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Opinion: Food as fashion – will eating soil really catch on?

Kale, quinoa, edible soil – food goes through fashion fluctuations just like clothing. But the one thing we can rely on is our expanding waistlines.

Lorraine Courtney

IF VEGETABLES WERE supermodels, the model of the moment would be kale. Beyoncé posted a pic of herself on Tumblr wearing a tshirt with the word “kale” emblazoned across it. Ottolenghi likes nothing better than to toss it in a pan with a dribble of oyster sauce. He says, “I love the texture, the colour, the taste: crinkly, vibrant and fresh.”

Last year 262 US babies were named Kale. Nothing says 2014 more than that shade of green we’ve come to know as “kale” and painting your nails that colour is a subtle nod to the trend. Yet, not so long ago, kale was considered to be somewhere below rabbit food. So what happened?

Food trends

You see it’s all about food trends right now. It’s kind of hard to imagine it now but a few years ago we didn’t know what quinoa was. Now we can’t escape the super grain (which is actually a seed). But there are plenty of other grains out there waiting in the wings. With the world’s recent craze over gluten-free foods, it stands to reason that a gluten-free grain would be high in the running to overtake quinoa. Enter teff, an Ethiopian grain with a mildly nutty flavor. Another grain that is poised for the limelight is freekeh – a grain that is harvested when it is still young and green.

Each new year brings food casualties. Pasta (all types) has been seen off by Japanese noodles. Ciabatta bread is over because anyone with any style is buying sourdough and quinoa has started to give way to couscous and the ultimate in smart eating: Moroccan cuisine. Just like fashionistas coveting the latest Chloe handbag, foodies hunger for the rare and exclusive and the actual nutritional element has little impact at all.

Eating… dirt?

This year we are meant to be eating dirt. Literally. According to an article published in The Guardian in January “edible soil” is actually a thing that is predicted to catch on this year. Isn’t it a bit unsettling when a fetish turns itself into a mainstream culinary trend? Other foodstuff expected to take off in 2014 are “edible wood”, everything chia, and kale ice pops. It’s all so unappetising that it kind of makes you miss the bacon craze of 2012.

At the same time our population has overweight and obesity levels that are well in excess of the European average. The latest research shows 26.5 per cent of Irish girls and 16 per cent of Irish boys under the age of 20 are classed as overweight or obese in comparison with the western European average of 24.2 per cent. 66 per cent of Irish men over 20 are also considered overweight or obese and a whopping 50.9 per cent of Irish women over 20. The western European average is 47.6 per cent.  Between 1980 and 2013 the number of overweight and obese people globally rose from 857 million to 2.1 billion.

Superfoods

Meanwhile we’re bombarded with advertisements for “superfoods” like Acai berries that are supposed to help us lose weight or what what have you through their “superfood” powers. Well guess what? They may not be so “super” after all. Dr Oz whose name is often attached to the wonder berries, admits that the companies selling the products took his praise for Acai too far and then had to retract, saying “I’d be surprised if by itself acai could help. It’s not going to hurt you, and it’s as good an antioxidant as anything else. That’s not where I would put my money.” The Acai berry had appeared on the market virtually out of nowhere and seemed too good to be true.

Take the word “antioxidant”. The hype is everywhere as they promise to prevent cancer, heart disease and even wrinkles. Everyone is saying that antioxidants are powerful. Everyone except for sceptical scientists who realise it’s a bit more complicated than that. And that all veggies were created equal.

Still we will continue to hear claims that certain vegetables are the new black and that childhood obesity is the new nicotine but, regardless of whether chia is the new acai or down is the new up, it seems that we’re growing bigger all the time.

Lorraine Courtney is a freelance journalist. Follow her on Twitter @lorrainecath.

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