The Pleasure of Defying Food Fashions – The Wall Street Journal

Restaurant News


Mitch Blunt

“You can’t be vegan if you eat avocados,” said a teenage brother to his sister in a family that I know. “Avocados are violent.” His point was that her supposedly ethical decision to replace the butter on her toast with avocado was hypocritical: The avocado trend has made life much more dangerous for many Mexican avocado farmers, thanks to the rise of violent cartels that control the business. The boy crowed that his sister’s topping of choice was little better than “blood guacamole.”

Trendy foods always seem to follow the same pattern, from hype to overconsumption to disillusionment. Think of how quickly almond milk went from being a cool thing to have in your coffee to being reviled as a cause of drought in California, from all those thirsty almond trees. (Frankly, it wasn’t that great in coffee anyway.) Or consider quinoa. When it first became popular, in the early 2000s, we couldn’t get enough of this grain-like seed, which was as wholesome as brown rice but higher in protein and gluten-free to boot. Quinoa became a byword for healthy eating all over the world.

The problem was that the world’s runaway appetite for quinoa meant that the Bolivian farmers who grew it could no longer afford to eat their own product. From 2000 to 2008, as the price of quinoa increased more than six-fold, consumption in Bolivia plummeted as people switched to cheaper and less nutritious carbs, such as instant noodles. Suddenly, our quinoa salads came with a side order of guilt.

A similar backlash is happening now with avocado. In a cafe in a wealthy Western city, few options feel more blameless than smashed avocado on toast. This luscious pale-green concoction on top of toasted sourdough is what you choose when you are being “flexitarian” and trying to cut down on meat. But when millions of people around the world all decide to eat avocado toast at the same time, there are unintended consequences. Apart from the violent cartels, our love of these rich green fruits has contributed to deforestation and excessive water use in Mexico and Chile.

The bigger question raised by food trends is why so many of us want to eat the exact same thing at the same time. Human beings have always been social animals at the dinner table. Copying each other when we eat is how cuisines are passed on. The trouble today is that, with the rise of social media and a vast international food trade, the copying has spiraled out of control, affecting the whole world. Food trends are a collective failure of imagination, as if avocado toast has obliterated all of the other options in our heads.

I sometimes think I will scream if I see another kale salad.

Like high school, food trends breed a boring culture of conformity. This seems to apply especially to foods labeled as healthy. Everywhere you look, there are chia seeds and blueberries. This can feel like menu planning on autopilot. I sometimes think I will scream if I see another kale salad; I loved them when they first appeared, but now they have been dulled by ubiquity.

In a world of food trends, it can feel like a radical decision to eat something different. One sunny day last May, I was having brunch at a cafe in Brooklyn called Rucola. They served toasts spread with a luscious pale-green concoction. But wait! For once, it wasn’t made from avocado but from fresh garden peas mixed with mint and ricotta, topped with radishes. I almost fell off my chair with surprise and delight. It was so refreshing to eat something different for a change.

If you want to buck a trend, you could start by branching out with your savory breakfast toasts. The British chef

Fergus Henderson

covers his toast not in avocado but in beef fat. Cheese on toast, aka Welsh Rarebit, is another half-forgotten classic.

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In her 2017 cookbook “Home Cook,” British food writer

Thomasina Miers

has a lovely recipe for purple sprouting broccoli with ricotta on toast, but it would work with any robust greens in season. You simply steam the greens until tender, then stew them for 10 minutes in oil and garlic until they collapse, before piling them onto toast with chili oil, ricotta and a little lemon zest. As well as being sustainable, I find this a more satisfying plateful of food than avocado, because it has more variety of texture. Mushrooms on toast are another overlooked treat—quickly cooked in butter with a squeeze of lemon, a dab of sour cream and maybe a dash of soy, with or without a poached egg.

It feels good to cultivate unfashionable tastes. When you stop being led by trends, you see that there is a whole world of deliciousness out there for cooks willing to seize it. Swap your kale for cabbage; try pearl barley instead of quinoa.

Another thing I’ve started eating instead of avocado toast is smoked mackerel, mashed into a quick pâté with cream cheese and a little horseradish, served over toast with a green salad. The pungency of the fish might not be to everyone’s taste, but that’s OK. We don’t all have to eat the same thing.

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