The Tastemakers (2014) by David Sax is an entertaining look at the wonders of modern food in the United States and Canada.
Food in the West has improved vastly over the past 40 years. Globalisation has given the developed world a plethora of new ingredients and introduced many new cuisines.
Sax starts off by looking at how the cupcakes have been revived and become a global fad. Driven by some New York bakeries making something new the trend was then given a huge boost via Sex and the City and took off.
The impact of Celebrity Chefs and the appearance of new ingredients like Chia Seeds and other ‘super foods’ is then examined. When looking at chefs Sax laughably asserts that Sang Yoon, an LA based chef invented the gastropub. Wikipedia calmly puts the creation of the gastropub as being in the early 1990s in Britain. The book should have been better fact checked on this. But the rise of gourmet burgers and Korean BBQ tacos is something that has been driven by celebrity chefs. Sax does nicely include quotes from nutritionists about how super foods are over rated.
Sax then looks at people who study food trends and advise food companies. Here some of the marketeers self-promotion is evident but still these people clearly have some impact. Sax visits a food show in DC and describes how a new Apple variety, The Red Prince is being brought to consumers. It’s very interesting reading.
The book then looks at why food trends matter and ethnic food and how Indian food is growing in popularity in the US and how food trucks are rising and their battles with city regulators. Then the rise of bacon is given a chapter. Sax then writes about how fondue rose in popularity in the US but then faded. In an epilogue the phenomenon of cronuts is described. The way the internet and food bloggers helped the spread of this new pastry is wonderfully written up.
The book misses something in that it’s overly focussed on North America and misses how food has improved around the world which is unfortunate. The rapid improvement in British and Australian food would have improved the book.
Tastemakers is a fine look at how food trends rise and fall and it shows just how much food has improved in Anglo-Saxon countries. It’s curious that food, a subject that so many people spend so much time thinking and writing about, isn’t written about more in the manner that Sax does. The book is readable, entertaining and thought provoking. It’s very much worth checking out.