It's that time of year when media organizations, consultants and marketers try their hands at summarizing and forecasting the past year and the coming year's food trends. It's a tricky business, because it really depends who you're talking about and where they actually eat (home, work, out?).
And try as you may, you'll either bore the savvy foodies or exclude most Americans who favor simple fare if you try to generalize about the new things people are eating. The reality is we have become a nation of hugely varied tastes and budgets. If you're one of the tens of millions of Americans on food stamps, your options are pretty limited. But if you live in a major metropolitan area and have a demanding palate and the income to support it, you have more food choice at your fingertips than any humans have ever known before.
But enough with the caveats. Let's see what the trend watchers can tell us about what we like, or what we're going to like next year that we haven't tried yet.
Before we get to the lists, it's worth considering one mega-trend, courtesy of food consultant Michael Whiteman, president of the consultancy Joseph Baum & Michael Whiteman Company. We asked Whiteman in an e-mail whether Americans were still embracing comfort food — fried chicken, mashed potatoes, macaroni and cheese — which made something of a comeback in restaurants as the economy ailed in recent years.
This year, Whiteman tells The Salt, consumers have gotten tired of this "previously comforting but unexciting 'crisis food.'" That explains why we're now seeing upscale versions of downscale food — "gourmet hamburgers swapping places with steak, and gilded tacos, truffled mac-and-cheese, artisan hot dogs, and the sudden popularity of innards and odd parts," he says. (See Rachel Estabrook's recent post on offal for more on that trend.)
But there's a lot more to what evolved in 2011. Yesterday, Huff Post Food put out its list looking back at the year in food. Editor Carey Polis admits that some of these trends may not sound especially new, but "the 11 trends below really reached their apex in 2011."
We definitely agree with Polis' take on foraging as a blistering trend for 2011. Our own Allison Aubrey reported on foraging for pawpaw this summer, while Nancy Shute foraged for wild greens in the spring. But we're not sure we buy all of HuffPo's trends or their phrasing — for example, "Unfamiliar Chinese Food Flavors" was pretty darn vague and not especially well-explained. But we were glad to see meatballs on there, as Shute is drumming up a post on that as we speak. Stay tuned for more on meatballs.
Supermarket News has also put together its top three food trends to watch in 2012. We found No. 2 interesting: Never Shop or Eat Alone Again. The trade magazine says we should, "Expect to see super food apps that bring previously unknown people together with common likes; to eat, prepare and shop together."
Andrew Freeman and Company, a food and drink consultancy, has a daring prediction for 2012: "The grilled cheese sandwich is going to replace the hamburger on restaurant menus," according to ABC News. What else? Vegetable desserts, like the goat cheese with celery, fig agrodolce and celery sorbetto served at Del Posto restaurant in New York.
Freeman and Company also see an invading army on the horizon ready to tear up diners' expectations. What is it? Breakfast. It's going to take over dinner with waffle sandwiches and hollandaise sauce, the firm says.
Trendspotter Marian Salzman has a few thoughts of her own about what's in store in the new year. Writing for the Institute of Food Technologists' blog, Salzman says we'll be spending more on healthy snacks and supporting more pop-up restaurants and food trucks. She cites a recent survey by the National Restaurant Association in which 59 percent of consumers said they would likely visit a food truck if their favorite restaurant offered one.