The Best (& Worst) Food Trends From the Past Decade
In this era of casual voyeurism and hyperawareness, food trends have churned faster than ever. Here's a list of the most significant ones, according to opinion columnist Caitlin Raux Gunther.
I went to college in New York City during the first decade of the millennium. It was just after smoking was banned inside bars and restaurants (though you could still sneak one sometimes). Sex and the City was still on television and it was kind of thrilling to know that Carrie’s haunts were just a subway ride away.
On Wednesdays, I had a ritual: I would swipe a free copy of the Times from the student center, cozy up on an armchair, and tuck into Frank Bruni’s weekly restaurant reviews. I lived through those articles. Bruni’s words, by turns decadent and biting, provided a window into the white-table-clothed restaurants that were otherwise inaccessible, what with my $8 an hour work-study gig.
The second decade ushered in new ways to think about food—particularly, what was “good” and who got to decide. We stopped looking to traditional outlets for guidance and instead, everyone’s tastes became readily available content.
Since 2010, when the ombre Instagram app became a fixture on our smartphones, we’ve been watching each other’s plates with rapt attention, turning celebrities into food authorities (e.g., Chrissy Teigen), and vaulting from obscurity anyone with a knack for expertly holding a bagel/drippy ice cream cone/gooey slice of pizza.
It's part of the biggest trend in the past decade: eating to nourish the appetites of our friends, families, and communities, aka our “followers.” And what we eat signals who we are—at least for the course of any one particular meal.
We’ve been virtuous: claiming justice for ugly produce and maligned vegetables, championing the locavore movement, and choking back anything with a trace of antioxidants. We’ve also been wasteful, composing perfect side shots of choco-taco-churro milkshakes and Frankencocktail Bloody Marys stacked with more garnishes than anyone ever needed.
We’ve indulged our childhood nostalgia for all things rainbow and unicorn, and proven that it is okay to play with your food, especially if you’re generating an income stream doing it: just ask your friend the food stylist, photographer, blogger, or influencer.
Willingly or not, we’ve all become “foodies,” so much so that the word itself (much like “hipster” of the early aughts) has become obsolete. We’re all guilty of #eatingfortheinsta.
In this era of casual voyeurism and hyperawareness, trends have churned faster than ever. Though the line is often fine, here’s a list of the best and worst trends from the past decade.
Rising from crudités platter anonymity, kale became popular around 2012, which Bon Appétit deemed the “year of kale.” A guy from Vermont even made a successful online business selling “Eat More Kale” T-shirts, despite a fast food chain's attempt to stop him from using the phrase—too close to their trademarked slogan “Eat Mor Chikin,” so they claimed. Luckily, the little guy triumphed and we can all proudly wear our love for lacinato. Whatever your feelings on the OG dark leafy green, kale made it cool to be a vegetable and paved the way for its fellow nutrient-rich, superfood friends, like swiss chard, collard greens, cauliflower, and kelp.
In her 2013 cookbook, It’s All Good, Gwyneth Paltrow described avocado toast as “a favorite pair of jeans—so reliable and easy and always just what you want.” Say what you will about her jade eggs and crystal water bottles, but on this point, Her Royal Goopness is not wrong. The Aussie treat might cause some eye-rolling: Sometimes it’s too expensive; sometimes it’s too extra (L.A. chef Jessica Koslow’s recipe for avocado toast features no fewer than 22 ingredients. But there’s something undeniably satisfying about crunchy bread paired with rich avocado. Avo-toast was also the gateway drug for toast as a meal post-breakfast—drizzled with olive oil, rubbed with garlic, piled with mounds of burrata or my next favorite trend, tinned fish.
Mixed with near-equal parts mayo—that’s the only way you’d catch me eating canned tuna a decade ago. But after living in Spain and road-tripping through tiny fishing towns in Costa Brava, where tinned anchovies and sardines were the local specialty (not to mention, an important industry), I realized the potential of quality canned seafood. These days, the stylish tins are popping up on restaurant menus and snack spreads everywhere. Packed with flavor and fatty acids, it’s high time canned seafood is having its moment.
If it “chews like a burger” and bleeds like a burger, then it’s probably a burger—unless it’s a plant-based imitation meat patty.
Part of me opposes vegan foods parading around as meat. Vegetable dishes are delicious and versatile already. If the goal is to stick it to the meat industry, we should aim to eradicate our taste for meat altogether. But that goal is loftier than it is helpful. As Kelsey Piper wrote for Vox, “The fact is that lots of people want, well, a burger. So why not offer them a burger that’s good for the environment, good for animals, and positioned to address huge problems with our food system?” It might be healthier to eat a pile of kale, but no matter which way you grill it, plant-based burgers are better for the environment than their meat counterparts (not to mention, for the animals).
I can’t help but share Piper’s suspicion that the backlash against meat imitators really took hold when they became mainstream, showing up on menus of less noble establishments like Burger King. Like caviar at a barbecue, it smells of elitism.
Putting an Egg on It
Adding a fried or poached egg isn’t the stuff of culinary innovation—dishes like Korean bibimbap, French croque madame and Israeli shakshuka have been putting an egg on it for ages. But in the past decade, restaurants and home cooks have been embracing dippy eggs on everything. The once racy #yolkporn shot has all but lost its thrill. Supplementing an extra hit of protein and richness, every dish gets better with an egg on it. Except chicken — that’s a hard no.
Honorable mentions: the zero food waste movement; more respect for breakfast; fermented foods; all things sesame; anything by Alison Roman.
What happens when you cross a flaky croissant with a sugary sweet donut? Apparently, people go batsh*t.
Don't get me wrong: I enjoyed Dominique Ansel's trademarked treat as much as any other sentient being (though I prefer his take on the kouign amann). The problem lies in the pastry-induced hysteria—lines the length of several city blocks and a black market where Cronuts® sold for upwards of 50 bucks—and how that reflects our values. I'm not above it. I've waited far longer than any presumably grown adult person should for soft serve. But the ice cream was underwhelming—on par with Mister Softee with a couple of overwrought toppings—and I felt like a damn fool.
Another decade, another slew of repackaged health fads that seep into our collective consciousness. The latest affront, the ketogenic diet, claimed four of the top ten searches for Google’s Year in Search 2018 (keto pancakes, cheesecake, brownies, and chili).
Although adherents like Jersey Shore’s Vinny Guadagnino, author of The Keto Guido Cookbook, swear by its miraculous weight-loss effects, the keto regime—which requires limiting carbohydrates to 5 percent of your total caloric intake—seems highly unsustainable and, well, kind of lonely out there in no-carb land. Given the risks, it's probably best to skip #ketoszn unless prescribed by your doctor.
Back when I had a corporate job in New York City, I participated in a juice cleanse with a few colleagues, a kind of sad and restrictive team-building experiment. I still remember sheepishly carrying the padded, light-blue juice cooler around the office, sometimes catching a sympathetic glance from a fellow cleanser. I’d knock back the cold, acidulant liquid, fantasizing about a hot cup of coffee; a bowl of cereal; a banana—anything else. Three days later, famished and grouchy, I returned to solid foods with a vengeance. At no point did I consider what “cold-pressed” actually meant.
Cold-pressing produce supposedly preserves more nutrients than say, blending, which generates heat and destroys them. The evidence of said benefit is murkier than an activated charcoal shot. One thing’s for sure: An apple is the healthiest version of an apple, and will set you back much less than the $12 you’ll pay for the cold-pressed juice version.
If pastries were dogs, the macaron would be a French poodle with a freshly groomed pompadour. (I’ve always been a shaggy dog person myself.)
In France, macarons were first popularized in the late 18th century by a couple of Benedictine nuns. The sweet sisters baked the ground almond, egg white, and sugar-based treats to support themselves during the revolution. Later, a ritzy tea salon called Ladurée adapted a version to accompany their tea service. That same salon opened its first New York location in 2011, and by 2014, macarons were named the “new cupcake.”
Macarons embody everything that makes me yawn about baked goods: too precious and too fussy to make at home. I’ll take a rustic cookie sprinkled with coarse salt any day. Like the popular grainy, chocolate-chunky cookies from Paris’ Mokonuts. Or the ever-trending cookie that needs no introduction.
When I was a kid, my friends and I collected items from around our homes and held an auction to sell them back to our parents. A family heirloom went for a quarter; a few picture frames for a dime. Afterward, our parents politely returned the hawked goods.
There’s a similarly entrepreneurial spirit behind meal plans. But like our childhood auctions, they’re making a profit off selling you something you don’t actually need. Customers already have access to grocery stores and an infinite number of recipes online. What’s the fun in having someone choose them for you?
I’m pretty sure I’m not alone when I say: I love grocery shopping—seeing which produce is at its brightest; squeezing a dozen avocados until I find the one for me; scoring a bunch of brown-speckled bananas on sale. At the risk of sounding sentimental, meal kits remove the adventure from dinner preparation and replace it with convenience, not to mention, unnecessary shipping and packaging.
Don’t let them sell you a candlestick you already own.
Honorable mentions: edible flowers; smoothie bowls; extreme milkshakes; frosé; bacon-flavored everything.