A Look at Fad Foods

Cupcakes, bacon, and kale have all been objects of the fad food phenomenon. We may roll our eyes at the mention of cupcakes now, we have seen the trend come and go, but once upon a time, the mere mention excited us. How do food trends develop? Is there a science to the rise and fall of culinary trends? It’s obvious that fads don’t spread on their own, they are often engineered by individuals and institutions. There are chef-driven food trends and health-driven food trends. Pop culture also plays a big role in the development of these crazes. Others are developed by marketing experts in an effort to sell products. When these drivers of culture are successful, a particular food will have its cultural moment. This is often significant, because fast food chains and megastores have become much more aware of the selling power of fashionable foods. David Sax, author of  The Tastemakers: Why We’re Crazy for Cupcakes but Fed Up With Fondue, describes the movement of these items from hip restaurants and pop culture to the masses, ”… what happens nowadays is that that stuff moves from there to Whole Foods to Costco and Walmart very quickly.” This level of availability frequently signals the waring off of novelty and the inevitable demise of the fad. Below we’ll explore a few recent food obsessions.

The Rise and Fall of the Cupcake

Sex and the City has been credited with doing for the cupcake what it did for the cosmopolitan. David Sax suggests that Sex and the City made the cupcake, “…a symbol of femininity, sexually liberalized, capitalist feminism.”  Thanks to this extremely popular series, the cupcake became the go-to desert for any and all occasions. There is even a Sex and the City hotspots bus tour which stops at the Magnolia Bakery, the cupcake bakery featured in the the series (and a number of other television shows and films).

I’ll Have the Bacon Wrapped Bacon, Please

It appears that this wildly popular, seemingly unstoppable food fad began as a well-marketed, industry-driven campaign. Pork belly was not the most popular cut of meat, being high in saturated fat and cholesterol, and not great for one’s health in a time when people were increasingly focused on making healthy food choices. The pork industry had to act! They reached out to fast food restaurants, convincing them (i.e. funding product development research and selling them cheap bacon) to add bacon to burgers and an obsession was launched. In a bizarre twist on the typical fad food lifecycle, bacon somehow went from mainstream to hip. To date, the madness of novelty bacon items from vodka infused with bacon to bacon-flavored lip gloss, has reached epic proportions and shows no sign of slowing.

Kale, Health Food Panacea

Kale Chips, Kale Wraps, Kale Smoothies, Kale Slaw. Kale has been elevated to such great heights, you’d think that kale alone was the solution to any health problem,  a veritable dietary panacea. I challenge you to find a stylish dining establishment without kale on its menu, the leafy green vegetable is literally everywhere. Since 2008 when Whole Living magazine identifies kale as a powerfood, its popularity has been expanding.  The trend seems to reflect a desire, in popular culture, to be healthier. Kale mania may have started in the health food and foodie communities, but it has made its way into the mainstream.

The Thrill is Gone, or and All Good Things Must End

After awhile, most food trends fade in much the same way that fashion and music trends do. After all, no food can stay hip forever. The excitement must eventually wane. Novelty is just that, and popularity tends to expire with time. This sad truth is evidenced by the former cupcake shops that can be found in many towns across the country and the fondue pots for sale at summer garage sales. Nothing good, no matter how delicious, lasts forever. Consumers are always looking for the next big food trend.


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