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Food fads explained
Information about food, marketing and trends come together engagingly in this book.
The Tastemakers: Why We’re Crazy For Cupcakes But Fed Up With Fondue Author: Publisher: once considered bland, boring, ordinary, uninspiring or, in the case of Indian food, overly exotic, but through the power of the media, has become the in-thing for haute cuisine.
The book is divided into three parts: dealing with the four types of trends, how trends break out, and why food trends matter.
As mentioned, The Tastemakers opens with the cupcake, an inven- tion of the 1950s that was never considered trendy then and did not garner any form of media attention at all much less the frenzy they inspire now. Though cupcakes started to emerge in the American public’s consciousness in the late 1990s (mainly in New York and the surrounding boroughs), it became the in-thing globally at the start of the millennium when it was featured for all of 20 seconds in an episode of that trend-setting television show, Sex And The City. Although the show did produce other trends such as the infamous cosmopolitan martinis and Manolo Blahnik high heel shoes, the cupcake was only ever shown once in the series’ sixyear run, and neither of the four protagonists ever uttered the word “cupcake”.
So how did that translate into a global force? Sax puts it down to timing, stating that “cupcakes emerged onto the (US) national scene just as the food media began its transformation from a cottage industry, largely aimed at women and an elite of gourmets, into a global, digital, omnivorous titan.”
In addition to the aforementioned Sex And The City episode, Sax also mentions pay television, which, towards the end of the 1990s and the start of the millennium, started promoting cooking shows as entertainment. This gave a boost to the cupcake – as well as other food Sax explores in his book – turning it from a mediocre and uninspired treat from the 1950s to the global phenomenal it is today.
Pay TV also had much to do with upping the fame quotient of China black rice: it wasn’t given a second glance until the mid-1990s, when cooking shows started appearing in multiples across various television channels the world over. Celebrity chefs who sprang up almost overnight started outdoing one another with the most exotic ingredients they could get their hands on – and one such ingredient was China black rice.
It can be said that China black rice – like chia seeds, pomegranate seeds, and honeycrisp apples, to name a few – became must-haves because they were used and/or endorsed by the right people at the right time. However, Sax points out that in the age of social media and blogs, the power of the written word can turn a hot must-have item into yesterday’s forgotten leftover.
On the surface, The Tastemakers can come across as being another tome about food that would not interest the general public. However, Sax uses simple language throughout the book, and his writing style draws his audience in, regardless if the reader is a foodie or not.
He explains in detail the origins of each food (fondue, for example, originated from Switzerland, and was considered a poor man’s dish as it consists of stale bread dipped into melted cheese and a bit of wine), when in history the food came into existence, and how it became famous.
My main critique is that The Tastemakers is primarily aimed at a North American audience, with the different food trends appearing in various American states and Canadian provinces (primarily Ontario, the province Sax is from). It would have been more interesting (and perhaps would have engaged a wider readership) if Sax had explored food trends outside of North America, as not everyone would be familiar with taco trucks or have acquired taste for kale.
It may not appeal to an Asian public but if you have an interest in food, marketing, or trends (or a combination of all three), you should pick up The Tastemakers.