilled cheese. I just find it strange that it's becoming a new fancy food.
NNAMDIDo you find it equally strange, Rebecca?
COOPERI don't know. I mean, it's very specific. I think the jury's still out on some of these business concepts that focus so uniquely on one item.
NNAMDIYou were talking about some place that opened someplace that only sold one thing here that didn't do very well.
COOPERRight. There was the meatballs shop.
COOPERThere was the meatballs and they did meatballs from various different culinary traditions. It did not last very long. There is another one just on the way from here on Connecticut Avenue in Cleveland Park that was -- I forget what it was called but it had all different kinds of cereal, like all of the fun Froot Loops and things like that that you would get in your childhood. But people didn't need to go to a restaurant to eat that I guess.
COOPERAnd so, you know, I think that these uniquely-focused restaurants just have to be smart about what they're doing and offer people something else as well, even if they are going to say the theme is grilled cheese, or there's a lot of donut shops opening now. But they -- you know, a lot of them offer chicken or they are also a bar or they also have a pretty robust coffee program. Because, you know, maybe in certain cities and maybe in certain parts of D.C. even, these will do well but, you know, you need a very dense population to support, like, a muffin business or something like that.
NNAMDIGot to take a short break, but what makes some food trends last and others fade away in your view? Give us a call, 800-433-8850. What do you think the next local food trend will be, grilled cheese, donuts maybe? You can also send us email to firstname.lastname@example.org or shoot us a tweet @kojoshow. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWelcome. We're talking about food trends and how they develop and fizzle with Neil Irwin, senior economic correspondent for The Upshot at the New York Times. He joins us in our Washington studio along with Rebecca Cooper, restaurant and hospitality reporters for the Washington Business Journal. Joining us from the studios of CBC in Toronto is David Sax, writer, journalist and author of "The Tastemakers: Why We Are Crazy for Cupcakes But Fed Up With Fondue."
NNAMDIYou can call us at 800-433-8850. David, diets that purport to improve your health seem to come and go with great regulatory. We got an email from Zach who says, "What do your guests think of environmental food trends such as organic, local and farm-to-table? Are these here to stay?" I'll start with you David, but then I'd like to go around the table on that one.
SAXIt appears that they are. I mean, I think it would be -- it would require some sort of scientific evidence debunking their essential goal to -- or tremendous kind of upheaval of the economics of those types of what I'll call political food trends essentially to reverse them. They only seem to be getting more accessible, more universal. You're now seeing sort of large fast casual fast food type restaurants talking about their local sourcing and using some organic products, organic produce as available and organic products are available.
SAXIn Wal-Mart I bought organic milk last week at Wal-Mart. And a couple of years ago I had to go to a health food store to buy it. So I think those are here to stay. But what's interesting about them, I find, is that, you know, those were political trends with very specific sort of political goals to improve environmental health through organic farming or to improve sort of local economies and carbon emission through locally sourced food that didn't really become main stream until they became food trends, until it became something that was trendy for foodies and people who sort of cared about food to order it at a restaurant or to sort of brag about when they cooked at home.
IRWINYeah, I think it's an important idea. I agree with David very much that what matters is it's not just whether these trends of farm-to-table and a healthier diet exist in cities and among people who can afford to go to fancy restaurants, but to what degree they've become main stream around the country. You know, if you believe that Americans are eating too many refined sugars, processed foods, that sort of thing and that the solution of that is more organic food, more vegetables, more -- you know, less preservatives, less refined products, the question is, how much will that become what is routinely available around the country in grocery stores, in casual restaurants, in suburban strip malls.
IRWINIt's -- you know, in terms of the overall health of the country what matters is what 300 million Americans are eating, not, you know, the 100,000 Americans who live in big cities and go to fancy restaurants.
NNAMDIWhat do you say, Rebecca?
COOPERYou know, it's interesting because I think the trend is not going anywhere but I have a lot more restaurants and restaurateurs who are -- they're almost afraid to use the term farm-to-table because I think they're worried about it being perceived as a fad. You know, they want -- a lot of them are still doing this. They are still sourcing things from farms near here and their meats and that sort of thing. But they correct themselves. When they start to explain restaurants to me they correct themselves and say, no, no, I don't want to say farm-to-table. Because it's -- you know, if you overuse a term like that, you know, it's like, oh, so two-years ago.
COOPERSo, you know, I wonder if the terminology is changing and maybe that goes to David's point which is when something approaches the main stream, you almost don't talk about it anymore.
NNAMDIDavid, you mentioned gluten-free earlier. It's popular today, gluten-free eating, not just for people who can't tolerate gluten but for some who want to lose weight or get healthy. What can you tell us about health-based diets and their staying power?
SAXWell, health-based diets rarely have staying power because they are based in science -- they sort of live by science and die by science. And unfortunately, you know, when they start out, it is often a kernel of science, you know, rumor sort of naturopathic science or pseudoscience in many ways, very small studies being conducted by companies that provide the backing that dries the sales of these products.
SAXSo, you know, again the example of the pomegranate juice empire where a couple years ago, you know, they had conducted some studies and it had showed a number of purported health benefits, all sort of with slight qualifiers on them. And it drove this tremendous market for pomegranates and pomegranate juice and pomegranate products.
SAXI remember my parents at one point, I don't think there was a salad we ate when I would go visit their house, that didn't have pomegranate seeds in it. And there was always a bottle of pom in there. And I would ask my dad, why is this -- oh, Dr. Oz, the antioxidants, the antioxidants, you know. I'm not going to get cancer, I'm not going to have a heart attack.
SAXBut, you know, as the science played itself out, as there was more money for more thorough studies of course the evidence, like, all sort of trend or fad diets and health-based trends in the past showed that it wasn't necessarily true. And of course, then the trend sort of fades away or moves on.
SAXYou saw the same thing with fat. You know, for years how many years did we eat egg white omelets cooked with Pam or margarine, you know, because apparently saturated fat was terrible for us. And now it turns out that, you know, years of --- decades of research have shown that actually no, you know, butter is actually better for you than margarine and you shouldn't be eating margarine.
SAXSo this is what happens with them and that's why I say, you know, you should take all those health trends with a grain of salt, including something like gluten-free, which many doctors and dieticians have come out with recently and said, look if you don't have celiac disease, this is not a good diet for you. This is not something that's healthier.
SAXIf you have celiac disease, as my friend Gail who lives in D.C. does, it's great. It's a tremendous boon. Suddenly there's thousands and thousands of products that you can buy. And, you know, entire restaurants devoted to the way of life that you have to lead. But for the rest of us, you know, the side effects that may be negative often outweigh that which is positive.
NNAMDIWe got a tweet, Neil, Rebecca. "Would you consider vegan a food trend?"
COOPERI don't think so. I mean, I guess if you want to use fad diets as a marker of a trend, you know, I know there are a lot of cleanses, which I feel like actual vegans might be offended by because people do a month-long cleanse diet where they eat like a vegan. But no. I mean, I think that's a very, like, political choice that I think runs deeper. And I don't think it's widespread enough.
NNAMDIWhat do you say, Neil?
IRWINYeah, that sounds right. You know, I haven't seen any reliable data on how many people eat a vegan diet. But I'm not sure whether there's been a meaningful move recently. If there's data to the contrary, I'd love to know it.
NNAMDIHere's Adrian in Damascus, Md. Adrian, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
ADRIANHi. I was just calling in reference to the previous caller who was talking about how he thought it would be funny if they made a toast place in Paris. And I think what he was alluding to was the fact that we take foods that are very commonplace in other countries and make them trendy here. And I just thought it was kind of funny that he mentioned toast because in Beijing they actually have a restaurant called Toastbac (sp?) where they sell coffee and tea and toast in various different ways. Yeah, so it's definitely not just an American trend.
NNAMDIOne restaurant makes a trend, is what you're saying, in Beijing?
IRWINWell, there is a toast trend that's been growing across the west coast in San Francisco, in Portland, in Seattle, the past year that is the Artisan toast trend, where they'll serve a $4-piece of toast at a breakfast place or a coffee place. And there are dozens and dozens of articles in Slate and Salon talking about how this is the dearth of American civilization or this is the greatest thing that's ever happened. There's probably more money being generated by journalists writing about the toast trend than people actually selling toast.
NNAMDIWell, there's a new buzzword in the fast casual restaurant world, Chipotle-ization. Everybody wants to copy Chipotle's success in customizing dishes but still getting customers in and out quickly. How is that playing out in our area, Rebecca? What are some of the successes and failures?
COOPERYeah, this is -- you know, everyone wants to be the Chipotle of a particular thing other than actual Mexican, I guess, because Chipotle sort of has that market cornered. So one place where it's happening a lot is pizza. It's very easy to make a pizza very quickly because you can just heat an oven really hot and it can be done in 30 -- you know, 90 seconds or something like that. So there's probably half a dozen Chipotle of pizza places that are opening or planning to open around D.C.
COOPEROne local sort of chain that started doing this on H Street is And Pizza. They now have one on U Street and at least one other open or in the works, I think. So, you know, it's just the amount of volume that Chipotle does is what makes this attractive. You know, the -- right down the street from my office there is what one might call the Chipotle of Thai food. It's called Tom Yum District. They do a noodle or a rice bowl, protein topping, sauce, you're out of there in like two minutes, you know. So -- and they crank, you know. They can get a lot done and do a lot of business.
NNAMDIDavid, some people are looking at trying the Chipotle-ization of Indian food?
SAXYeah, as Rebecca is saying. I mean, it's really being applied to every possible cuisine and every ethnic food. And there is a concept called the Dosateria in New York. It's actually in a Whole Foods, which is -- you know, Dosa is South Indian style lentil pancakes but being done in that Chipotle way where it's, okay, pick the protein, pick your format, pick your sauces, shaboom, shaboom, shaboom, here you go, up next.
SAXAnd I think the reason why it's so attractive to restaurateurs is because it allows them to scale while still maintaining a much higher quality than if they were pursuing sort of a more traditional fast food model, like McDonald's or Taco Bell.
IRWINThere's a woman doing Dosas in the Whole Foods here in D.C. as well, D.C. Dosa. She won a food incubator competition a couple of years ago. And now she does a similar thing at some Whole Foods here in D.C. as well.
NNAMDII can't believe without discussing Greek yogurt, why is it so popular? Will it last, Neil?
IRWINIt's popular because it's delicious. It's -- you know, there's been some very good marketing behind it as well from Chobani and the other sellers of the product. But, you know, this does strike me as the type of food fad that might have real staying power because it does fill a nice role. It's a good breakfast snack that, you know, is high in protein and tastes good. You know, yogurt itself, regular yogurt wasn't that commonplace in the U.S. even 30 years ago. So, you know, it strikes me as the kind of thing that a combination of consumer demand with good marketing, with a good product and you have the recipe for a very long-lasting trend.
NNAMDIAnd Gregory, you're on the air. I think Rebecca, this is for you. Gregory, your turn.
GREGORYHi. Thank you, Kojo. I just -- slightly off topic I just wanted to mention that a fairly new D.C. restaurant Rose's Luxury was just named the best new restaurant in America by Bon Appétit Magazine, which kind of shows how far the D.C. restaurants here have...
NNAMDIDoes it, Rebecca? It shows how far we've come in D.C. as...
COOPERYeah, I would so. We've never taken the top spot on that list before. Although, as I wrote about last week, the Bon Appétit write-up of Rose's Luxury still characterize our food scene as one dominated by the power lunch, which I personally took offense to and listed off I don't know how many different businesses that would sort of suggest that we've moved on from the power lunch.
NNAMDIWe have moved on from the power lunch. I so proclaim it. I'm afraid we're just about out of time. Rebecca Cooper's restaurant and hospitality reporter for the Washington Business Journal. Rebecca, thank you for joining us.
NNAMDINeil Irwin is senior economics correspondent for The Upshot at the New York Times. Neil, thank you for joining us.
IRWINThanks so much.
NNAMDIAnd David Sax is a writer and journalist. He is author of "The Tastemakers: Why We're Crazy for Cupcakes But Fed Up With Fondue." I only have about ten seconds left, David, but what are you predicting the next big food trend will be?
SAXIt sounds like Dosas, long Dosas. Long Dosas, short (word?) .
NNAMDIDavid, thank you so much for joining us. And thank you all for listening. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
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