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Gluten-free Friday, Meatless Monday -- Whatever Happened to Taco Tuesday?

“Oh, Waiter? Can I have that dish gluten-free, meatless, grown on-site, topped with mushrooms from the nearby forest and served from a trendy food truck?”

I know it sounds laughable, but this is what we’ve come to as a society of navel-gazing hipster foodies: It seems that every meal must now have either a limitation (gluten, meat), or an enhancement (pedigree, foraged). The latest food trends have sparked some behaviors that would have shocked our grandparents.

Meatless Monday:  If our ancestors ever thought we’d be voluntarily giving up the meat they’d fought so hard to hunt, they’d whack us themselves. What began as an effort during wartime to reduce consumption of scarce provisions has been relaunched as a campaign by Johns Hopkins School of Public Health to help reduce people's cholesterol levels and the energy used in processing meat. We have a meat-free day at my house, too: it’s called “Day Before I Go Grocery Shopping for the Week.”

Gluten Free:  It used to be that only those afflicted with Celiac Disease observed a gluten-free way of eating, but now we’re seeing an exponential proliferation of gluten-free products in the grocery store. Why? For some, it’s a valid way to treat specific ailments, but others really don’t have a reason other than they "heard it was healthy." But because gluten-free means giving up most wheat, barley, rye and malt, that also means you’ll be going beer-free.

Food Pedigrees:  While it’s great that many restaurants have moved away from buying bulk processed ingredients of dubious origin (I’m looking at you, ), today’s menus now read like an over-styled resume. Instead of “Pan-Seared Ribeye with Shallot-Topped Aparagus” it’s “Micro-Farmed Soybean-Fed Heritage Ribeye Seared in a Hand-Forged Cast Iron Pan from Kentucky with Basement-Grown Shallots and Kindergartner-Farmed Heirloom Asparagus.”

Foraging: It sounds so precious and romantic: A grizzled old man in dusty overalls lugs a box through the back door of a bustling kitchen and presents mushrooms, greens and nuts to the chef. It’s the new frontier for chefs who want hyper-local and natural ingredients on their menus, but as some restaurants have found, this practice runs afoul of many municipal health codes. I don’t know about you, but backdoor deals that involve Ziploc bags and law-skirting makes me a little squeamish when it comes to food.

Food Trucks:  Here in Napa, we have a growing supply of gourmet food trucks serving everything from sliders to dim sum on the streets of downtown and as far out as the corporate park. Converging in the Oxbow District once a month, has become a fun, relaxed event for locals. But is this trend one of those that builds too fast, explodes and then deflates like a poorly made souffle? Only the strong will survive, so it’s up to the truckers to keep that food coming fast, fresh and in a manner that will outlast the current kitschy hype.

There will always be trends in any category in life (fashion, language, technology, economics, etc.). The trick is knowing which ones to follow and waiting out the ones that will hopefully soon pass (skinny jeans).

Avery St. Clair March 12, 2011 at 12:56 AM
I think you miss the point. I love good food of all kinds. But gluten-free isn't about being trendy, it's about staying alive. After decades of health trouble I cut out wheat, and the change was immediate. Gluten was destroying me. So avoiding wheat isn't a political choice like free-range, nor a religious rule like no pork, nor fashion trend like vertical entrees. No frappuchino for me; fashion is just as fascist in food as in clothing. Anyhow, what's more American than having choices? No one's forcing you to eat what you don't want. As for food from a truck, I was SERVING food from a truck in 1970 and there was always a queue, so let's not hear any more snide remarks about trucks.
Jamie Brown Miller March 13, 2011 at 10:01 PM
Hi Avery. I think you missed MY point...I did say that going gluten-free is "a valid way to treat specific ailments" so I wasn't actually saying that someone like you is doing it for trendy reasons. And as for food trucks, I'm a big fan. I was actually part of the recipe editing for one of the more popular ones here in town. I was only pointing out that because there are so many of them, they'll need to transcend the numbers for longevity. Yes, choices are great -I just happen to think some of them, and some of the reasons for choosing them, are silly.

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