The Shape of Food to Come

Wrapping up the decade in dining and looking at what lies ahead

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A Portland blogger called the Zeroes “A Decade So Bad, It Didn’t Even Have a Name and No One Even Knows It’s Ending.” “The Aughts” never really caught on, and why would they?

When we were freaking out in anticipation of Y2K, we thought our biggest problem might be a computer glitch. Now the TSA scans you down to your toe jams and the Arctic ice retreats faster than the value of your over-mortgaged starter home. Who can be bothered to name this fading, uncertain decade?

But how about on the food front? When the 9/11 jitters set in, we leaned heavily toward comfort food to keep us safe and “medicinal food” to keep us healthy. Hopefully the antioxidants in our juice counterbalanced the cholesterol in our fried-egg-topped cheeseburger, but somehow I doubt it.

So we start a new decade. “The Teens”? What, now we get zits? What’s on the menu for the years ahead?

I don’t claim to be the Faith Popcorn of the food world, but I do spend an inordinate amount of time thinking about this sort of thing. I’ve read what the pros have to say. Baum & Whiteman, the food trend consultants, are betting that the comfort trend continues, with “artisanal” touches, too. Pretty safe prediction there, since no one really wants to hear that our food future looks like Idiocracy: “Welcome to Carl’s Jr. Would you like to try our extra big ass taco? Now with more molecules!”

Bleak, right? But when we’re looking 10 years into the future, remember, Blade Runner was set in 2019. “A new life awaits you in the off-world colonies!” And what did Decker eat? Ramen noodle soup, my friend. Whatever happened to Space Food Sticks and Tang?

So will the polar ice caps melt, the sea levels rise and tuna spawn in Lake Erie? Let’s take it one step at a time.

On the Greater Cincinnati dining scene, we’ll see who gets custody of the kids (that’s us, the customers) in the messy Wade/de Cavel divorce. We love you both! Don’t make us choose!

And the recession will continue to have an impact on restaurant survival that we’ll see day by day. Hopefully, young hotshot chefs will continue to amaze.

Talents like Josh Campbell of Mayberry/New World Foodbar and Paul Weckman and Molly Thompson of Otto’s have the culinary skills to ride out the storm, as long as business doesn’t bottom out. I hope they’ll still be delighting us with bacon from an organically grain-fed Midwestern pig named Milton with a side of stone-ground grits when I write the 2020 wrap-up.

Other safe bets? I’ll bet that for the next 10 years dressed-up dining stays dead. Nobody’s sporting a dinner jacket nowadays, and the people who still feel nostalgic about it are wearing dentures. Baby boomers can’t afford to retire in Florida, so they’ll be “aging in place,” and the early dinner senior specials you used to see in Boca Raton will now be all over West Chester.

Multi-culturalism will continue to impact what we eat. Believe it or not, fajitas and pho weren’t that familiar back in the 1990s. By 2019, I think we’ll see a lot more Malaysian, Guatemalan and other international tastes become widespread, even in conservative Cincinnati. Otherwise, the number of Indian restaurants in Clifton will reach critical mass and Ludlow Avenue will implode.

I think comfort food is here to stay, primarily because home cooking is the new frugality.

Our home-cooked meals will use the ingredients I cooked with in college: eggs, lentils and vegetables. Pot roast, yes, but mostly meat as a seasoning ingredient — whether that’s marrow to make the soup heartier or bacon to give the greens some soul. Recipes will continue to come from food bloggers, the next generation of “celebrity” chefs, and cookbooks will be a thing of the past.

Manufacturers will try to sell us “smart appliances,” as they’ve been since 2000, when the Smart Appliance Task Force told us, “Your current refrigerator interface is flawed.” What, standing there with the door open, peering hopefully into the interior for a meal to appear — this isn’t efficient? I’ve been doing it since junior high.

OK, I guess there’s a point, but just because a Smart Fridge can read the bar code on my ketchup and tell that it expired last year doesn’t sell me on the idea of more spying appliances in my home.

Outdated condiments or not, I’m not scoffing at food safety. The local food movement will continue to grow, partly because salmonella has stopped being a punch line for late night TV and started being a factor that thoughtful people use in choosing their groceries. A lot of consumers want to know where their food is coming from, what’s in it and how it’s been handled.

This more vigilant trend won’t go away, and it shouldn’t, because that other famous movie food you’ve been dreading was set in a very near future. Get ready for 2022, when Soylent Green is on the menu!

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