food trends

unicorn me, captain

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At the risk of this small space becoming a place where I eschew mainstream nutrition practices (oh wait, this is a kitchen for the bad kids after all…), let’s bring up another topic that I haven’t quite wrapped my head around.

On trendy food, let me be clear: I came to the dark side of avocado toast lovers frighteningly quick. I use gobs of coconut oil and make my own staple foods, and one year I ate so many bananas I literally developed a food sensitivity. I own a Vitamix, and convinced my mom she needed one, too. I’ve tried countless superfoods and techniques to make one food look like another and made things from scratch I didn’t know I was capable of (like ghee and salt). There’s a lot I’ve done to jump on the bandwagon, and sometimes the wagon is headed to a field of wildflowers. But there’s plenty I haven’t tried. If I lived in New York or even sunny LA, I might have encountered this new movement in person. Alas, I’ve only seen it floating around the insta-sphere.

Unicorn food.

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When it comes to health foods, buzz words like “whole foods”, “plant-based”, “gluten-free”, “seasonal”, “organic”, “non-GMO”, “superfoods” are oft used to describe a diet wrapped in a wholesome rainbow of wellness. I drool over well-arranged plates of colorful and bountiful harvest: plump and round tomatoes, rustic string beans, gleaming watermelon, whole-roasted carrots, fluffy red lettuce. As a home cook I often stress myself out over not being creative enough with my weeknight meals, but the truth is that I prefer easy preparation where the foods are mostly in their original form.

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That idealistic dinner table is what is known in my town as “too healthy.” But there’s another picture: elite superfoods that still come pre-packaged, which means they are sold at a higher cost and at a disconnect from the grower / producer. Think about the theory behind teaching kids to garden, which is that if they can understand what makes a carrot, they’re more likely to eat it. That’s lost with packaged superfoods. We don’t readily understand maca or moringa or chaga or even collagen. I argue that unless you’re already stretching your SAB (standard american budget) because you prioritize, or – let’s face it – are prone to grocery shopping sprees, you are not likely to purchase a $15 eight ounce bag of this unidentifiable food you’ve never heard of just to try it. We health foodie nutritionists do that because it is our passion, and because likely we’ve read research studies about and can apply the health benefits of these foods. But someone shopping the market who isn’t constantly researching how the body works (and not in a gimicky, Dr. Oz, new fangled fad sort of way) isn’t likely to enter that world unaccompanied. Thus, making it elite. Which is not to say it’s bad. I participate in this world. I love my elixirs and I do my food research and I keep up with the trends enough that things aren’t as new to me as they are to others.

If you haven’t seen the unicorn food movement, this is my take on the very basics:

  • Somewhat exotic superfoods which provide dazzlingly unfoodlike pastel coloration to a dish
  • Complex structuring of a dish with layered coloring, such as a parfait or rainbow toast
  • A moment sprinkled in magical energy

Unicorn health food vs. just plain unicorn food

  • Many a take on unicorn food showcases the vibrant (or decidedly not-so-vibrant pastel) colors found in nature. Things like beet or raspberry powder, spirulina or chlorella, and any combination thereof, bring to life a regular, black-and-white chia pudding parfait and provide a canvas for other cheerful foods like blueberries and kiwi. You won’t find additives or even dairy or gluten in any of Hippie Lane’s recipes.
  • Other interpretations have included the processed colorations of sprinkles and food coloring and more sprinkles wrapped up in chemical-laden dairy products and unidentifiable forms of sugar. And no one has capitalized on this more than Starbucks.

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I understand that not everyone is in support of a plant-based lifestyle. Some have a steady intake of dairy and even cane sugar, and just as I have looked at them sideways for not buying into the research that questions those elements as a standard in our diet, so too have I been given the side eye for losing my tastebuds to the bird food movement.

It is also true that not everyone believes in the same type of magic. For some, it’s an electrical current through our very woke, very alive nervous system. For others, maybe it’s a quieter moment of just being in control. It’s not an even playing field. There’s no rule book for the good life – no bible or scroll or stoner movie script can honestly encompass the best life for all of humankind, as perhaps our best humanity is found in our inherent individuality. It is – though, truthfully, it should not have to be so – a consequential luxury to boil in our own self-awareness and self-care until we are refined to the core of who we are, so as to add a burst of flavor to the melting pot of life. Those who live to survive; those who live at the mercy of others; those who do not know of the thrill of knowing one’s true self and serving one’s true self – they may not have an opportunity to access the earth-bound afterlife.

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That’s what I think of as “thriving”; that you can go beyond the beyond, because you have achieved earthly satisfaction. When your physical and social worlds are well-massaged and oiled up, your mental and emotional worlds can soar. And I see health as a key part of that. But it’s not the only part. The perfect foods won’t solve all our problems, but they will solve many of them, like depression and anxiety and autoimmune issues and ADHD and autism and obesity. They make healthier bodies and subsequently healthier brains and then individuals and families and communities and maybe, if we didn’t have a Big Mac-loving toupee for president, the world wouldn’t need so many bombs or seats around the news desk. But that’s another story.

Trendy superfoods are not the enemy, though.  Unicorn food: not the enemy.  Starbucks is the enemy.   Freshly-grown food – however that may be encapsulated in your diet – is the cornerstone of good health.  First, we must put these OG foods on our plates, ideally through a home-cooked meal using package-free ingredients.  Then we can worry about our superfood intake.  Superfoods are not the measure of health; they are the beyond.  We can strive toward them, but we must first ensure our access to local, seasonal foods.  Like every movement, it must start at home; in the body; in the self; and then – only then – move beyond.

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