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Is Food popular just for the time being?

It is doubtless to say that in the past 20 years in this country food has become much more of a popular topic. (The pas 9 years-even more exceedingly so.) It seems that not a day goes by a new food related television show is added to a non-food related station (Top Chef, Hell's Kitchen, etc.) or I find out someone else I know is also going to culinary school. It has definitely been growing in popular culture; everything from movies, to books, to media feature food as a subject of interest. Movements like Slow Food and blogs like this one have taken off with popularity. Of course food has always been one of the monoliths of human culture but the animated movies I remember growing up with were about young boys finding genies and lions battling for power, not French Born rats cooking food designed by Thomas Keller. Can anyone (preferably someone academic) explain what happened recently to jettison food into vogue in american culture?

Could it be the backlash the conformist microwavable '50s? And, perhaps most recently the backlash from the power-dieting fad of the late '90s early '00s? (AKA Did everyone realize how bad dieting tastes?) Is it America's recent (20 years in the making) acquisition of its own high cuisine, and a new abundance of Michelin rated restaurants? Could it be the realization of global warming and popularization of "green" everything? (As the subject of farming--another recently popular subject--is just one step away from the subject of "green" products.)

If you can explain why this phenomenon is occurring, can anyone guess if and when food will go out of style?

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  1. Why did food become "hot?"
    Consumer spending. Especially more than they had, but Mr. Plastic took care of that.
    A lot of food interest and spending was indiscriminate.
    In the not so distant past, quickly fading from popular memory, consumer spending accounted for 70% of the economy. People spent like there was no tomorrow.
    Today is the Tomorrow they thought would never come.
    They're cutting back and directing their interests elsewhere.

    Out of style?
    Food as "fashion" will fade with easy money, or will move down the economic ladder.
    The interest in good food was always with us, especially among certain groups and cultures. That will never die.

    1 Reply
    1. re: MakingSense

      Have to agree with MakingSense on this one. Society was living on a loan for quite some time and I think the food fad will pass. But die hard food lovers (like us) will always be there.

      I also think the "I wanna be a chef like the guy on TV" fad will also pass. When culinary school graduates mortgage their futures to attend top notch culinary schools only to realize they won't be making a mint, they tides will turn a bit. The famous TV chefs are few and far between, so I imagine that those getting out in the real world will soon realize that it's not as glamorous as they once thought.


    2. I hate to note this, but food's built into living, isn't it? We've simply turned it into (pop culture) entertainment as opposed to sustenance that has (almost) ALWAYS carried some ceremony with it. Please go see Michael Pollan's recent NYT magazine cover story (2 Aug.), flawed as it was in many respects.

      1. I'm pretty sure that people have liked to eat throughout history.

        2 Replies
        1. re: Phaedrus

          One of those habits that's hard to break

        2. Read The United States of Arugula.

          Is food out of style in France or Italy? People there have been passionate about food for far longer than Americans, and there is no sign of that abating.

          2 Replies
          1. re: jaykayen

            But life is changing everywhere. Partly the world-wide recession, partly just the stresses of modern life when people eat at their desks, even in formerly food-obsessed Europe.
            It may pain you to read this article from Slate, but it's a harbinger. Not just the US, but around the world.

            "In Europe, where stressed consumers are still pulling back, McDonald's notched 6.9 percent same-store-sales growth in 2009's second quarter. "McDonald's Europe delivered strong second quarter comparable sales led by performance in the U.K., France and Russia," the company said. The Financial Times Tuesday cited the company's "tiered menu—which offers cheap, middling and expensive options."

            1. re: MakingSense

              Remember 9/11? I surely do...lost 3 Bank of America securities folks in that disaster...9/11 made so many people crave comfort foods and want to just cook at home, gather your family 'round you. Fast forward to right now...so many health concerns over fast foods and restaurant foods (I am not 'dissing' ALL restaurant foods here)...most people who get sick, (diabetes, cancer,kidney/liver disease, etc.)..their doctors tell them "fruits and vegetables" -- that's what you must eat! I think food will be popular for a long time as it should be...we must eat better and more healthily, and help those who don't know how to do this.

          2. “Can anyone (preferably someone academic) explain what happened recently to jettison food into vogue in american culture?”
            I rarely participate outside the Home Cooking Board, but here goes. I don’t think you need to be in academia to explain it. Like you, I have watched and participated in this over the past 20 years. I’m early 40’s now so you know the frame of reference.

            I think it really stems from three things: 1) the success of the Food Network, 2) the proliferation of the internet and technology and finally 3) Reality TV, the less important later success of Hell’s Kitchen & Top Chef, those are not about food at all, but satisfy America’s culture shift as it pertains to reality TV programming.

            1) The Food Network – I was an early watcher, almost from the start. Whatever people here think of the current Food Network, their success has changed millions and millions of folk’s ideas about food and cooking. Before Food TV, I used to watch the occasional PBS or other local channel food show 20 years ago. They were there and there were some good ones, but they were not enough. I think a lot of people just thought of food and cooking as a means to survive. They did what their parents did, and didn’t give much thought to it. I know I did. Then I saw these chefs making things I’d never made and having fun doing it. And it was there daily! I watched Food TV with no change in my attitude for a while but after the daily viewing I had to change. After all these years, I am much more daring and thoughtful about cooking and eating and I suspect many others are also. You only need to look the Internet to confirm that.

            2) Technology and the Internet – I was also an early adopter with computers, the Internet, and tech stuff. Take a look at the food blogs these days. That could not have existed 15 years ago. 1) The Food TV had not had its full influence and 2) the technology was just not there. I’ve been on broadband for a long time, but I know that is not the case with others. Plus, computers themselves back then did not have the capability or speed to accommodate sites like Tastespotting, which is essentially a picture site that links to all these food blogs. I remember when I first got broadband the guy said, “its good technology, but your computer needs to keep up too.” Today, even the most inexpensive computers can do it all. 20 years ago that was not the case.

            3) Reality TV – Hells’ Kitchen, Top Chef, and TNFS are not really about food. I know we all watch because the shows are centered around food, but these are just reality TV shows. Their success is only due to the Food Network’s influence and the technology changes (try looking up the blogs on these shows- there are many). The first reality show I recall was MTV’s The Real World. It started when I was a 20-something I think (not trying to be exact here with dates). It was fun, it was quirky, and it spawned others like Survior and then we were off to the races. Prior to that (20 years ago) there were Game shows and other shows (drama, comedy, etc.). That’s it. These shows are really nothing other than game shows. The fact that our culture allows for a game show to be centered on food just shows how much The Food TV Network and Tech changes have influenced pop culture.

            So while I watch Food Network far less than I once did, I get all I need from the Internet. Then you have sites like this, which also could only exist by a change in culture and technology and wala! It will not change. It's not a fad. We are too far along now.

            That's my take anyway.

            1 Reply
            1. re: Rocky Road

              This is a bit of a "chicken and egg" discussion. Did Food TV and the Internet bring about the food fad, or are they merely a voice through which the food fad speaks? I think it is more the latter.

              My mother grew up in a canned food world. She never had fresh vegetables (except tomatoes, iceburg & cucumbers which they grew themselves). When I was a child she discovered frozen veggies, so that's what I grew up with. I distinctly remember going to the grocery store with her as a child and there just weren't that many veggies in the produce section. We'd get our carrots, cucumbers and lettuce there, but there was no broccoli, green beans, etc. Those we got in the frozen food aisle. And the grocery store didn't have a seafood section, didn't carry lamb or other "exotic" meats. It was a strictly beef and chicken place, with pork chops thrown in.

              Fast forward to me in high school and the grocery stores started to expand their produce sections. Finally we could get broccoli, corn and green beans fresh! Of course, mom would boil the hell out of it and it tasted the same as the frozen, but those fresh veggies were available. And we started to see more varieties of beef and pork cuts. Mom stuck with what she knew, but I remember the first time I saw pigs feet and I was fascinated!

              In college I made friends with people from widely different backgrounds and had the opportunity to try new foods. That was the first time I had "Chinese" food that wasn't La Choy from a can and Mexican that wasn't from an El Paso seasoning packet. I also had Indian, Thai, Vietnamese, Middle Eastern, etc. And the grocery stores had produce sections where I could find somewhat more exotic veggies, which encouraged me to try them.

              All of this was well before the internet and Food TV. Now you can walk into almost any Kroger or Harris Teeter and find a wide variety of fresh meat, fish and veggies along with all the canned and frozen stuff. Grocery stores are larger and more diverse than ever before.

              Perhaps all of this is a result of greater ethnic diversity in our country. Perhaps Americans have traveled more and are therefore more open to new cuisines. Either way, I don't think you can attribute all of this to technology and Food TV.

            2. Variety.

              When I was a child food shopping was very simple. Produce I enjoy today was not readily available. The world food market is avail to me today; a variety of food, food supplies, international cuisine became much easier to enjoy and learn about deliciously.

              For instance, as a child, I read about cuisine from Africa in a history book. Today, I can enjoy an African meal about an hour from my home.

              Food IS culture. I see no end to the appeal or the variety.

              1. I've always loved food, and don't care whether food is hip or not. It's just one of the three things that make life incredible

                1. "Could it be the backlash the conformist microwavable '50s?"

                  Um, considering that in 1971, fewer than 1% of all American homes had microwave ovens, one would have to assume that even far fewer had them in the 1950's. Even the TV dinner, which was introduced in the 1950's, was still more of a novelty item than a mainstay of evening meals. Where do you get your information?

                  3 Replies
                  1. re: FrankD

                    How can anyone with an iPhone call a MW "conformist?" hahahhahah
                    They were far too expensive, even into the 70s, and no one knew what to do with them.
                    MWs were cutting edge,
                    They still are today because luddites refuse to accept them.

                    1. re: MakingSense

                      It was the mid to late 80's before they were commonplace in US homes. I got my first one (aka "the world's largest electric timer", thanks to my husband) in 1987.

                      1. re: MakingSense

                        My father got a microwave in the 70s (and still has it somewhere--a collector of odd things, always). It heated things well, but on top of the fridge, was difficult for me to get to and I had a terrible mishap around the age of 4-5 when the taco plate I could barely reach tumbled on top of my head (I was more concerned about the mess than my burnt skin).

                        Sometime during the 90's I had the inclination to use it again (it was in the cottage) and had something bubbly next to the appliance--whatever the microwave was giving off, the glass went flat in 20 seconds.

                        Our current microwave is primarily used for quickly cooking a potato or making bacon.

                    2. Food as something other than sustenance is for wealthy people. The more wealthy, the more people can deconstruct it, play with it (foam? liquid nitrogen?), not eat it/treat it like an enemy, turn their noses up, etc. The past 20 years, we've seen an explosion of disposable income in many countries and hence food becomes disposable. If we went back to a great depression where food wasn't readily available, then it would go back to being just sustenance.

                      1. From everything I have read, people have been eating food as long as anyone can remember. I don't see this trend letting up anytime soon.

                        1. I've recently had an idea that for some reason just never occurred to me previously--

                          What if what happened was not just a trend coming into limelight but a cultural revolution?

                          Rather than looking at is as a change in our popular culture perhaps it is smarter to view it as a growth in our American culture.

                          1. Damn near everything is fetishized in our www society. Don’t believe me? Take a gander at Yahoo Groups or any group based site. Everything is fashionable in one way or another. That said…

                            Food is something in which we are all a participant. Not long ago I was a restaurant junkie. I loved eating out and spared no expense doing it. I’ve always been a good cook but since money is so very much tighter than it used to be I am expanding my cooking repertoire and I watch cooking shows to get and use new ideas. And because I’ve always enjoyed cooking shows.

                            I was one of the last batch of home-for-lunch kids. After WTCN took off Lunch With Casey I started watching The Galloping Gourmet with Graham Kerr. Probably not appropriate viewing for a 9 year old but Mom watched too so I had adult supervision. That was the 60’s so I guess I’m saying Food ain’t no passing fancy for me and I’m happy that now I can chat about food with other like-minded folk.

                            1. I think your perspective is skewed toward television. Food has ALWAYS been a popular topic in whatever "media" was predominant in its time. One of my prized culinary possessions is a large collection (a couple of year's worth) of the monthly haute cuisine section of House Beautiful magazine published in the 60's. Great recipes and "food porn" that will give anything available today a run for it's money. I also have an 1860s copy of of Mrs. Elizabeth Beeton's "The Book of Household Management," and a reprint of Ali-Bab's very early 20th century treatise on gastronomy. Both would have topped the New York Times Best Seller list, had it been in existence back then, or at least covering the subject.

                              The ONLY thing different today is television. Television means being able to capture the interest of anyone who can see and/or hear. No literacy requirement. I haven't seen the budgets, but I suspect that food shows are even cheaper to produce than "reality" shows. And low production costs that produce high returns on the buck have always been the driving force behind any "entertainment" media project. Hollywood produces violent "action" movies because they can be distributed globally without much need for dubbing or even subtitles. Food shows are pretty much in line with that, though food shows don't have the international demand that movies do. Writing about food and porn are as omnipresent in man's culture as night and day. They are timeless.