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Food Trends and What Fuels Them

By Mikayla Rosario

Just like fashion, food falls in and out of style; some make comebacks, and others stay in the past. How has the food we’ve eaten evolved since the beginning of the 20th century?

Oreo51 by Pieces of the Past. Via Creative Commons

In the 1900s, sugar crossed from a high-class commodity to an everyday craving. Pies, brownies, and cakes were increasingly popular desserts. Sugar was used to sweeten tea and coffee. There was also a large rise in meat consumption, with restaurants serving elk, caribou, bear, moose and even elephant to diners. New foods included Hershey chocolate bars, Dr. Pepper, A-1 Sauce, and hot fudge sundaes.

A huge increase in immigration during WWI introduced a flood of multi-cultural dishes to America. Meatballs, chow mein, goulash, pizza, and hundreds of other dishes from Asia and Europe became American food staples. Processed foods also began to make an appearance: Oreos, marshmallow fluff, hot dogs, canned fruit, and mayonnaise were being consumed by more people.

Decades later, what was considered “popular” food underwent a radical change. Instead of fast food, the majority of Americans preferred complicated, fancy, foreign fare. French, Mexican, and Japanese influence was seen in many dishes. But in the late ‘60s, hippies began craving unprocessed, made-from-scratch meals, and therefore popularized foods like guacamole, zucchini bread, and granola.

Nouvelle Cuisine, courtesy of Jacques Lamelois, via Creative Commons

In the early 1980s, “Nouvelle Cuisine” made its first appearance in America. This French-style meal called for an infinitesimally small amount of food served on a large plate for a hefty price. This trend was coupled with the “Cajun” and “blackening” trends. But after yet another stock market crash in late 1987, cheap comfort foods like mashed potatoes, chicken-fried steak, meatloaf, and pot pies made a comeback.

At the start of the 21st century, low-carb diets, coffee, and food trucks became wildly popular. Fast food restaurants like McDonald’s tried to introduce healthier options like salads to their menus. Starbucks grew from 3.5k stores in 2000 to almost 17k in 2010, and has grown to over 22.5k stores since. The mobile food industry has grown consistently since 2008, and is expected to continue gaining popularity. Foods like fancy doughnuts, macarons, kimchi, superfood, boba, and raw cookie dough have dominated the modern trend lists.

According to Roxanne Webber, VP of Media at Chefsfeed, “social media fuels the spark of food trends these days, particularly Instagram which has by far become the most prominent social platform we see chefs and restaurants participating on.” But she doesn’t see this as entirely positive; her least favorite food trend is “stunt food: creating ‘wacky’ dishes for Instagram likes” rather than for “taste and soul… it may be entertaining but it feels really disingenuous.” Roxanne says she hopes the “whole grain/grain bowl thing sticks around, just because it’s nice when something that’s a ‘trend’ is also healthy and good for people.” It seems as though modern food trends are drifting from taste to presentation, but who knows what the future will bring?



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