During Nonfiction November, I came across a recommendation of David Sax’s last book, The Tastemakers: Why We’re Crazy for Cupcakes but Fed Up with Fondue on Paper Breathers‘s blog. It had all the markers of something I thought I’d like, so I decided to listen to it on audiobook during a recent road trip. As I suspected, I ended up loving the book.
The Tastemakers explores food trends of the last few decades. David Sax begins the book by exploring the recent cupcake trend. It seems that everywhere you look there’s a cupcake store, even where I live in South Texas. Gone are the days of the humble cupcake. Gourmet cupcakes, cupcake bakeries, cupcake blogs, and cupcake cookbooks now abound, and we have Sex and the City to thank (see also: Manolo Blahniks, rabbit vibrators, and Cosmos). It’s an intriguing and accessible way to open the book; you’d have to be living under a rock to not know how popular cupcakes are.
What makes a food trend? How do they start? Who are the people behind them? And what happens when a food trend ends? Just look at what happened with fondue: in the 70s it was a must-have at every party, but now fondue sets are considered quaint relics of a bygone era. These days, it feels like there’s a new food trend every time you blink: think of how often you’ve heard of bacon, and “superfoods” like pomegranites and avocado in the past couple of years.
The interesting thing about The Tastemakers is that it looks at the positive aspects of food trends — the incredible array of food options we now have a available to us, for one — as well as the darker side. For instance, the rise of the taco truck has allowed chefs to move away from traditional restaurant settings and offer experimental food fusions that target niche markets. In almost every city where food trucks have seen a rise in popularity, however, they have faced new city food and zoning regulations that are meant to curb their business in favor of established restaurants. Plus, in the zeal to become the next big trend, not all food creations are even good: a lot of them are just wacky and over-the-top in an effort to stand out. There’s also capitalism to consider: superfoods may indeed have high levels of X vitamin, but none of them are the cure-all that companies make them out to be.
The book also looks at a few food trends that tastemakers have claimed as “the next big thing” for years now, but never materialized. Indian food is the one that surprised me the most: it apparently has a big image problem holding it back. (That, and people are really racist. And really dumb, because Indian food is awesome and should rule the world. Just sayin’.)
The only problem I had with the book wasn’t really even related to the content. I listened to it on audio, and David Sax was also the narrator. While he did a good job, he also did accents, and I’m not really sure how I feel about that (especially when he did accents when quoting things like people’s emails). I don’t know. I feel like it’s one thing for fiction narratives, but jumping around doing South Asian, Peruvian, Chinese, etc. accents in a nonfiction book — especially for people he’d never directly spoken to — felt…questionable. (Is that weird? Is it just me?)
Other than that, I loved the book itself and found it both fascinating and entertaining. If you’re a foodie or you have an interest in the food/food hype industry, you should check it out.
The Tastemakers: Why We’re Crazy for Cupcakes but Fed Up with Fondue was first released in May 2014 by Public Affairs, an imprint of Perseus Books Group. I listened to the audiobook version published by Audible Studios.