(*Quotes lightly edited for clarity.)
Search for “food trends” on Google and you’ll find a dizzying number of articles opining on what’s gastronomically en vogue and what’s foodie faux pas. Some focus on single ingredients (from Kale to Quinoa), others spotlight changes in how we partake in dining (from Food Trucks to the Fourth Meal), while many name entire cultures (from Japan to the Philippines). It’s this last bit that I’m going to be sinking my teeth into in this post.
Food is Business and people understandably fixate on trends as they have the power to shift bank accounts. Take as evidence attendance to the Summer Fancy Food Show. With over 34,000 attendees, it’s one of the most well-known food conferences attuned to trends at a global level and the multi-day event can be overwhelming.
Articles were written summarizing the top trends from the Show and many contained all the requisites: Single Ingredients (Cauliflower), Categories (Carbonated Beverages), and Cultures (West Africa). Play a game of “Which item doesn’t belong?” though and many will point out that this last one – the trendification/simplification of mistakenly monolithic cultures – doesn’t seem to sit well in the stomach. The treatment of cuisines from faraway lands – often developing countries – as food trends to last a few seasons is as American as Pizza and for someone watching all the recent fanfare around Filipino Food, cultural trendification can fuel both pride and discomfort at the same time. Is there a right way to “localize” global cuisine? That’s the question I wanted to explore when I had the opportunity moderate a panel in collaboration with Advancement for Rural Kids, an organization focused on solving rural poverty in the Philippines, and Milan-based Seeds&Chips, a world-renowned Food Innovation Summit, during this year’s Show.
Featuring people I looked up to, we spoke about approaches to localizing global food in a setting that has traditionally focused on the delivery logistics, marketing, and production of global food. Indeed our panelists came from diverse backgrounds and featured a microbiologist turned Natto (Japanese fermented soybeans) dealer, a traveling pop-up chef, a food historian-chef-writer, a pasta-maker, and a video journalist. We sought to not only get a broad range of voices on an equally broad topic, but also showcase work that often gets lost in conversations couched in massive supply chains, razor thin margins, and the latest consumer trends.
We wanted to explore ways in which global cuisines and flavors can be brought to local tables without losing the original spirit, adversely affecting other communities, and still appealing to the consumer (this is the Fancy Food Show after all!). Here are five things I learned from the panel (full video link):