The Timeless and the Trends

Almost 400-year old bonsai at National Arboretum, Washington, DC

Almost 400-year old bonsai at National Arboretum, Washington, DC

This may be the oldest living thing I've ever witnessed. It is a nearly 400-year old bonsai treasure at the National Arboretum in Washington, DC. With a favorite person, I visited and admired it on Thanksgiving weekend.

Almost 400-year old bonsai at National Arboretum, Washington, DC

Almost 400-year old bonsai at National Arboretum, Washington, DC

I often think that what I love best about the world of food is what is timeless: the way food and drink warm and cheer us, the ways eating and drinking together make human beings of us all, and weave us together in shared pleasure for a time.

So how can I love news about food trends, too? Ephemeral, changing, the opposite of timeless, and worlds away from "in training since 1625?"

  • Answer A: Humans, including me, are inconsistent, or, more politely put, complex.
  • Answer B: Trends offer hope that good things are strengthening, bad things are falling away, that we are making progress toward what Professor Marion Nestle calls a better "food environment."

The Food Channel's 10 predicted trends include more social cooking, and more social media mashed up with cooking/restaurant reviews/recipes - a trend also predicted (or should that be "described?") on other lists. More "agri-chefs" who grow what they cook in their restaurants? Love that.

Huffington Post's Food Trends 2012 include an increase in "fast casual" Asian restaurants, more consumption of rabbit, goat, and chicken skin, and a rebirth of interest in the French dip sandwich. Soft pretzels replacing cupcakes? You decide.

Andrew Freeman & Company's predictions seem more likely to be accurate right on the edge of things in world food capitals: hand pulled noodles right before our eyes? Celebrity chefs opening fast-food joints? Custom French fry bars? Moving toward more savory flavors in traditionally sweet foods - that I really like. Maybe we will retrain our notoriously unhealthy sweet teeth. After you check out the haute New York grey-and-black design package in which these trends are wrapped, if you want a more traditional presentation, ABC News came through for you.

Publicis Consultants' 12 2012 trends include more and more homegrown, "hyperlocal" food, and increased love of popcorn (wait - isn't popcorn timeless??)

10 Food Business Trends to Watch For in 2012 picks up on some of the other trends lists, and translates a bit into what restaurants may want to plan toward: Breakfast any time, more focus on small plates, small bites, and small portions, lay in a grand supply of potatoes, and expect the ongoing love affair with anything artisanal to continue.

Bonus! Food trends in Hawaii include foraging ("Hunting and gathering is the new local") and a strengthened embrace of Rosé. And I hope you get to go to the Islands in 2012 to taste these trends for yourself. Also, isn't "Biting Commentary" the best name for a magazine's restaurant review and news section?

Overall, whether it's permanent and on its way to timeless, I don't know, but we are experiencing a fairly long moment of interest in the flavors of real food and valuing what is grown and produced (or foraged) near our tables. Yes to that for 2012 and forward.

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