Saturday, December 26, 2009

the decade in food 2000 - 2009

It's been one of those months. Like every December before, this one is no different in that it brings out the lists. The best music, best news stories, best pictures, best dog names, and so on. Lucky for me, the lists also make a stop at food. Yet, this years list isn't as simple as reviewing one year. As we close this decade, it becomes something bigger. 10 years of food. Heck I can't even remember what I ate for my birthday this year, so I took a few moments to think about everything. I know we've changed a lot, so bear with me and add your thoughts at the end. After all, I'm just one man with one brain.

Coffee. Can you believe one drink changed it's image as much as this. I remember thinking how hard it was to become a barista back in the day, and now they are everywhere. In high school, the only time anyone drank coffee was to supplement the Jolt Cola they were using to cram for exams. Oh the times have changed. Starbucks, which passed 10,000 locations in 2006, and currently has over 16,000 shops may just be the main reason many of us can't go to work without a double, half sweet, venti white mocha latte.

Food on TV. If you watched food television before 2000, it was probably on the weekend and probably on PBS. Or maybe like me, you were watching Wok with Yan on your local channel. While Julia Child and Jacques Pepin will always be iconic figures, the world changed when it was given Rachel Ray. Here was a bubbly woman, in a colourful kitchen whipping up 30 minute meals while professing her love for E.V.O.O. Suddenly the lights came on, and chefs were becoming stars. As the Food Network went in search of the next big thing, it started to remind me of the hunt for the next big Seattle band in the early '90s.

Diets. As somebody who has changed his lifestyle completely in the last half of this decade, I may see things a little differently. Of course, I was never sucked into the world of diet mania; instead changing the straight forward and simple way (diet/exercise). It's hard to think back and realize this decade saw the rise of every possible diet combination known to man kind. From the Lemonade Diet to the South Beach Diet. From high protein diets, to people only eating mushrooms (I kid), I know that until this decade, I'd never heard anyone say - Oh, I'm not eating carbs this week.

Organics. With ingredient lists looking like science lessons, it was probably only a matter of time before organics would explode. The last five years have seen everyone (even some hip grand parents) talking about organic this and free-range that. We saw the total sales of organics leaving the $1 billion in sales mark to the 90's, and heading north of $20 billion in the US alone. Heck, even the Obama's planted the first ever organic White House vegetable garden. I'm not going to say it isn't good, as I do think we should try to figure what is in our food, but like any quick rise, I hope it isn't a 'hip-movement' thing. And not everything has to be organic. In my opinion, you shouldn't be buying organic asparagus from Chile, when you can buy from a local non-certified farmer close to home.

Recession and Comfort Food. Our decade saw a lot of turmoil. From 9/11 to the financial meltdown. So it was no surprise to me, to hear about people (or the media I might say) talking about good home cooked meals. Fear and uncertainty are sure to drive those back into the kitchen we all heard. But has it really. As a cook, baker, and food lover, I didn't notice any friends or associates really trying to put roots back in the kitchen. Sure, people weren't eating out as much, but they weren't exactly trying to cook the food at home either. We live in a quick society, where pre-made meals come in every form. Gone are the dried out salisbury steak dinners, and here for the moment are the gourmet mac n' cheese, braised lamb shank, and coq au vin meals. It's like you never left the restaurant, let alone learned to braise and slow cook.

Food Bloggers/Reviews. Sure cities, much bigger than Edmonton, have had quite the head start, but bloggers seem to be popping up everywhere now. Want to know where to go for authentic Italian or the best schnitzel. Just pop online and have a look at UrbanSpoon and Dine Here. Or maybe a quick Google search of your local blogger community will fill you in. Both good and bad, I don't think this genre is going anywhere. Too many people, with too many knee jerk reactions will always keep the review sites packed, while others will continue to show a slice of their life with educational, well thought out and fun updates. Thank you all for the latter!

Cookbooks. I know, I know. Cookbooks have been around for as long as we can remember, but I bring this point up, because they are different now. Sure there are classics like The Joy of Cooking and The Fannie Farmer Cookbook, but they seem to be lost among a new generation created this decade. What generation is that? The food porn generation*. Throw a sexy picture, add a catch phrase, and sell it. Sell it hard! Seriously, just go to Chapters and check out how many discount ghetto cookbooks are available. Bah. Half the time it seems people buy these food porn cookbooks on a whim and never even work through a page. I want quality from my books. Passion and taste, that's what a cookbook should bring. Try this, this, this, and this. *don't get me wrong, I love great looking food.

Discovering Food. I think this decade found many people become at least vaguely aware of food. From a wide range of new products to new restaurants popping up. Both areas showed us a level of food diversity as yet unknown in many parts; we are discovering foods. For example, how many types of cheese were kept in the kitchen when you were young? Cheddar, Swiss, Processed? Now you might find 10 in some cold boxes, ranging from soft to hard, fresh to aged. Heck even the pre-shredded packages contain 4 or 5 cheeses. What about meat. Instead of bologna, we have wild organic meats of every kind; boar, venison, calf moose. I can only imagine the possibilities available in the homemade school lunch now-a-days. Gourmet for kids anyone.

Besides actual products, I think we branched out ethnically. It seemed in my experience, the major players in ethnic food 10-15 years ago were Chinese, Mexican and Italian. Now, many people are not only eating cuisines from different cultures, but even breaking those ones down. Maybe you prefer Northern Indian dishes over Southern. Maybe you like Hunan instead of Schezwan. Maybe, like me, you want pho instead of chicken noodle soup when you are feeling down and out. Our world is brimming with tasty food and we are finally catching on. Amen.

I know I'm just touching the surface of food trends and changes in the past decade, but I wanted to get some thoughts out. It's amazingly strange/difficult to think back 10 years in my life, let alone in food. Edmonton, while I love it, seems to spend it's life perpetually catching up in the food world. We have lagged behind in everything from cupcakes to charcuterie, so I'm assuming the current, maybe even passe trends, will soon be knocking at your door. Which is actually nice at times, because then I get a preview before it arrives.

To the next decade of food. Be you as delicious as the last.

Want more to look back at ;
10 Best Food TV shows of the Decade.
The Best Food books of the Decade.
The Top 10 Biggest Food Network Foodgasms Of 2009
Top 20 Worst Food trends of the Decade
10 Worst Dining trends of the last Decade
The Decade in News Photographs

Want more to watch;
What's wrong with what we eat - Mark Bittman


Dr. CaSo said...

Very interesting, thank you :) I hope that Edmonton will continue "expanding" in the right direction because right now, I feel that my choices are still a bit limited.

Chris said...

Hi Dr.CaSo. Thanks for stopping by. Is there anything in particular you are craving, that our city just doesn't seem to offer?

Dr. CaSo said...

Hi Chris! I am looking for a comfortable place (nothing fancy) that serves comfortable (but quality) food for a comfortable price (somewhere near home (Riverdale) or work (UofA)). I love to take a pile of papers to mark or articles to read and eat at a restaurant which becomes "my regular" place.

So I've decided to give myself $200 for Christmas and try as many new places as I can during the break.

I already went to Boualouang (Thai), and the food was exactly what I love... but too expensive to make it something regular. I also went to Sushi Wasabi, Haweli, Mikado, and Dadeo. Not bad but still not what I'm looking for... and I'm getting close to my allotted $200. So if you have any great idea, let me know :)

Chris said...

Tough call Dr, but I can see why the above choices didn't work. A bit hectic at all of them.

I find Thai Valley Grill good and they usually have a few open tables so you could spread some paper out(in Whitemud Crossing).

There are always tables, and fairly consistent food offerings at a few of the Indian restaurants in Little India (34ave/91st) but that is getting quite far. Hmmm. I need to think about this some more, as my experiences tend to be on the south side and not near Riverdale. Your mission has my interest peaked, as I love the idea of looking for a regular jaunt.

Anonymous said...

Hi, Dr. Caso,

Have you tried Remedy Cafe? Just a little hole in the wall on 109th street, but the Palak Paneer is to die for. I can picture a professor setting up shop on the upper level with a chai and something delicious to mark up a storm!


Dr. CaSo said...

Hi Chris and Nadine,

Thank you very much for your suggestions, I'll definitely try the Thai Valley Grill and the Remedy Cafe! Yesterday, I went to Punjab, on 34th avenue, and really liked it... but it's unfortunately very far... but there's hope :)

bruleeblog said...

Dr CaSo, what about Leva?

Chris, I think you need to add the locavore movement to the organics section. It was the 2007 Oxford American Dictionary's word of the year, after all.

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