Food fads and their attendant folklore are a cultural phenomenon in countries worldwide. Food fads range from fad diets, such as the Grapefruit Diet, macrobiotic diets, the Master Cleanse and fasting regimens, to the popularity of specific foods such as civet coffee, made from coffee beans harvested from the feces of the cat-like civet in southeast Asia. Food fads involving specific trends have focused on processed foods since the mid-twentieth century in developed nations, as new food science processes combine with advertising pushes to create new food memes. Legends surrounding food fads include the (false) concepts that drinking soda pop and while eating either the candy Pop Rocks or Mentos could make the stomach explode.
Food has become a form of entertainment in the United States in the twenty-first century, from the “foodie” movement to the creation of Food Network and the Food Channel, television channels devoted to food topics. Reality television shows about chefs, kitchens, and cooks dominate the airwaves, while food shows and commercials promote food fads such as pancake batter in an aerosol can, supplement-enhanced foods,
and high-protein Greek yogurt. Few food fads convert into mainstream dietary staples; Jell-O's 1918 debut of coffee-flavored Jell-O was among the many unsuccessful products that attempted to enter the market. Advertising in the food industry is part of the impetus for food fad creation, with major food manufacturers and restaurant chains spending more than $11.2 billion in 2004 to promote both new and old products.
Historical Background and Scientific Foundations
Food production changed in the 1920s as factory food production, canning, and freezing techniques improved. Advertising expanded as a service to businesses seeking to reach out to new customers and markets. The intersection of improved food production methods and advertising, along with marketing scope expansion, led to the creation of some food products designed to be novelties. For instance, Jell-O debuted new flavors and a range of recipes that were intended to encourage housewives to incorporate the gelatin product into dishes. Jell-O was touted in magazines such as Ladies Home Journal in advertisements labeling it “America's most famous dessert,” eventually expanding its flavors to include fads such as tomato, celery, Italian, and mixed vegetables. The Jellomold dessert, in which a Bundt cake pan is used to mix Jell-O and various fruits, vegetables, or other ingredients, was a popular fad food in the 1950s through 1970s.
Processed foods from the 1950s onwards ushered in the era of TV dinners, cheese in a can, flower-flavored PEZ candies, candy cigarettes, and more. In 1953 both Swanson TV dinners and Cheez Whiz hit American grocery store shelves, inspiring a host of imitators. With large advertising budgets and promotion in newspapers and magazines, on radio shows and the newly-emerging television shows, these food fads replaced older staples such as non-processed meats, vegetables, and starches. Frozen, freeze-dried, and Page 327 | Top of Articlecompartmentalized meals and foods were also popular, as technologically-altered food products from the American space program made their way into the marketplace. The 1960s also saw the explosion of fast food outlets, initially a fad, that eventually became a staple of the diets of many Americans.
One of the most famous unsuccessful food fads occurred in 1985, when the Coca-Cola company introduced New Coke. The formula made new Coke sweeter, and consumers and critics alike panned the drink, causing a negative media storm that led to New Coke's demise. Coca-Cola's historically savvy advertising department stumbled and, as Michael Blanding notes in his book The Coke Machine, “Anguished calls and letters came pouring into Coke headquarters—more than 400,000 by the end of the ordeal.” Coca-Cola company executives came to refer to the day New Coke debuted as “Black Tuesday.” Responding to public pressure, the company re-introduced the original flavor as Coke Classic, to be sold as an alternative choice alongside New Coke; consumers so overwhelmingly purchased the Classic version, however, that New Coke was limited to sales in selected areas and finally was dropped quietly from the product line in 2004. Five years later the company discontinued the “Classic” moniker, and the last reminder of the product's distinction from New Coke became part of Coca-Cola's storied past.
At the end of the twentieth century and into the second decade of the twenty-first century, food fads focused on novelty, convenience, and health. Pancake batter in an aerosol can—even an organic version—hit supermarket shelves. Frozen crustless peanut butter and jelly sandwiches took the simple PB&J and made it foolproof. Heinz introduced colored ketchup, with purple and green selections; the products were pulled in 2006 due to low sales. Enhanced foods, such as eggs with extra omega-3 fatty acids, additional probiotics in yogurt, or bottled water with vitamins added took the concept of enrichment to extremes by the end of the first decade of the 2000s.
Impacts and Issues
Food fads are possible only in countries with an abundance of staple foods and strong food security. Food writer Michael Pollan (1955–) notes that food faddism may be a function of America's immigrant past: Without one unifying food tradition in the United States, the public clings to the latest advertised food product and the popularity of the food fad functions as a substitute for collective dietary traditions. In addition, living in a developed country with economic stability leads to the treatment of food as a frivolous, trivial item to be turned into an object of fun and entertainment.
Anchovy oil in orange juice is just one of the many versions of nutritionally enriched items shoppers can
choose when searching for foods for optimal health. Tropicana's Heart Healthy orange juice includes omega-3 fatty acids via anchovy and sardine oil, whereas Wonder Headstart Bread includes the same fish oil to give consumers a healthy boost from eating bread. Chickens are fed diets rich in flaxseed to produce extrastrong omega-3 eggs, and pasta companies such as Ronzoni add calcium to products to boost nutritional value and gain market share. This recent type of food fad is ever-changing as companies scramble to keep up with the latest nutrition research to introduce products that meet perceived consumer concerns.
Food fads change continually, evolving and declining both rapidly and slowly. In early 2010, bacon-flavored items dominated food shelves, including bacon-flavored salt, bacon-flavored chocolate, “baconnaise,” and even
bacon-infused vodka, a trend that waned within the year. Adding the energy drink Red Bull to a flavored vodka was a popular alcoholic drink in the early twenty-first century. Some food fads are inspired by movies: The Harry Potter series launched a real-life candy version of Bertie Bott's Every Flavor Beans, jelly beans with flavors such as booger, grass, soap, vomit, and ear wax. The fictional candy has strong real-life sales and increases in popularity just after the premiere of each new Harry Potter book or movie. In the year after the 2009 debut of the film Julie and Julia, French cuisine made at home became a renewed trend, and Julia Child's Mastering the Art of French Cooking became a best-seller more than 40 years after its publication.
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Melanie Barton Zoltan
Gale Document Number: GALE|CX1918600104