Skim Milk Nation
Today’s menus come with a healthy side of adjectives.
Growing up in the 1970s and ’80s, my idea of salad was a wedge of iceberg lettuce, a slice of tomato and a dollop of Thousand Island dressing. Bread was Bunny and white. Milk was full-fat, and nobody thought to ask whether Old MacDonald’s cows were shooting up recombinant bovine growth hormone.
The primitive dietary civilization of my youth began to fracture one day in the late 1970s, when a visitor from a distant land – my little cousin Christopher from Minneapolis – declared, “I don’t like regular milk. I only like skim.” Among my siblings, those words became a catchphrase that represented picky eating. But I’d never even heard of skim milk until that day. It sounded horrible.
Looking at the recent data collected by the National Restaurant Association on the culinary trends for 2015, it struck me: We are becoming a nation of Christophers.
Micro-distilled spirits. Heirloom apples. House-made pickles. Gourmet, freshly muddled lemonade. Free-range pork. Locally sourced, grass-fed beef culottes. Ancient grains.
Artisanal ice cream. Organic, fair trade coffee. Never have menu items come with so many qualifiers.
Someone ordering similar items 30 years ago would have said, “I’ll start with a gin and tonic, then have your salad. I’ll take those little sausages for an appetizer. Bring me a lemonade with my steak and rice. Ice cream and coffee for dessert. Thanks.”
Back then, waiters had it easy. I’d hate to be a waiter nowadays. It must take an hour to rehearse the flowery details and socially conscious bona fides of the evening special.
Of course, you can’t blame restaurants for giving people what they want. And some of those things – like doughnuts, which remain popular – are still pretty straightforward.
Among the items on a downward trend, you’ll find the strange – insects, flowers and “foam/froth/air” – mixed with the surprising: bacon-covered chocolate.
At first glance, this trend toward persnickety dining would appear to spell trouble for old-school restaurants. My mind rushes to certain steakhouses around town, where the only variables on the menu are the cuts of steak and how many ounces they weigh. The “sides” (if that word is still permitted) might consist only of (a) potatoes au gratin or (b) fries.
On the other hand, while the nation at large may be getting pickier, a significant number of people probably don’t want to feel like they need a degree in anthropology or microeconomics in order to fully contemplate the menu. In fact, these adjective-laden restaurant menus might drive an audience to restaurants that keep things simple. And the net result to the gastrosphere could be more variety. From a culinary standpoint, who can argue with that?
So I guess you can have your cake – and eat your locally sourced ice cream/artisanal cupcake hybrid, too.
Top 20 Food Trends for 2015
1. Locally sourced meats and seafood
2. Locally grown produce
3. Environmental sustainability
4. Healthful kids’ meals
5. Natural ingredients/minimally processed food
6. New cuts of meat
7. Hyper-local sourcing
8. Sustainable seafood
9. Food waste reduction/management
10. Farm/estate-branded items
11. Non-wheat noodles/pasta
12. Gluten-free cuisine
13. Ancient grains
14. Whole grain items in kids’ meals
15. Non-traditional fish
16. Ethnic-inspired breakfast items
18. House-made/artisan ice cream
19. Fruit/vegetable kids’ side items
20. Artisan cheeses
Source: National Restaurant Association 2015 Culinary Forecast