I wasn’t brave enough to make any predictions last January about what we’d be eating in 2021 – a decision that proved uncharacteristically prescient. Thanks to Covid and rising inflation, many food banks reported their busiest year on record: Russ Barlow, project manager of Hull’s largest food bank, told local media last month: “None of this is normal.”
Even for those fortunate enough not to need such services, it was second helpings of 2020 all round: the frozen food manufacturer Birds Eye posted significant growth; tinned soup sales are still up on pre-pandemic levels, according to the trade publication the Grocer; and jam sales remain buoyant as the nation, presumably, tries to bake itself happy.
In fact, what Deloitte calls the “at-home economy” keeps growing. The firm’s research indicates that consumers are planning to continue staying in and cooking more than they did before Covid. (Though a 62 per cent rise in spending on takeaways and fast food reported by Barclaycard suggests this may not always involve preparing meals from scratch, whatever people might tell market researchers.)
At least popular culture gave us a few novelties in 2021, from the sudden surge in interest in Korean cuisine prompted by Netflix’s Squid Game, to the many terrifyingly intense, but mercifully brief TikTok trends in which millions of Gen-Zers attempt to deep-fry pasta into crisps or pretend baked porridge is “just like eating cake for breakfast”.
Indeed, Waitrose reckons breakfast is going to be big in 2022, as people commute less and have more time for what the supermarket’s annual food and drink report describes as “the mealtime equivalent of a family group hug before the day begins”. As someone with a book on breakfast coming out in June, I’m delighted by this news, if faintly horrified by the idea of embracing my nearest and dearest over the marmalade.
The Queen’s Platinum Jubilee celebrations that same month are likely to prompt yet another baking boom, according to Asda’s Jonathan Moore: “Think afternoon tea, picnics, and British classics… nostalgia with a 2022 edge,” he told the Independent. Rather more interestingly for those of us who struggle to get excited about the same old same old, the Dubai-based African dining hall Alkebulan, which assists chefs from under-represented backgrounds, has revealed plans to open in London. In related news, the trend forecaster WGSN has named jollof rice as one of its six top global food and drink trends for the year ahead, along with kelp and koji, Japan’s national fungus.
Seaweed – or “sea vegetables”, as it has been rebranded – was one of Sainsbury’s surprise hits of the past 12 months. The supermarket attributed this to seaweed’s “desirable umami flavour”, but WGSN is more interested in the links with regenerative agriculture – kelp in particular is an extremely efficient absorber of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. This vitamin- and mineral-rich plant is better known in culinary circles by its Japanese name kombu, and is traditionally a key ingredient in miso soup, though it’s said to be very good in vegan burgers and non-vegan ice cream too.
And though only about 3 per cent of the UK population is vegan, we learned last year that our average daily meat consumption dropped by 17 per cent in the previous decade, suggesting far more of us are what is apparently now described as “reducetarian”. (Clearly, we are in no danger of losing our appetite for labels.) The 16.5 per cent who told a recent New Statesman poll they were aiming to cut their dairy intake in 2022, meanwhile, will no doubt be delighted to hear that potato milk
is set to be the next big thing. It is, according to the manufacturer Dug, “the most sustainable alternative on the market”. Early reviews have been… mixed (one journalist dubbed the product “a crime against potatoes”). But honestly, it still sounds better than most things I’ve seen on TikTok. Happy New Year all.
This article appears in the 12 Jan 2022 issue of the New Statesman, The age of economic rage