Opinion

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.

December 19, 2019
Photo by Rocky Luten

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.

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“Could I add my thoughts on gluten free? I know a very small % of people do have a problem with gluten, but yet again, manufacturers have jumped on $$$ making bonanza. When Deli roast beef is marked gluten free I want to scream.”
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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.


Best Food Trends

Kale

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.

Avocado Toast

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.

Canned Seafood

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.

Imitation Meat

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.


Worst Food Trends

The Cronut®

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.

Keto

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.

Cold-Pressed Juice

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.

Macarons

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.

Meal Kits

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.

Do you agree with Caitlin's picks? Let us know in the comments below.

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • cookinalong
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  • Smaug
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  • Jane
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Caitlin is a Paris-based writer and editor. She wrote about food and wine while living in Madrid after college, and had a brief career as a lawyer before moving back to Spain to work in restaurants and attend culinary courses at the Basque Culinary Center in San Sebastian. She has worked or staged at Septime in Paris, Mina and Nerua in Bilbao, and Bien Cuit in Brooklyn. In 2018, she and her husband launched a pop-up sandwich shop in Mallorca, Spain. Caitlin now lives in an ovenless apartment in the 9th arrondissement with her husband, Guillaume, and daughter, Mimi. Update: we have an oven now.

130 Comments

cookinalong January 6, 2020
Obviously, this is an opinion piece but even so, an informed opinion is more useful. The author needs to do some research about Keto diets which have been around for many years as a therapeutic tool to treat various illnesses, including epilepsy. Without causing any harm. No need to adopt a ketogenic diet if you're doing fine as you are, but to opine, in writing, that it's harmful is irresponsible. As for kale....Personally I'd rather eat grass clippings, but to each his own.
 
Summer S. January 4, 2020
I think food should be a judgement free zone. I love eating a low carb diet and have never felt better, I’m not hungry all the time. My grocery bills are less. For me it works and I don’t see “keto” as a fad but more of a way of life. I made the switch to low carb 2 years ago and have not looked back. The food is delicious and satisfying. When I ate a plant forward diet I always had abominable pain and other GI issues. I know it’s not for everyone, but I like the idea that people can eat a diet that is healthy for them.
 
Smaug January 1, 2020
All of this shows the wisdom of avoiding fads at all cost. However, in an era where approximately 38% of the US population consists of chefs desperate to get your attention, it misses the all time worst fad (actually, embraces it) of sprinkling salt on top of desserts. And the most nonsensical- the "heirloom tomato" fad; good for gardeners, but utter nonsense for cooks.
 
Gammy January 1, 2020
Not understanding your nonsensical slam toward heirloom tomatoes (minus the quotation marks). Have you ever eaten an heirloom tomato? One purchased from the grower who picked it just that morning? One of life's greatest treats in August! I'll take an heirloom Mr. Stripey or Mortgage Lifter over any sort of Better Boy or Early Girl "salad tomato" anytime.
 
Smaug January 1, 2020
Then I will explain it. The term "heirloom" in this case refers exclusively to the horticultural properties of the tomato; it tells you absolutely nothing about it's eating or cooking characteristics. Recipes specifying "heirloom tomatoes" are simply using a trendy buzzword to sell the recipe, they aren't imparting any culinary information. Thus the term nonsense; it is a practice that makes no sense. I have nothing against heirloom tomatoes and have grown any number of them- if you want to specify "truly vine ripened (which commercial "vine ripened" tomatoes are not) Brandywine" in your recipe that would have some meaning, though it would reduce your potential audience considerably.
 
Jane December 31, 2019
Someone commented that non milk beverages are not labeled milk. I checked today and Almond Breeze is labeled almond milk. The Silk line of beverages is labeled milk. The store brand, Winn Dixie is still labeled milk. Not a single brand said beverage. I stand by my statement that all the faux milk beverages should not have milk on the labels.
 
epicharis December 31, 2019
Obviously the typical Food52 reader doesn't want or need meal kits/plans. But the typical Food52-er is not representative of the typical American. Parents of young children, disabled folks, anyone working two or more jobs, and those who just straight up don't like cooking---they're people too, and we should admit to ourselves that if you actually enjoy grocery shopping you're probably pretty lucky.
 
janet V. January 1, 2020
You most definitely are not alone. The meal kit business is booming! It's not for everyone, but that does not make it wrong. If it works for you, that's great. It's true that most of us that follow Food52 are "from scratch" cooks and that involves shopping for all those ingredients. It's an adventure that most of us enjoy. Please don't let the opinions of the food snobs make you feel sub-human. I may have never considered the meal kit option, but I have eaten boxed mac and cheese for dinner...........and liked it.
 
epicharis January 2, 2020
This comment is almost as condescending as the original article. Not sure why you got the impression that I feel "sub-human" or "alone"; as a F52 regular, home cook and CSA subscriber, I usually do all my meals from scratch. But I have also used Plated and Green Chef on weeks when I don't have time to spend hours at the store or peeling beets. But even if I didn't, so what? The hours I spend canning and pickling and baking are indicative of privilege, not moral virtue, "seriousness" about food, or whatever. We all love to cook but not everyone does, and that's fine.
 
janet V. January 2, 2020
I'm sorry I misinterpreted your original comment and offended you. I was trying to be kind, but missed the mark big time!
 
LoisKT January 6, 2020
I love meal kits cause as a foodie at age 70, can’t stand SHOPPING nor do I like leftovers. Cooking well for 2 who both eat smaller portions is a challenge. I like the 3 meals a week plans and option to skip weeks anytime. I still cook 4 meals a week using the many cookbooks and recipes collected over the years in Washington DC, LA, Boston, Chicago, ( I have Julia Child recipes from her early Boston show days that never made it into her published cookbooks). I also like that kits include just what ingredients are needed. My cupboards and fridge are filled with jars of condiments leftover from recipes calling a Tbs or 2. They often get tossed before getting used up.
There is a huge difference between meal kit plans and I switch among them for variety. Blue Apron, Hello Fresh (until they began upcharging for most of their dishes), and Plated. Sadly Plated just quit doing subscriptions. I was alternating weeks between Plated and Blue Apron. Also, I tend to do meal kits in winter months and use garden produce in summer months. I don’t find that meal kits are any more expensive than gas running to store plus buying large prepackaged items one must buy that tend to spoil or take up too much room when one likes variety. P.S. I live in a suburb in Metro Milwaukee. I like the NY style of food that many of the meal kits use. Their rolls and tortillas are better than we get here! Of course, I could drive an hour downtown to find the one good bakery or taqueria in the area. Like I said, shopping for good ingredients here is a pain.
 
JK December 31, 2019
Trend that I love: Seems pickling/preserving food is making a comeback, and I'm all for that! I even have a great batch of spicy pickled carrots and brussel sprouts in my fridge I use for salads and a garnish in my caesars.

Trend that I want to die: Cilantro on so much stuff. Please just give cilantro a break, it's an OKAY herb but it's not the be-all-end-all. It's no garlic, c'mon.
 
Jane December 30, 2019
Darci, what a brilliant response. This thread is fun because we are just leaving our 2 cents worth. Some posts ar3 just way to serious.
 
Darci M. December 30, 2019
I generally take these “best and worst” articles with a grain of salt because...you know....objectivity. I almost stopped reading when the author was talking about why people follow IG and and blogs and foodies. She really has no clue. Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar. Voyeurism? Really. Yeah I could care less about why the vloggers, bloggers, foodies, and influencers do their thing. I tune in for education only. I want to know what that tamarind paste is that I see every week at my grocer. How do I use it? This author doesn’t have her hand on anyone’s pulse...anyone that I know.

This was proven when....

I read that the number one best food trend was kale. Yuck. Double yuck. I know three people in my community of hundreds who actually like it. Three. Many people use it for the nutrients (like moms hiding spinach from kids who hated anything green) but they hide it in soups and casseroles because it is it practically indigestible and unpalatable.

I enjoyed the comments section for this article, however. These comments encompass the good and bad trends for your actual readership...

Which leads me to think

...perhaps some contributors just don’t contribute, and some influencers don’t influence. Perhaps they merely provide a forum where the rest of us can have a real conversation.
 
gourmet B. December 31, 2019
Darci, I agree with some of your statements, but I find your comment mean-spirited. Though I am, like you, of the camp that doesn't use Instagram for "voyeurism," I would never claim that NO ONE likes kale, or that NO ONE uses Instagram for a pulse on food culture. Your arguments against Ms. Gunther (Mrs. Raux Gunther?)'s claims in this opinion piece are just as one-sided, subjective, and not founded on truth. "Anyone that I know" is such a poor basis for an argument, and you say "I know three people in my community of hundreds who actually like it. Three." I don't know that it's Ms. Gunther's fault that you don't know anyone who eats kale.

With that said, 100% agreed that this comments section is fun and useful. I find it fascinating reading what other people deem to be their own bests and worsts of the decade. I would personally add fermented foods—sourdough bread, kimchi, kombucha, Instant Pot yogurt, etc.—as a trend that's on the rise for the better! Gut health!
 
Mary A. December 30, 2019
I hate Kale. I think fake meat is ridiculous when there are so many food choices. Meal kits are an expensive cooking choice but at least you are cooking. The article was interesting but definitely geared for pretend foodies. Instagraming your food is about the need for celebrity not about making food to serve to your loved ones.
 
Sarah A. December 30, 2019
Thank you for putting "meal kits" in the worst category. Those smug millennials will wish they had saved their money when Social Security goes belly up for them. And I'll shed a tear for Macaron because I took a class to learn how to make them and never did it again. Thumbprint cookies forever!
 
kscooks December 30, 2019
I had to LOL at the disdain for meal plans. I love to cook and try new things, but I've used several different services and I love them. I'm at a different stage of life than the author though. I have kids and I work full time, plus some. My kids are in that stage where one is very fussy about what that child eats and the other is coming out the other side and is still fussy but is trying more and more new things. Meal kits are a lifesaver. When you are overwhelmingly busy and week after week you get zero input on what to have for dinner for the week ahead (but lots of complaints about anything interesting), meal kits are a gift. They let me feed the family without too many complaints during the week and enjoy more creative cooking on the weekends. They also work as wonderful introductions to cooking for kids, who can often handle the recipes alone or with a bit of supervision. So, one of the 10 worst trends? Absolutely not.
 
judy December 30, 2019
Meal kits launched my grown up daughter into homecooking with her boyfriend. They live on Nantucket Island and the kits were more affordable at times than shopping at the local grocery! They now shop and cook on their own. I'm proud of them both!
 
kimmiebeck December 30, 2019
Calm down, people! This is an opinion piece. Obviously, everybody doesn't have the same opinion of best and worst and never will. Enjoy it for what it is.
 
Fred V. December 30, 2019
How old are you Caitlin? I am surprised at the snarky nature of this post and very surprised it was published by Food 52. I now am doubting my confidence in this organization. Certainly you are entitled to your opinion, but I do not concur, especially about the Keto Diet that has been so extremely helpful for myself and my Husband. I trust that you are under informed and not one of many attacking Keto as profits shrink in the Sugar Industry. The damages sugars do to the body astounding and Keto offers a way to eat well with some basic changes that are very sustainable. Maybe you should do some more research before rejecting something you clearly already have a negative opinion on.
 
Olivia H. December 30, 2019
I find this list to be highly subjective, and therefore more than slightly arbitrary. On could, for example, just as easily argue against tinned seafood (the lining of canned goods often contains BPA’s, and besides isn’t fresh best?) as one could argue for the pleasures to be had in the French art of the macaron. No doubt, I’m biased. I’m also transparent when it comes to them.
 
Steven W. December 29, 2019
Ugh. I don't have Instagram...what ARE those cookies in the photo?
 
Eric K. December 29, 2019
https://www.bonappetit.com/recipe/salted-butter-and-chocolate-chunk-shortbread
 
drmiggy January 2, 2020
I didn’t know either, and the fact that the link in the article doesn’t take you to the answer annoys me to no end. It’s presumptive and obnoxious.
 
Katherine December 29, 2019
I would have to say, that in general this article seems to be kind of snarky - not typical Food52 fair. My dad used to say, "taste is indisputable" (in St. Augustine language, "degustibus non est disputandem,' which to me implies we ought to respect the choices of individuals in the sense that they know what they like, and who am I to question that? As to edible flowers, they've been around for just about forever. I reluctantly blush at my rather pedestrian tendency to think that nasturtium look lovely on a summer salad. Let's add some nice cold Vino Verde just to finish off the point. If I had a smilie I'd put it here.
 
Mary-Ann December 29, 2019
Thank you for this article. Some comments were dead on, I.e., meal plans, smoothies, and such. May I include making the most of foods as a good trend? E.g. cutting up broccoli stems and making a great side dish out of it, instead of discarding it.
 
ACMiller December 29, 2019
This breaks my heart:
"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."
This might be true given the downward pressure of social media. But it distorts our relationship with food by fetishizing it, and endorses using food to exacerbate race and class divides. Harried single moms who are barely getting by are not using the Insta to capture the moment when they put food on the table for their kids. And they are definitely not using it to signal who they are. I love a lot of things about Food52, but your tone deaf capitulation to a harmful status quo, as described in this article, leaves me cold.
 
Monica B. December 29, 2019
I say, as a devoted lover of eggs since I could eat solid food, the "put an egg on it" craze is out of hand and a waste of a good egg. Egg works in things like ramen, bibimbap, and savory crepes. But on top of an already overwrought designer burger or pulled pork sandwiches is usually overkill and ruins both dishes.
 
Sandy December 30, 2019
Can I take my upvote back. I meant to hit reply:
You never had a BoBurger in Ithaca, NY