Vox pulls back the curtain on the fascinating cast of chefs, future forecasters, and executives who decide what’s on the menu in millions of restaurants and food aisles around the world.
Here’re some of my favourite parts:
The kale salad, in her opinion, was the twenty-first century’s Caesar salad, an international staple that began in the 1920s in a Tijuana hotel and snowballed into the most popular salad trend the world has ever known. “Slowly but surely, the kale salad will make its way to TGI Friday’s menu, then McDonald’s, Kraft, and, eventually, as a Doritos flavor.”
Kale salad actually sounds like a fantastic idea! Throw in a bit of sriracha and pork and you might as well take all my money right now.
There are supplier-originated trends, backed by branding campaigns, like the POM-driven pomegranate craze, and the recent upswing in avocado use, pushed by the Avocado Board, which has helped chains such as Subway develop a popular avocado sub for their menu.
This is so interesting. I remember the Subway avocado campaign. It tasted good, but even then, I was confused by why Subway was pushing avocado so hard. It seemed so random. Guess the Avocado Board (!) had a hand.
And now I’m deeply curious about the politics of single-handedly making a certain food a “thing.” How do you even start to do something like that?
Trends have births, and those can be strong births (a break-out, like Greek yogurt), stillbirths, and orphaned births, which is when a trend doesn’t have strong parents to champion it. Yes, food trends have parents, and like children, they need support and nourishment or else they’ll fail to thrive. They also need advocates and allies. Just as a trend is born, a trend can morph (whole wheat bread to multigrain bread to single-grain bread to ancient-grain bread), crash (the Atkins Diet becomes discredited), redirect (lactose-free moves from the mainstream back to a niche), and be killed by an adversary (GMO foods go from salvation to pariah, thanks to political opposition from the organic movement).
I firmly believe that there’s a world where shito - a shrimp/fish/spice sauce popular in West Africa - is as big as sriracha. I brought a jar of the shito to college and my Vietnamese roommate couldn’t get enough.
It’ll take a coalition of shops, restaurants, foodies, and maybe a thumbs-up from a celebrity or two, but I think it could be done. Right now, I’m betting on Essie Spice to make it happen.
The whole article is worth a read, if for nothing at all because it underscores the degree to which surprising parts of our lives are shaped, scripted, and intentional things.
Someone sees something cool during a trip to Thailand. She mentions it to her roommate, who posts the pictures on her food blog, which gets quoted in a food forecast. The next thing you know, heads are nodding around a table in a boardroom, Doritos is announcing a new flavour, and prices for a particular type of pepper triple overnight.
These things don’t just happen. Someone decides it should, and makes it so.