Why Trendy Foods Are a Sign of the Times


As proven by the mullet, punk rock and the bitchin' Camaro, the American consumer loves trends "“ including hot new things at the grocery store. Why do some foods and beverages become the "in thing" and business starts booming in their niches? It seems we are constantly discovering a new edible that will make us healthier, happier or even more cool.

Remember fondue "“ the drippy, decadent, communal treat of the '60s and '70s featuring the timeless favorites, cheese and chocolate? Fondue -- a Swiss, Italian and French specialty -- became popular in the '60s when it was promoted to Americans at the Swiss Pavilion's Alpine restaurant at the 1964 New York World's Fair. Declared a Swiss national dish by the Swiss Cheese Union (Schweizerische Käseunion) in the '30s, fondue was developed as a way to boost the cheese industry. The gooey delicacy was promoted aggressively in Switzerland with slogans like "La fondue crée la bonne humeur" or "fondue creates a good mood" "“ How much more Summer of Love can you get?

There was something that made the decadent entrée a perfect complement to caftans, long hair, key parties and love beads. It was representational of openness, sharing in an intimate way and doing what feels good. There was even a custom that required men who dropped their bread into the fondue pot to buy a round of drinks for the table -- the women bread droppers were required to kiss the people sitting next to them. Sexist? Sure. It was still the '60s and '70s "“ women's lib had just hatched. What's interesting is that the fondue party started losing its popularity at the onset of the HIV/AIDs epidemic "“ people did not understand how the virus was contracted and were afraid they could be contaminated by others' saliva.

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Swinging Fondue Party Ad, Mazola Corn Oil

As fondue reflected the culture of the '60s and '70s, the '80s "“ and the optimism of the Reagan Era "“ introduced inventive, efficient, brightly colored packaged foods and beverages, such as the Fruit Roll-Up and the wine cooler. The primary colors of the peel-off fruit-sheets and those pretty "girl" drinks reflected the clothing fashions of the times. Out with the earth tones of the '70s and in with neon and Crayola primaries! Plus the post-modern aspect of creating a new food or beverage product, based on efficiency (you get your "fruit" without the mess and your wine watered down and single-serving size) looked towards the age of the Jetsons. Couldn't you just see Devo "“ resplendent in their red flower-pot hats "“ starring in the commercials? "When a problem comes along, you must ROLL-UP!" Or the Go-Go's doing Bartles & Jaymes commercials "“ they were basically the poster girls for the wine cooler image! And who could forget Ronnie Reagan's favorite treat "“ the Jelly Belly! Bright colors and every unnatural flavor you could imagine "“ from popcorn to toothpaste-flavored berry blue. How efficient, artificial and '80s can you get?

As MTV proves, America's changing taste in music directly correlates to changing food tastes. In the '90s, people were getting tired of over-synthesized pop music and were looking for something more earthy, which led to the birth of grunge. Along with Kurt Cobain, the other grunge rockers and their politics came a surge in "one-world" trends in the culinary arena. Sushi "“ appalling to some "“ suddenly was all the rage. Raw fish was now a delicacy. You couldn't really be that cool if you didn't know how to use chopsticks. The Greek gyro was the pig-out, fattening greasy sandwich du jour. And suddenly nachos got pumped up like they were on steroids and made more elaborate, and became America's favorite appetizer. 

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Kurt Cobain, King of Grunge, Huffington Post

And as the '90s went out, the 2000s took what was once simple and "artisan"-ed it "“ hence the popularity of the term "foodie." Designer cupcake mania began in 2000 on Sex and the City, when Carrie and Miranda munched on fancier versions of the grade school staple from Magnolia's Bakery. And, just as Carrie Bradshaw shot Manolo Blahnik high heels into the stratosphere, cupcakes became America's new culinary obsession. Sprinkles Cupcakes, which opened its doors in 2003, was one of the first bakeries to specialize in the mini treats. Founded in Beverly Hills, Sprinkles has now expanded to locations all over the country, from New York to Arizona, and boasts a large celebrity following. The bakery uses exotic ingredients, such as sweet cream butter, bittersweet Belgian chocolate, pure Madagascar Bourbon vanilla, fresh bananas and carrots, real strawberries and natural citrus zests.

And this artisan trend didn't just apply to desserts. Microbreweries started popping up for beer connoisseurs in the 2000s. The craft breweries started expanding across the U.S. as more Americans chose drinks made by independent beer manufacturers. Another reason for the microbrewery boom was the demand for innovative, higher-quality products. Just one more way to prove your culinary superiority over those who'll settle for a Milwaukee's Best or a Budweiser.

With the 2000-teens came the whole foods boom "“ and not just the upscale grocery chain more popularly known as "Whole Paycheck." America is living at a faster pace than it was 40, 20 or even 10 years ago. Most people are overwhelmed with too much to do, as most full-time jobs are now the equivalent to roughly three jobs 25 years ago. And with the Internet, social media, texting, multiple email inboxes and smartphones, America is exhausted. We are starting to understand that eating healthier might just help us get through our chaotic days a little easier. Thus healthier consumption is the new "fast food."

HuffPost Taste Executive Editor Kristen Aiken sat down with HuffPost Live to break down the reason behind the recent quinoa craze. According to Aiken, there is the gluten-free diet trend. Secondly, quinoa is considered a "superfood" because it is nutritionally dense. And third, because it is a "complete" protein, with all nine of the essential amino acids, it attracts the ever-growing population of vegetarians and vegans, as well as those who are just trying to eat healthier. 

So what's the next trend? Hard to say... but when is fondue coming back? Drippy cheese sounds pretty good right about now "“ key party optional, of course.

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