David Sax’s newest report on the wondrous world of food explores the rise and decline of food trends that captivate the media, doctors and dieticians, food producers, and, most importantly, our appetites. Sax introduces his book with a discussion of our recent obsession with cupcakes and appropriately ends with just a few quick notes on the affects of food on our health, which would be hard to completely avoid in a nonfiction text devoted entirely to food itself. While most current food-centered books focus heavily on the dangers of bacon to our waistlines or the health benefits of chia seeds, Sax makes it clear that his book aims to look at food without creating guilt or gently pushing the reader towards a “healthier” lifestyle because he simply avoids, for the most part, making any association between food trends and obesity.
And what a relief. The ultramodern approach of speaking about what we eat and not providing some kind of diet counseling lets the reader focus solely on the topic at hand and allows them to appreciate Sax’s careful and detailed study of society’s fascination with food and why we eat what we eat. The book is divided into three parts, the first of which describes the four types of trends, including the “sexy” trend like the aforementioned cupcakes that spiked our interest because of their visual appeal and the fact that popular female characters on TV enjoyed them, too. The influences of the farmer, the chef, and the many self-proclaimed nutritionists are likewise examined in Part I, and Sax’s personal interactions with each participant in this sequence lend credibility to his analysis.
In Part II of The Tastemakers, the author studies the most intriguing aspect of food trends, which is how they come to be, so naturally and seamlessly, a part of our lives. Sax challenges the notion that there’s no formula to the rise of a food trend by unveiling the setting of the corporate food company board room where mass data collected on consumers’ interactions with food is meticulously considered before the company in question develops a new product. A food-themed Oscars event and the subsequent appraisals from critics alongside devious marketing ploys that can turn an ordinary red apple into a Prince are also influential in the admittance of food to the “cool table” where we ravenously devour the next big thing as though we’ll never see it again (ahem, the cronut).
In some cases, Sax points out that we might in fact not be able to buy our new, favourite treat forever as Part III of the text discusses the demise of food trends like fondue, whose specialty utensils now collect dust in many pantries and cupboards. The politics of food trends are another interesting aspect of Part III as Sax throws himself into the war-torn world of food trucks and municipal legislation that threatens their existence.
The Tastemakers succeeds because its language is clear while its ideas are compelling, in the sense that Sax helps us understand why we like what we like without relying on complex psychological analyses or newfound theories about the effects of the leptin hormone on our desire to eat. Yes, we love food, but we’re also prone to marketing strategies and pretty labels and GMO Free accreditations. The human diet is conceived both from our bodily needs and the society around us that directs our appetites based on our history of interests.
This book is not a call for change to your lifestyle or to the way food is made. It is however a well-written and hard-to-put-down study about delicious, innovative, and sometimes healthful things at your grocery store or on the street corner or in that new café that you and everyone else wants to put in their mouths. The Tastemakers is absolutely worth reading, and considering.
Alicja Grzadkowska is finishing up her final semester at the University of Guelph before moving on to study Journalism at Ryerson in the fall. Her bookshelf is stacked with yet-to-read fiction titles, which hasn't stopped her from regularly adding to her collection. Traveling to big cities across North America is another one of her obsessions, and one which she hopes to indulge in again this summer.