The Tastemakers: Why We're Crazy for Cupcakes but Fed Up with Fondueby David Sax
Tastemaker, n. Anyone with the power to make you eat quinoa.
Kale. Spicy sriracha sauce. Honeycrisp apples. Cupcakes. These days, it seems we are constantly discovering a new food that will make us healthier, happier, or even somehow cooler. Chia seeds, after a brief life as a novelty houseplant and I Love the '80s punchline, are suddenly a superfood./b>
Tastemaker, n. Anyone with the power to make you eat quinoa.
Kale. Spicy sriracha sauce. Honeycrisp apples. Cupcakes. These days, it seems we are constantly discovering a new food that will make us healthier, happier, or even somehow cooler. Chia seeds, after a brief life as a novelty houseplant and I Love the '80s punchline, are suddenly a superfood. Not long ago, that same distinction was held by pomegranate seeds, açai berries, and the fermented drink known as kombucha. So what happened? Did these foods suddenly cease to be healthy a few years ago? And by the way, what exactly is a “superfood” again?
In this eye-opening, witty work of reportage, David Sax uncovers the world of food trends: Where they come from, how they grow, and where they end up. Traveling from the South Carolina rice plot of America's premier grain guru to Chicago's gluttonous Baconfest, Sax reveals a world of influence, money, and activism that helps decide what goes on your plate. On his journey, he meets entrepreneurs, chefs, and even data analysts who have made food trends a mission and a business. The Tastemakers is full of entertaining stories and surprising truths about what we eat, how we eat it, and why.
On Saturday nights in the 1970s, many Americans sat around bubbling pots of oil or cheese, spearing chunks of meat or bread into the hot fondue pots that had become the latest cooking trend. A decade later people pushed fondue pots to the dark recesses of their kitchen cabinets or threw them out with the morning trash. What creates a food trend? Who had the ability to market a food into a popular cultural moment? Food and business writer Sax (Save the Deli) probes these and other questions in this entertaining foray into why cupcakes ousted donuts as a food fad, and why quinoa had its day in the limelight before chia seeds blew it away. He begins by exploring the four types of food trends—cultural (cupcakes), agricultural (heirloom fruits), chef-driven (ceviche), and health-driven (chia seeds). For example, chef-driven trends can introduce a comprehensive style of cooking and eating, or they can develop a focus on specific flavor profiles. Asserting that food alone doesn’t drive food trends, Sax explores the power of sales, data used in forecasting food trends, and marketing to create the desire and opportunity for a particular food. Thus, prunes now go by the much more pleasing and less geriatric sounding “dried plums.” In the end, Sax declares, food trends, though sometimes annoying, deepen and expand our cultural palate, spur economic growth, provide broad variety in our diets, and promote happiness. (May)
“Entertaining Sax has seized on a big, juicy topic, and is at his best in on-the-scene reporting, where the brisk, funny, assured voice that earned him many fans keeps us galloping through the aisles Sax is great company, a writer of real and lasting charm The Tastemakers will leave readers wondering about how susceptible we are to the charms of any new foodand how long we're likely to stay captivated.”New York Times Book Review
“Sax embarks on a lively culinary your of America, consulting chefs, producers, foodies, food buyers, and trend forecasters to find out why one day sriracha sauce is all the rage, and the next, people are adding kale to every meal.”The Economist
“Sax has done his homeworkand probably put on a few pounds. A solid overview of trendsetting foods brought to life with colorful examples.”Kirkus
“Sax declares, food trends, though sometimes annoying, deepen and expand our cultural palate, spur economic growth, provide broad variety in our diets, and promote happiness.”Publishers Weekly
How does an obscure flavor featured one day in a trendy, high-end cocktail become a leading component of grocery-store barbecue sauce the next year?Food trends inevitably shape what we eat on a daily basis. James Beard Award winner Sax (Save the Deli: In Search of Perfect Pastrami, Crusty Rye, and the Heart of Jewish Delicatessen, 2009) explores how food trends start, why they matter, and how they grow and move through our culture. He breaks down four types of trends: cultural, agriculture-based, chef-driven and health-based, with anecdotes and examples of cupcakes, china black rice, chia seeds and Greek yogurt. "Trends are the process of a feedback loop," writes the author, "of competition between talents, and they are a balance between following the herd, pleasing customers, and letting creativity flow." Sax also describes how trends take off in our culture through food events and awards, trend forecasting and marketing efforts. "[T]he increased competitiveness of the grocery business coupled with the rapid spread of foodie culture has sent the big grocers deeper into the world of specialty foods," he writes, accelerating the trajectory of food trends. So why do food trends even matter? Sax argues they "can deepen and expand our culture beyond the plate." The rise of food trucks in Washington, D. C., illustrates how trends have the "ability to change laws and behaviors by the sheer nature of their popularity." By taking undervalued products, such as pork belly and bacon, and raising their value, food trends represent capitalism at its finest. Sax notes that, due to food media and an increasingly popular foodie culture, "food trends are springing up quicker and moving faster than they ever did before." He also examines the impact of such trendsetters as Momofuku, Whole Foods and Magnolia Bakery. Sax has done his homework—and probably put on a few pounds. A solid overview of trendsetting foods brought to life with colorful examples.
Canadian author and James Beard Writing and Literature Award winner Sax (Save the Deli; contributor, New York Times, New York, Saveur, and GQ magazines) focuses on food trends in this book: why they appear and disappear and their benefit to the U.S. economy. He begins with cupcakes' popularity because of a 20-second appearance on Sex and the City. Long essays on the superfood, chia, China black rice, and bacon's ubiquity are entertaining. Sax traces trends and how they develop and succeed but often encounter obstacles along the way. There are also chapters on the effects chefs have on fads; the development, failure, and triumph of a new variety of apple, the Red Prince; and politics involved with food trucks. He describes "lexicon branding" and how Patagonian toothfish became popular under it's new name Chilean sea bass. An epilog stresses the importance of education in encouraging young children to eat healthy food. VERDICT Recommended for academic libraries as additional reading in food service and marketing courses and for public libraries that have "foodie" patrons.—Christine E. Bulson, emeritus, Milne Lib., SUNY Oneonta
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Meet the Author
David Sax is a writer specializing in business and food. His writing appears regularly in the New York Times, Bloomberg Businessweek, Saveur, the Grid Toronto,, and other publications. His first book, Save the Deli: In Search of Perfect Pastrami, Crusty Rye, and the Heart of Jewish Delicatessen, was a Los Angeles Times bestseller. Sax's work has also won a James Beard Award for Writing and Literature. He lives in Toronto.
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The Tastemakers is an interesting investigation into how foods, particularly quick serve, and presentations of them become popular within the last 20 years in American life. Beginning with the cupcake trend, inspired by the show, Sex and the City, to covering such topics as food trucks, gourmet hamburgers, quinoa, chia seeds, heirloom rice, pomegranate, south Asian food, etc., come in to popular focus, like a storm, then recede again, as if never there. The strength of this work is its real investigation, from coast to coast, with extensive interviews, of the folks at the point of literally making new tastes. Much of post - WWII, American mass food culture gained a reputation of steady, dependable, and generally bland - perhaps with a little bit of French food in some larger cities and with every town of any size having a 'fine dining' steak house. The Tastemakers shows how that stranglehold was broken in the 90's, and is continuing in some really unpredictable ways, and shows how some things become popular, like gourmet burgers, and some things have the promise to, but never quite catch on, like Indian food in general culture. As a book, this reads like a 270+ page, long form journalism story. There isn't a strong unifying theme here, but more of features and investigations of particular food types and why they have or have not become popular in the general culture. With the explosion of food expressions over the last 20 years, across the country, this is a worthwhile attempt to explain how that has happened, and how entrepreneurs up to larger corporations have attempted to adapt and lead.