Health & scienceTaste the new
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Food is like clothing -- some items are trendy from one season to the next, some items are classics that will never really change. While some foods, such as red meat and 16-ounce steaks, fall out of fashion, others, such as fondue, come back like bell-bottoms and platform shoes.
And then there are the new food trends, not yet around long enough to be part of the national palate, but already on the tips of everyone's tongues like the name of the latest supermodel.
Here are just a few of the new directions food is taking at the end of this century.
This food phenomenon started in the 1970s, but it wasn't until the early '90s that microbrewed beer took the Pacific Northwest like an ocean storm. It splashed its way eastward as the decade wore on. While sales of traditional American beers remain flat, microbrewed beer is still the trendiest of the suds -- and it keeps getting bigger. According to the Institute for Brewing Studies, the industry sales in the United States alone are more than $150 million annually.
The phenomenon has moved over to microbrewed pop, which is produced in small batches, and continued into small-batch potato chips as well. The trend conveys a sense of quality, and indicates a discerning taste in the consumers who buy these products.
More consumers are demanding their organic foods, and it's not just fruit and veggies anymore. Organic rice, organic stone-ground corn chips, even organic baby food is easing out of the health food stores and hitting the shelves of mainstream grocers.
Why? Consumers are beginning to realize that there's some pretty nasty stuff in commercially prepared foods, and manufacturers are beginning to realize that consumers will pay more for foods they know are free of pesticides, herbicides and genetically engineered ingredients.
Martha Stewart knows it, and now you do, too. The more gourmet a food item, the better its cachet on the dinner table. And that means it raises the rest of the foods it's served with a notch higher on the epicurean scale.
For example, a bottle of high-ticket balsamic vinegar (some sell for as much as $150 a pint) might seem like an indulgence, but it makes plain old lettuce seem like something extra special. Likewise, a chunk of really good cheese, such as parmigiano reggiano (the fromage of the moment in some gourmet circles) can be the stuff around which an entire banquet is built.
Perhaps the most indicative of the '90s lifestyle, ultra-convenient food is packaged for people who are so on the go they don't know how to stop. From instant salads (lettuce, croutons and dressing all in one package) to pre-prepared dinners (your grocery, deli or local Boston Market) to carryout gourmet from a number of metro-area restaurants, we're hooked on convenience.
Food marketers know this, and even though some products, such as Yoplait's Go-Gurt (yogurt in a plastic squeeze container that looks like a big fast-food ketchup packet) aren't necessarily more appealing (the raspberry flavor looks like toothpaste), at least they're fast.
This is the catchphrase that describes food that's used as medicine or a dietary supplement. It seems it's not good enough to just eat well, these days. Rather, people are eating foods supplemented with vitamins, minerals and herbal supplements. It goes way beyond the old standby of vitamin D milk: Robert's American Gourmet uses herbs such as St. John's wort and kava to enhance its snack foods. Sobe, a soft drink manufacturer, makes a drink called Lizard Blizzard which contains echinacea, zinc and vitamin C to ward off those winter colds. Even Minute Maid orange juice comes in a calcium-enriched version.
If you'd rather go straight for the source, try eating soy products (tofu, soy milk, soy beans) for their supposed cancer-preventing benefits -- it's the oat bran of the '90s.
Kami Pothukuchi, 34Assistant professor of urban planning, Wayne State University
"Did you know that food travels an average of 1,500 miles before it gets to your table? ... We don't pay attention to that when we plan our cities. ... Food can, and needs to be, seen as an urban system. Planners need to look at food more systematically. I work from a framework called community food security, which says all people should have access to nutritious, affordable, and culturally appropriate food. If you think about how to plan for a community from a food security perspective, think of ways to grow food and bring in grocery stores that provide quality and affordable food."