The 2010s saw clean eating, small plates, veganism and the war on straws. What’s next for food culture?

Sandwiches, apparently. As well as trends ranging from the vague (“sour”) to the very specific (pea milk), say “experts”.

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Assuming we can agree that 2020 is the start of a new decade (naysayers must provide evidence they celebrated the new millennium on 31 December 2001), it feels a good time to take stock of the past ten years in food before rashly predicting what might be on offer in the decade to come.

The teens were an era of extremes. On one smugly glowing hand we had clean eating: a largely meaningless yet powerful term responsible for a whole host of dubious trends, from bone broth (previously known simply as “stock”) to courgetti, and even a rise in eating disorders if those on the medical front line are to be believed. On the other, this was the decade of syrup-drenched fried chicken and waffles: gleefully “dirty” food that seemed as much designed for Instagramming as ingesting.

Both camps were well placed to take advantage of the sudden meteoric rise of veganism. The clean lot were delighted to add plant “mylks” and chia eggs to the already extensive shopping lists demanded of their disciples, while innumerable street food vans offering jackfruit hot wings and seitan kebabs proved that the pleasures of the flesh are not the only ones to enjoy in moderation.

Street food, whether served in the actual street or in a shiny chain restaurant, was big news, and has led to the emergence of the “market halls” known in a less glamorous previous life as food courts. Expect to see a lot more of them in the near future, mirroring a general trend for small plates (somewhat confusingly designed for sharing), a casual atmosphere, and a no reservations culture that many would argue works better for restaurateurs than diners.

Of course, along with all the pimped-up ramen and rainbow macarons, the kombucha cold brews and turmeric lattes, came more serious developments. For a start, we woke up to the concept of cultural appropriation, while the #MeToo movement made waves among the US chef community, even if so far it’s made little impact in the UK food world. It was also a decade where we started thinking about sustainable consumption (who carried their own reusable coffee cup and water bottle in 2010, let alone declared war on straws?), yet it’s to be hoped that zero-waste and plastic-free kitchens like London’s Silo and Spring will be more than a passing fad.

Such concerns have sparked an interest in largely forgotten ingredients, including heritage grains such as traditional Orkney beremeal and pearl millet. So-called seacuterie is set to do for fish and seafood what the nose-to-tail eating movement is doing for meat (that catchy name is handy; without it, fish-eye crackers might be a tough sell).

Other “experts” predict trends ranging from the vague (“West African” and “sour”) to the very specific (Filipino barbecue, pea milk and purple yams). Sandwiches are apparently set to be huge in 2020, which shouldn’t come as news to the third of Britons who already eat them for lunch every day, and there will be no slowdown in our lust for fresh pasta if data from food delivery firms is anything to go by.

My favourite forecast, however, comes from John Vary, futurologist for the John Lewis Partnership, who reckons that by the middle of the decade, “DNA samples [will] allow guests to receive a fully personalised dining experience – curated for an individual physiological and emotional response.” Looks like I’ve got a lot of Marmite on toast to look forward to. 

Next week: John Burnside on nature

Felicity Cloake is the New Statesman’s food columnist. Her latest book is The A-Z of Eating: a Flavour Map for Adventurous Cooks.

This article appears in the 24 January 2020 issue of the New Statesman, Power to the people

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