You are what you eat. It's a well-worn adage, but after the pre-packaged, convenience and fast food craze of post-WWII America we may finally be coming back to that realization: that what we put into our bodies matters greatly to our health. There is also ample evidence that what you eat affects your mood, emotions and mental health as well.
The non-profit Institute of Food Technologists has been studying the science of food for more than 70 years, unlocking the potential of the food community around the world.
Its goal is to provide each and every person on the planet with access to a safe and abundant food supply.
IFT has recently released some great information on what's trending in food for 2012.
Here are the top five food waves for the new year.
People are getting more and more concerned about being fat, especially in places like the United States with a growing obesity epidemic. IFT predicts that in 2012, "fat phobia" will run rampant.
And the U.S. isn't the only one; in previously more-healthy countries such as France, nearly 14 percent of adults are now obese, up from eight percent a decade ago. The invasion of fast food into other countries may hold a big part of the blame.
Americans could look to other countries that are currently combating the obesity problem through some proactive measures. Denmark recently imposed the world's first "fat tax," a surcharge on foods that are high in saturated fat. Items such as butter, milk, cheese, pizza, meat and oil are now taxed extra if they contain more than 2.3 percent saturated fat.
The United Kingdom is contemplating a similar fine system on fatty foods, and IFT predicts that more governments will soon be following suit. In the U.S. at least 25 states are considering some form of legislature aimed at curbing obesity, from restricting sales of soda and candy in schools to taxes on fatty foods and even sedentary pastimes such as movie tickets and video games.
Illinois is considering a ban on artificial trans fats; California has already passed such a ban, and several metropolitan areas including New York City and Washington State's King County have such laws on the books.
It's the downfall of many an attempt to diet or eat healthy: the munchies. Often times it's not our regular mealtime eating that does us in, but the snacking; and many snack foods are the worst culprits in fats, sugar, salt and calories. Especially empty calories.
IFT sees an increase in the healthy snack category - not only in its good-for-you offerings, but in popularity and sales as well.
Retail sales of packages snacks in the U.S. increased to about $64 billion in 2010, and is expected to approach $77 billion by 2015. "Look for packaged baby carrots, low-fat chips and salsa, or hummus to be huge for those looking to slim down," says Marian Salzman, CEO, Euro RSCG Worldwide PR.
According to the Mayo Clinic, snacking can actually help your diet rather than wreck it - that is, if you snack smart. The key is to select snacks that satisfy your hunger, give you energy and provide important nutrients.
Carrots, grapes, air-popped popcorn, whole grain crackers, nuts and low-fat dairy products such as yogurt are all great snack options, says the Mayo Clinic website.
It's been all the rage lately - Southern cuisine is the new "food darling" of chefs, restauranteurs, critics and diners. The 2012 Zagat guide says that Southern food is hot, and celebrity chef restaurants such as Marcus Samnuelsson's Red Rooster in Harlem are bringing customers in droves with dishes such as smothered pork chops, okra and fried green tomatoes.
IFT predicts that 2012-2013 will include continuing fervor for Southern food, perhaps as a counterpoint to all the healthy eating.
"You just wait and see," Salzman says. "Down-home cooking will trend high."
Chef and cookbook author Virginia Willis agrees, adding that Southern food can still be fresh and healthy. "I maintain that Southerners have been eating seasonally and locally for generations," she says, adding that the ten-month growing season of the South helps.
"As a Southerner, I love that Southern food is continuing to be popular with diners. As a cook and a chef, I strongly believe that Southern food doesn't have to be unhealthy and it doesn't have to be trapped in the past. It's nice to see other Americans learn about our cuisine, and hopefully, learn more truth about the true nature of Southern cooking."
Pickles and Peppers
Foodies are buzzing about the zingy flavor profile that pickled and peppered items add to food. For 2012, things like chilis and ginger will continue to hit our palates and our sinuses. IFT says that America's current obsession with Korean cuisine is a big part of this spicy development, with dishes such as kimchi and Korean tacos selling faster than new food trucks can dole them out.
Michelin recently awarded its first star to a Korean restaurant, Danji in Manhattan. More Korean restaurants, and dishes incorporating spicy pickles and peppers, are sure to pop up throughout 2012.
On the Culinary Trends website, Lily Ko agrees that Korean cuisine is booming across America. "Korean cuisine is actually working its way backwards, from fusion to traditional. People are exposed to some Korean flavors through modern dishes like Korean tacos, and then they seek out more authentic Korean dishes."
The approachable fashion of street and truck food has helped to integrate ethnic cuisines such as Korean into the mainstream. For many people, Ko says, their first introduction to the Asian cuisine is via a Korean taco or barbecued ribs.
Speaking of pop-up food trucks, this craze doesn't show any signs of abating. The truck and trailer restaurant trend is redefining how we eat, and bringing huge amounts of creativity to the culinary arts. Cities like Austin and Portland are virtual meccas for the food truck scene, with literally hundreds of options.
The National Restaurant Association recently conducted a survey that showed that 59 percent of us would likely visit a food truck if their favorite restaurant offered one.
IFT predicts that food truck dining will expand from mostly small, independent enterprises to include big brands and chains that will get in on the action for 2012.
Salzman says, "Food truck culture speaks to our need for yummy fare that’s innovative, culturally collaborative (food truck food is often fusion), and moderately priced, as well as our continued interest in nontraditional retail offerings."