The Tastemakers is a breath of fresh air after all the food non-fiction books we’ve been bombarded with over the last few years. Sax takes a different spin on what we know about food by exploring current and past food trends, and his humorous narrative and mouthwatering food descriptions are just outstanding. This is such a relevant topic for today’s society, as we continue to opt to eat out rather than in, and even if you’re not a foodie, this book of food trends is great at making you think about why we eat what we eat.
A tastemaker, in this book, is anyone with the economic or cultural power to create and influence food trends.
David Sax, a freelance writer who writes about business and food, explores why and how food trends exist. He divides food trends into four categories: cultural, agricultural, chef-driven, and health-driven; he talks to people in the business such as trendwatchers and small business-owners; and he explains the cultural, political, and economical impacts of food trends. He delves into the popularity of cupcakes that stemmed from Sex and the City, the emergence of superfoods like chia seeds, and why some foods are more popular than others.
So many awesome things about The Tastemakers that I don’t even know where to begin. Sax has such a funny, dramatic, and relatable narrative that it makes me crack a smile once every 10 pages. From calling cupcakes the “boy band of desserts” to arguing that food has become “a fashion item”, Sax completely understands the feelings of consumers and foodies and manages to show a new side of food that hasn’t really been talked about before.
Cupcakes, cupcakes, cupcakes. Glorious, cursed, beautiful, wretched, god-help-us, god-love-us… cupcakes!
Besides cupcakes, Sax explores many other food trends that made me go, “Oh, I definitely heard of that one!” Ramen burgers and gourmet burgers in general was one story that stuck in my head, and I like how Sax always starts with the birth of the food trend (from an idea, an accident, etc.) to the current state of that trend while focusing on the creators of those trends as well.
The one thing that I enjoyed learning most about from this book was the marketing tactics that propelled certain foods to superstar fame. I didn’t realize that the phrase “an apple a day keeps the doctors away” is a marketing scheme by a Missouri apple horiculturist who was promoting apples until reading this book. Coffee breaks were also not a “thing” until the 1950s when coffee marketers started them. Rapeseed oil is now called canola oil (for Canadian + oil) because the new name is more marketable, and prunes are marketed as dried plums for the same reason. And on and on… it’s fascinating to learn about how products that we think are naturally popular have gone through so much thought and effort from marketers to maximize their appeal to consumers. Sax talks about food trends being 10% creativity and 90% fashion fad, which is an interesting point to consider.
And one thing that I couldn’t get enough of reading about: BACONFEST!!!
I mean, this Chicago event should be organized in every city around the world. Can you imagine bacon poetry? Bacon pizzas? Bacon cotton candy?? Bacon peanut butter macarons??! Mmmmmm.
The Tastemakers is a fantastic read that will appeal to foodies and non-foodies alike. Humorous narrative, great mix of personal recollections, and engrossing historical facts about food trends. Definitely one of my favourite non-fiction reads of the year so far, and I highly recommend it.