Google recently released their Food Trends for 2016 . If you were in any doubt about the role food plays in our lives, then look through this report. It is as much a social commentary as it is an aggregate of the thoughts and concerns of millions of people. A contemplation of this report is thoughtfully presented in 2016 Food Trends on Google - The Rise of Functional Foods.
The report caught my attention because it highlights Turmeric as a "rising star" in Google searches (after a long period of being a "sustained riser" on the search engine). It was this opening paragraph that spoke to the intersection of social concerns about our food and diet, the access technology is giving us to food and wellness information, and the ability to customize our lives.
The report stated "The dinner table looks quite different than it did just 10 years ago. For one, there's likely a smartphone next to the fork. And on each plate, there might be a different meal—mom's paleo, dad's vegan, the kids' gluten- and nut-free. At first glance, you might think these changes are unrelated...."
I think that knowledge of what we eat, where it comes from, and how it got to our plate is powerful. The choices we make several times a day about our food are perhaps the most important decisions we make in our lives. Increasingly these are individual choices. As the report points out, we have the ability to customize our food choices and roll them into a meal plan the same way we can customize and organize the apps on our smart phones.
As positive as I feel about the ability to access food information, I have a deep concern. This newfound dietary personalization speaks to our troubled and stressful lives. The fact that over the last five years there has been a 961% increase in the search "what foods are good for acid reflux" speaks to the challenges we face with our lifestyles. It is essential that people use this access to information to lead better, healthier lives.
In his best-selling 2008 book "In Defense of Food", author Michael Pollan does a masterful job of explaining the shift after the Second WW to deconstruct food into its separate components (fat, sugar, salt, calories...) and then recombine these and represent them as a nutritional label. He explains how this was an underlying cause of the widespread obesity and inflammatory diseases that we have seen since.
The problem is that while a natural food diet is in theory a simple proposition, the chemistry of food and the chemistry of our bodies is anything but simple. Break food down into its chemical components, add a few chemists (like me!) plus some good marketing people, and you get the breakfast cereal aisle that’s in every grocery store.
As Michael Pollan points out, the problem is not that we were provided information, nor is it that the information was incorrect. In fact, nutritional labels and particularly Ingredients Panels are a great source of information on prepared foods. Food labels were developed over several decades and represent a good faith effort to provide the current medical science on diets. The problem is that food, real food, is so much more than a few categories listed on a nutrition label. The problem is that “ingredients” can be used to synthesize foods to meet specific marketing objectives. In addition, the "current medical science on diets" has turned out to not always be correct. The beliefs that all fat is bad, that all dietary cholesterol is bad, have turned out to not be correct. My concern is that the access to "Internet quality information" mixed with excellent marketing can be a blessing and a curse. One thing for sure is that food, like fashion, is based on trends that are ever changing.
While food trends change, the body's need for nutrition has remained pretty constant. At Verdant Kitchen™ we have looked to ancient history and some long culinary and health traditions to smooth out the trends. The Rise of Functional Foods is much more of a return to age-old nutritional traditions than it is a new idea.
The key aspects of wellness continue to be:
- Eat food that provides Naturally Complex Nutrition™. That includes the spices like ginger and turmeric, and the colored fruits and vegetables packed with phytochemicals, antioxidants and natural inflammation regulators.
- Pursue an active lifestyle that includes exercise, sleep and joy.
- Be educated and informed. Make conscious food choices.
The "Rise of Functional Foods" is a great example of the positive good that can come from access to food information. Technology builds bridges between people and information that delivers useful knowledge. Functional Foods are a mashup of information between what tastes great and what is good for us. At Verdant Kitchen™, we call ourselves a Gourmet and Wellness company because our core Ginger and Turmeric products stand at the intersection of taste and function like they have for at least 7000 years. An ancient Egyptian may not have recognized the term "functional food," but you can be very sure that they understood only too well the concept.
Another interesting observation to take from the Google articles is people's apparent search for ways to use food and ingredients that may be unfamiliar but have strong functional benefits. A few recipe ideas can help. I would also suggest a couple of kitchen essentials to get you started:
Will we be misled by the overwhelming torrent of food and wellness information that now washes over us? Most certainly we will, but the trends are positive. The Rise of Functional foods is a trend that is worthy of becoming a way of life.