By Ashleigh VanHouten
Why do some foods become so popular?
Seriously,what’s up with cronuts and kale and bacon on everything? Why is food of any kind considered a fad, anyway? Since when did what you put in your mouth become capable of being trendy, or going viral, or making a statement? Who decides what becomes a food fad, and how do they do it? And what does it say about our generation – millions of food obsessed narcissists taking pictures of their plates and sharing that image (not the food, of course, never that) with strangers as if it matters?
Here’s a hot take: food is just another way of showing status, class, money, privilege. If you can afford to take pictures with your Parisian macarons, your $10 cold pressed veggie juices and tasting menus at New York’s hottest restaurants, you’re kind of a big deal, aren’t you? At least the Instagram likes on your picture of artisanal gluten-free tacos seems to imply that you are.
The hottest food fads these days are the ones that are most photogenic. Back in the day, real food was meatloaf or stew or a nice hearty plate of steak and potatoes, but those meals are mushy, colorless and utterly unsexy.
Today’s food stars are creamy, bright avocado on thick sprouted grain toast, the sexiest version of which you can find at Australian coffee shop Two Hands on Mott Street; pastel and rounded like an Easter egg, the impossibly adorable macarons from Ladurée presented on a twee serving plate; plump, soft bao stuffed with sweet pork from BaoHaus, a treat that appeals to foodies and bros alike due to the establishment’s larger than life celebrity chef Eddie Huang. Overflowing, sumptuous ice cream cones, melting just so in the sunshine with the Big Gay Ice Cream Shop façade in the background guarantee you extra followers, and the insanely thrown-together, butter-filled cookies from Momofuku Milk bar are #foodporn at its most sinful. I could go on, but I know you’re already experiencing FOMO, a pathetic sadness at not, in this moment, being a part of this near-religious food worship.
In a world where we’d rather watch someone else enjoy life via our devices than actually enjoy it ourselves, pictures of delicious, over-the-top foods are consumed more voraciously than the treats themselves. These foods, and their equally photogenic brethren (think oversized milkshakes, acai bowls, and cake pops) rise in popularity because they’re a feast for the eyes, sometimes more so than the stomach.
But hey, I’m not judging. We all buy into it - maybe you aren’t obsessed with the artisanal donut craze (although how could you not, with Dough’s head-sized creations or Doughnut Plant’s pretentious-yet-irresistible seasonal flavors like rosemary pineapple).
Maybe you think boozy, artisanal popsicles are a bit much, or adding bacon to everything contrived, but don’t think you—above all the rest of us fools—can get away from the food craze entirely. You have a weakness, as do we all, and eventually, it’s going to pop up on your Facebook newsfeed.
Me, I’m totally a slave to the current matcha trend. High quality, Japanese ground green tea leaves blended with hot water and milk to make a gorgeous, frothy caffeinated beverage that yes, tastes better than coffee but more importantly looks like a sweet green dream. I can’t take my eyes off of it, and neither can Instagram, which currently hosts dozens of accounts dedicated solely to the green powder in all its forms. The lattes at tiny, adorable hole-in-the-wall Alphabet City shop Matcha Café Wabi were born to be Instagram stars, and this is just one of some half-dozen shops that have popped up in New York in the last couple of years catering strictly to green tea lovers.
Perhaps its not surprising, in a city that can support boutiques selling only cream puffs or cupcakes the size of a thimble, but it’s incredible to think that the singularity of these offerings, their beautifully photographed novelty, is why they thrive. Taste is just a bonus.
Economic and consumerism issues aside, the rampant fetishism of food can be a good thing, in measured doses: it teaches people more about food, the importance of quality ingredients, and removes the guilt so many of us harbor about fully, immersively enjoying ones meals.
More than ever, “average folk” know that adding just a bit of sea salt to a good chocolate brings out it’s flavor and depth (ask uber-popular hipster darlings and chocolatiers Mast Brothers about their sea salt chocolate bar, where unsurprisingly, the craftsmanship of the packaging is as sought after as its contents). They now know the difference, both in ethics and taste, of an organic chicken over that leather-skinned rotisserie bird you can pick up at the nearest grocery. They know that a little fresh citrus basically makes anything taste better.
So this is good. Learning about food, where it comes from, the talented people who make it, these are all good things. But reducing the magic and wonder of delicious foods to fads, taking them from multi-dimensional and multi-sensory wonders to a flat, contrived picture on an Instagram feed is taking it too far, something the millennial generation is infamous for.
So, less pictures, less trend-making—more smiling, chewing, sighing. Less idolizing and showing off; more enjoying. Maybe it’s time to go back to the old days when we ate with our mouths, not our eyes. Read my crumb-covered lips: put your iPhone down and just. Fucking. Eat it.