A new book by David Sax, titled “The Tastemakers: Why We’re Crazy for Cupcakes but Fed Up with Fondue,” details the rise and fall of familiar food fads—baby spinach, chocolate lava cake, and fondue among them.
In his new book, Toronto-based food writer David Sax goes behind the scenes of culinary creativity, documenting trends and fads within the foodie community. A book review by The Globe and Mail described the tome as “enjoyably in-depth compared to today’s fast-paced world of food-trend reporting, where stories on everything from artisan ice creams to homemade bitters flare up in popular media and die just as quickly. What could have been a monotonous checking-off of foodstuffs—every current trend makes an appearance, from chia to bacon, branded apples to Greek yogurt—is instead a detailed trip through the backstories of those foodstuffs.”
The Wall Street Journal featured an essay by Sax, adapted from his book, noting that “we seldom pause to think about the food trends that have fallen by the wayside. These tastes and flavors once captured our imagination and drove our collective appetite. In their prime, they were the pinnacle of edible innovation: We lined up for a taste of our first muffin as surely as we now line up for cronuts or ramen burgers.”
While some food trends “gradually fade into the dark recesses of our kitchen, a few ascend into our everyday eating habits (extra virgin olive oil is now the default dressing), and others are cut down in their prime by young rivals (Greek yogurt sacking the dairy case, like Troy),” Sax writes. He goes on to detail a few notable trends:
Baby Spinach (1992-2007)—The “veal of spinach” came into this world in the sunny fields of California, wrapped in a precious plastic blanket to deprive it of oxygen and preserve its freshness. Scrubbed clean from birth, and free of grit and tough stems, it launched a billion bistro salads with its collaborators—goat cheese and berry vinaigrette. Ultimately, it was felled by kale, a leafy green that didn’t wilt nearly as much when heated and came attached with a halo of green living that made it a sort of edible Prius for salad eaters and juice mongers.
Chocolate Lava Cake (1987-2005)—Many fathers, all French chefs, claim to have sired this darling dessert, but its lineage matters less than its simple beauty. A perfect mixture of butter, chocolate, sugar and eggs, cooked just enough to set a firm exterior, this little hockey puck of joy oozed decadence from the day it appeared. It was passed down, before it was even a teenager, from white-tablecloth restaurants to weddings and finally into the par-baked, frozen-food section of Costco. The chocolate lava flowed until it simply ran out of room to spread and congealed in place, like a buttery Pompei.
Fondue (1956-1978)—Raised in the alpine pastures of Switzerland, this ritual of melted cheese and meat cooked in hot oil became the defining baby boomer trend, when suburban living, combined with the birth-control pill, turned this humble cow herder’s fare into an excuse for a swinging rec-room party. But as the disco era overtook orange shag rugs and the crooning bossa nova of Sergio Mendes, fondue grew weak, yielding to the low-fat craze and lactose intolerance.
Frozen Yogurt the First (1981-1998)—Though born to hippie parents, frozen yogurt crossed the tracks to hook urban yuppies, taking down fat, lazy ice cream during the vicious low-fat war of the 1980s. Its empire of fast, cold living was cemented at chains like TCBY, where it was blended with frozen fruit and candy pieces in what looked like a giant slot machine. Its reputation grew so quickly that it adopted the street names frogurt and fro-yo, and no mall was safe from its allure. But rivals old and new were lurking. The Sicilians methodically grabbed its high-end turf with gelaterias, while ice cream rode a fat-free backlash in the new millennium. Today, frozen yogurt is survived by its tart, soft-serve Asian offshoot, whose Pinkberry-led invasion is heating up as summer begins.
The Atkins Diet (2002-2005)—Born in an academic paper that its father Dr. Robert Atkins wrote in 1958, the doctor’s bacon-blessing, carb-damning diet blossomed at the dawn of the 21st century, as the Western world grasped for an alternative to the fat-free deprivation they’d endured. Sales of bread and pasta plummeted, and at one point, one in 11 Americans were reportedly “on Atkins.” Sadly, the fad perished soon after Dr. Atkins himself, as numerous academic studies cut his once beloved gospel to shreds. It is survived in spirit by gluten-free, which poses a similar threat to croissants everywhere.
Clear Soda (1992-1993)—Thrust screaming into this world by a Super Bowl halftime commercial, set to Van Halen’s “Right Now,” the clear refreshment trend, led by Crystal Pepsi, promised transparency and taste, unleashing a whole family of drinks, including awkward cousin Tab Clear (from the estranged Coke side of the family) and alcoholic uncle Zima (whose catchphrase “Zomething Different” only raised suspicion). Sadly, this trend didn’t survive its infancy, passing away without ceremony or tears. There will be no memorial.