Seven ways 2018 changed how we eat
Hold the livestock
Meat eaters might finally be ready to cut out the cows. Silicon Valley startups Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods are proving that a plant-based burger can smell, taste, and even bleed like real beef, and both brands are quickly expanding. Beyond’s patties can be found at Whole Foods and Wal-Mart; Impossible Burgers are served at chains like White Castle and TGI Friday’s. And duplicating the taste of ground beef is just the start. Investors including Bill Gates and Leo DiCaprio love the idea that scientists can also use plant proteins to mimic pork, fish, and chicken, thus slashing associated environmental costs. “Meat is very understandable—it’s lipids, it’s trace minerals, and it’s water,” Beyond Meat’s CEO told Time. “None of those have exclusive residence in the animal.”
A pot for every chicken
So long, slow cooking. For home cooks, no appliance has gained steam like the Instant Pot. This year, Amazon sold 300,000 of the pressure-cooking pots in a single day, marking the gadget’s graduation from cult item to kitchen staple. It’s easy to see the appeal of a plug-in device that drastically cuts cooking time for short ribs, roast chicken, even homemade yogurt. But aside from stews and fall-apart meats, don’t expect culinary miracles. “They deliver on the promise of making simple meals quickly,” said food writer Paul Schrodt in The Wall Street Journal. But “they’re not magical machines.”
Your roommate’s sad pot brownies no longer qualify as the cutting edge of cannabis cuisine. Chefs who cook with marijuana are now operating above ground, hosting dinners where the plants’ psychoactive compounds are infused into everything from olive oil to foie gras. On TV, Netflix’s Cooking on High joined Vice’s Bong Appétit in appealing to would-be weed eaters, and in states where marijuana is legal, cannabis confections account for nearly half the market. CBD, a medicinal compound found in cannabis, has meanwhile spread even wider. In many states, cafés and bars are serving CBD-infused coffees and cocktails, and even Coca-Cola is looking into CBD drinks.
Cooking with purpose
Launching a culinary revolution is no longer enough for some chefs. Recognizing that their growing celebrity status empowered them to do more good for the world—and perhaps inspired by the #MeToo push that toppled several industry wolves—a few kitchen impresarios set a new bar for social engagement. In Braddock, Pa., Kevin Sousa opened Superior Motors to lift up the depressed former steel town with a serious menu, discount cards for locals, and kitchen training for laid-off factory workers. At Emma’s Torch in Brooklyn, restaurateur Kerry Brodie makes a point of training and hiring refugees. But no one outdid James Beard Award winner José Andrés, whose nonprofit World Central Kitchen provided 3 million meals in Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria and continues to be everywhere disaster hits. He has been nominated for the 2019 Nobel Peace Prize.
Grandma knows best
Nyum Bai’s chicken kuri
Critics are going mad for chefs who cook from their roots. Brooklyn’s Ugly Baby, a Thai restaurant where chef Sirichai Sreparplarn insists on “following the rules of the great-grandmothers,” landed at No. 3 on Bon Appétit’s “Hot 10.” In Seattle, chef Mutsuko Soma put Kamonegi on many best-new-restaurant lists by following her own grandma’s soba noodle recipe. In Oakland, Nite Yun earned Eater.com’s “Breakout Star of the Year” title by launching Nyum Bai, a humble Cambodian joint where she serves a style of cuisine nearly wiped out by the Khmer Rouge.
The last straws
The anti-plastic movement finally found a target small enough to squash. Bans on plastic drinking straws spread quickly this year in the wake of a viral video showing a sea turtle with a straw lodged in its nose. Many cities and states introduced anti-straw laws, and Starbucks said it would soon serve its cold drinks with paper straws or in biodegradable sippy cups. People began carrying their own reusables even as critics noted that straws represent only a tiny fraction of all plastic pollution. The impact, though, could ripple outward. “Once you’re not taking a straw,” said Henry Grabar in Slate.com, “maybe you’ll think twice about that plastic bag too.”
A ‘list culture’ reckoning
Can appearing on a list like this be the kiss of death? Stanich’s, a 70-year-old family-run operation in Portland, Ore., closed its doors this year, just seven months after Thrillist.com named it the home of America’s best hamburger. In a November essay that went viral, the list’s author, Kevin Alexander, confessed how guilty he felt for bringing in overwhelming crowds. But was “list culture” the trouble? A local paper soon uncovered a domestic violence conviction in the owner’s past that suggested, said Helen Rosner in NewYorker.com, that food writers today must ask tougher questions of the stars they create. “Alexander clearly intended his essay to spark a conversation about journalistic responsibility,” she wrote. “In the end, it has.”