The truth be­hind ba­con na­tion

Why do some food trends have legs while oth­ers fiz­zle?

Midtown Post - - Books - by Mira Saraf

Ap­prox­i­mately 15 years ago, gourmet burger joints started sprout­ing like mush­rooms in cities and towns across North Amer­ica. It was a rags-to-riches story — cheap fast-food mys­tery meat tossed aside for freshly grilled, or­ganic, farm-raised, hor­mone-free beef pat­ties. What trig­gers chain re­ac­tions like these? Toronto writer and jour­nal­ist David Sax ex­plores this in his new book The Tastemak­ers: Why We’re Crazy for Cup­cakes but Fed Up with Fon­due.

His first book, Save the Deli, was pub­lished in 2009 and is based on a univer­sity es­say he wrote on the de­cline of the Jewish del­i­catessen. This led to new writ­ing op­por­tu­ni­ties: among these, writ­ing about food for Bloomberg Busi­ness Week. He is not a food writer in the tra­di­tional sense. There are no recipes or restau­rant rec­om­men­da­tions in his clip­pings; rather, the fo­cus is on food as an in­dus­try.

“I write about busi­ness and cul­ture, and I’m in­ter­ested in the in­ter­sec­tion of those,” he says.

It was here that the con­cept for the new book started form­ing.

“I kept com­ing up with this idea that your sense of taste, which ev­ery­body thinks is such an in­di­vid­u­al­is­tic thing, is ac­tu­ally man­u­fac­tured or in­flu­enced in a lot of ways,” he says.

The idea evolved fur­ther when he in­ter­viewed the people who started Mag­no­lia Bak­ery, a Man­hat­tan Bak­ery known for its cup­cakes. Af­ter the bak­ery’s pop­u­lar­ity sky­rock­eted, much like gourmet burg­ers, we be­came ab­so­lutely ob­sessed with cup­cakes. One pop­u­lar food could change the tastes of a whole con­ti­nent.

Al­though food trends are a global phe­nom­e­non, they are more in­flu­en­tial in North Amer­ica.

As a so­ci­ety of im­mi­grants, our culi­nary op­tions span con­ti­nents and oceans.

“It’s all about how we can adapt it so it’s au­then­tic enough to be rel­e­vant to North Amer­i­can eaters with­out los­ing the flavour,” Sax says. In­dian food, for ex­am­ple, has made an en­trance into places rang­ing from Smokes Pou­tinerie to Mo­mo­fuku: menus are pep­pered with items such as masala chicken sand­wiches and but­ter chicken pou­tine.

He an­a­lyzes how they are formed, be it by in­di­vid­ual or in­sti­tu­tion.

“Once it en­ters the cul­tural lex­i­con of people, they de­mand and learn more about it, and it be­comes an av­enue to their tastes.” He also ex­am­ines the forces that power these. “It’s like the per­son who works for Whole Foods who will take some ob­scure cheese and make it into some­thing re­ally pop­u­lar be­cause they have the power to do that,” he says.

Food trends are im­por­tant be­cause they have the power to in­flu­ence so­ci­ety on many lev­els. For ex­am­ple, the ex­plod­ing pop­u­lar­ity of food trucks in Toronto com­pelled lo­cal law­mak­ers to amend the street food leg­is­la­tion, and the craze of ac­ces­soriz­ing ev­ery­thing with ba­con al­tered the eco­nom­ics of the pork in­dus­try.

Through his book, Sax seeks to give us a glimpse into how the busi­ness of taste can have big im­pli­ca­tions for our so­ci­ety as a whole.

What new flavour, item or cui­sine will gain trac­tion across and per­haps be­yond the con­ti­nent? And how will it af­fect the busi­ness of our ap­petites and our life­styles?

Sax will con­tinue to iden­tify and ex­am­ine these phe­nom­ena as they emerge. For now, he is in talks for a new book (but he de­clined to give any de­tails as noth­ing has been fi­nal­ized).

The Tastemak­ers: Why We’re Crazy for Cup­cakes but Fed Up with Fon­due was sched­uled for re­lease on May 27.

David Sax’s lat­est book tries to un­cover why ‘lo­cal’ food and other trends ex­plode or fall short

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