Eight things that mattered for food in 2014

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Here at Food & Drunk, we often talk about what’s going on locally. Yet to frame the city’s food beat, it’s important, once in a while, to place things in a global context. As I did last year, I wanted to take a moment to look back at what mattered in food in 2014.

Here’s an eclectic list of eight touch points.

1. 3D printed food

2013 was the year 3D printing became a household term (even if not yet a household object). In 2014, it began to gain culinary traction. From its origins in simple sugar solutions, we started to see applications ranging from pizza to nursing home meals to interactive art installations.

2. Eating insects

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Protein-rich and as-of-yet untapped by global foodways, insects were in the news this year thanks to several startups seeking to exploit their nutritional value. Though many cultures around the world would hardly find this innovative or newsworthy, the Western press started to take a new global movement seriously—one that includes entomologists, chefs and urban agrarians.

Montreal even hosted an international conference on comestible bugs as part of the Future Food Salon (after all, we are the proud home of the Insectarium…remember?). Prediction: we’ll not only see edible insects in the headlines in 2015, but also on our plates.

3. Restaurant no-shows

What was once simply a thorn in a restauranteur’s side became a person to name and shame in 2014. The “shame on no shows” movement gathered great steam, only to fizzle out quickly. However, whether by design or organic growth, a message had stuck. Diners suddenly seemed more conscious of the economic ramifications of this erstwhile frivolous act (especially to small businesses).

In the process, Quebecers were forced to confront the antiquated laws that hinder restaurants, placing them on an oddly unequal footing with similar services and outings (such as hotels or concerts).

4. Aboriginal “fusion” cuisine

In 2013, Newsweek asked the US: “When will Native American cooking finally get its time to shine?

In Canada, the answer came sooner than expected. 2014 heralded a tipping point of sorts for the fusion between aboriginal cuisines of many types and mainstream Western cuisine. We saw Rich Francis show his stylings on Top Chef Canada, Doug Hyndford’s self-described “Métis-fusion” garner national attention in the Gold Medal Plates, and restaurant openings such as the Painted Pony Cafe in Kamloops and Borealis in Toronto.

The movement is only just beginning however. Though US-based, this interview with Chef Loretta Barret Ode of the Potawatomi Nation sheds some light on the issues and opportunities involved.

5. Séralini’s GMO study republished…amidst yet more skepticism

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CRIIGEN’s hotly-debated GMO study was republished this year, albeit in a new journal, after a momentous 2013 retraction by Elsevier. If you haven’t yet heard—in some way, shape or form—about the Séralini affair and the utter furor it has provoked on all sides—start with the Wikipedia entry.

The most valuable contribution of the Séralini affair is how it got us talking, thinking and strategizing about our relationship to genetic modification. How we interpret its influence in our midst. In our lives. In our environment and our bodies.

I’m the last to pronounce on whether it truly was dodgy science or not, but it’s impossible to refute that, by virtue of the controversy alone, the study has had a greater impact on popular consciousness (and even legislation) than almost any other in recent memory. For this alone we should be grateful, as it guarantees we’ll stand up and pay attention to the multiple ways in which the effects of GMOs can be interpreted. It’s not hard to predict that GMO studies will be held to ever-higher standards and thus reveal ever more useful data—in part thanks to the Séralini affair.

6. Haute (or hipsterized) meatballs

We should have seen this coming. In the last few years, meatballs have slipped onto hipster, even fine dining, menus. This year the meatball hit pitch fever. Meatballs were extolled left and right by celebrity chefs. Meatball restaurants opened in New York, Toronto and LA. Meatballs were made on virtually every episode of Top Chef. And to cap it all off: we got our very own Meatball House on Notre-Dame.

7. School lunches

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Kids eat a significant portion of their meals at school. We all know that a bad childhood diet has links to diabetes and obesity. What could possibly be “controversial” about making school lunches healthier…especially over a gradual ten year span? Ask House Republicans in the US. The latter group pulled out every stop to block reforms to the National School Lunch Program, despite the almost laughingly benign nature of the changes. For example, one “hotly contested” rule merely asked that sodium levels not surpass the total of a six-pack of chicken nuggets with a side of fries at Burger King. Despite the ugly resistance, talk of school lunches soon went viral which, ultimately, might be a subtle win for Michelle Obama’s initiative.

8. Cooking (and provisioning) as a human right

One of the most significant (and underreported) food stories of the year came out of Jordan, where the UN’s World Food Program built a supermarket inside the Azraq refugee camp. The camp, on Jordan’s northern border with Syria, might be the fastest-growing in the world, with a population that is estimated to quadruple to 40 000 in the next few years.

In providing refugees with the semblance of a “more normal life,” the WFP publicly challenged its own long-trodden distribution strategies. In turn, it forced many observers—privileged people from afar— to challenge outdated notions of food aid.

Selecting and cooking one’s own food, even in dire situations, was finally brought to the forefront as a key strategy in maintaining human dignity, morale and even life. It was such that John McKenna penned a highly thought-provoking article in The Guardian questioning whether cooking should be considered a human right. Food for thought indeed.

Thus ends Food & Drunk’s eclectic look back at food in 2014. We’d love to hear what you would add to the list! Leave us a comment below or Tweet @ForgetTheBox or @JoshDavidson.

We look forward to covering more food issues and trends in 2015!

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