Sunday, January 2, 2011

2011 Food Predictions

More natural flavors in packaged foods are one of the 2011 trend predictions.
At the risk of making a fool of myself, here are a few trends I think we'll be noticing in the coming year.  I'll keep track of how I do and report back a year from now.

Watch for a more active FDA in the food zone. 
In 2010 food companies received an increase in letters from the FDA warning them about misleading labels and unsubstantiated health claims.  The FDA is also taking a more forceful stance against food supplement companies making extraordinary claims. Diet, bodybuilding and sexual enhancement claims are the most common categories found to use illegal ingredients.  At the same time, fewer inspectors have meant fewer food processing plant inspections and several alarming outbreaks of food poisoning resulted.  Expect to hear more in the coming year about the safety of our food supply and see the FDA take a closer look at food and supplement claims.  

Better availability of American-made artisanal foods.
With NYC icon Murray's Cheese Shop now set up at Kroger's and other large grocery chains upping their game at the cheese counter there is more opportunity for us to get local, regional and domestic specialty cheeses as well as charcuterie items. Farmers markets will continue to be a great supplier too.  Groceries will continue to experiment with locally grown and organic produce.  What they decide about supplying these foods long term will be up to us and how we support the trend with our grocery dollars.

“Nose to Tail” lip service
If you are not already a fan of sweetbreads, scrapple, country pates and beef and kidney pies, I doubt the new fad of using the "whole hog" will transform your tastes.  I do think that we may all find ourselves more aware of what happens to the other parts of the bird, steer, lamb and pig that are not on our tables and gain a keener understanding of how meat pricing and inventory management works. 

Eating out again
As the work force returns in larger numbers, it will mean a return to dining out, especially at casual restaurants and at quick serve restaurants (known outside the business as fast food) that offer good deals on enticing sweet-savory breakfast items.  While our grocery stores try to meet our perceived interest in local and natural foods, will we show the same consumer behavior at restaurants or will another side of our consumer personality prevail?

More food corporations will add or replace ingredients with ones that are "natural." 

Reward the trend but remember that adding whole grains (natural or not) to a food that lists various forms of sugar as its top ingredients is not really an improvement.  Junk food with a halo is still junk food.  Look for natural ingredients in more of the good foods you eat and be thankful that your sour cream & onion chips will have fewer artificial flavors and preservatives. And remember, foods like cottonseed oil in your "natural" potato chips may still be too high in saturated fat and too low in monounsaturated fats.

Spanish, Portuguese and Moroccan foods
I foresee growing access and familiarity with Mediterranean foods from the western side of the salty sea.  We already shop for manchego cheese from Spain, eat falafel from carts and packaged mixes and are mastering Portuguese salt cod dishes without even realizing their proximity both to each other and, more recently, to us.

Vegan recipes abound.  Likewise Gluten-free foods.
All good especially as it answers the needs of many who suffer from serious food allergies and celiac disease (which requires a wheat free diet).  With the improvement in labeling, some labels will look silly.  Try to contain your mirth when you see steamed broccoli labeled vegan (no eggs or dairy, duh) that is also gluten free (no wheat).  On the other hand, with all the extras in packaged foods, perhaps we should be sure our steamed broccoli is just that.

School lunches (and breakfasts) will lose out as many local budget-crunched school boards juggle union pensions, new technology needs and core programs vying for funds.  Government food programs still get in their own way by trying to serve both the large corporate farms and food industry and the nutritional needs of our nation's little ones.  Schools that are trying student-gardens may see the most benefit for the least investment.

Continued perplexity about our nation's obesity rates among many of the food elite.
Educated, slim, active foodies are in the dark about why most of our population can't just eat like them.  Until we look at this issue with compassion, good statistical information and a willingness do more than throw up our hands, we will continue to be flummoxed.  Making good meals fast and cheap is not easy without some basic training in food selection, preparation and storage for home, office and school use.  Many people get about half hour for lunch and are far from any nutritious sources.  If you are an expert and wondering about the food crisis in this country, consider volunteering to teach your cooking skills via organizations like "Share our Strength."  You may be surprised at what you learn about the realities of "food insecure homes" in your area.