When it comes to food trends, it seems everyone is looking for the next “local.” For a number of years now, we’ve been all about the idea of local food—items created in our own hometown, sold at area farmers markets, and identified on menus with familiar names of local businesses.
The nature of geography being what it is, “local” has had a lot of leeway in meaning, stretching into regional and even “tourist local.” You know how it works—you visit an area and pick up a local jam, or try the locally made ice cream, and you are hooked.
That’s why it’s easy to see how regional flavors are becoming the new “local,” as people go beyond geographical boundaries and find foods that are produced at someone’s local farm or someone’s local small business. Even more, people are beginning to identify local food with the heritage behind it. Fresh, yes, but also tied to something personally meaningful.
The rise of personal culture means consumers are exploring heritage and history that they may have no ties to—other than their interests. This changes the traditional belief that specific authentic foods define an ethnic identity. Instead, cultural authenticity is abstract and personal. For example:
1. Native American cuisine and ingredient callouts are on the rise.
2. Heritage Food Festivals, from Italian American to Armenian, are food exploration events that educate people about regional and traditional dishes.
3. Appalachia is a region of focus for food, leveraging heirloom recipes, wild ingredients and innovation.
4. South African braai is part of the conversation about the new American BBQ.
5. Hawaiian cuisine is a new call out, with flavors from native plants, and smoke infusions created with native woods.
The byproduct is that “ethnic” is losing ground as more foods become ethnic-inspired rather than culturally inspired—now, consumers are looking for ethnic with a purpose, and it needs to be personal, flavorful, and yes, still local.
The future is that we will learn more about the stories and history of what we eat—regardless of whether or not it ties directly to our own DNA. We will seek out secondary cultural experiences that feel authentic and immersive, without breaking the bank or feeling too unapproachable.
Bottom line is that food has become a cultural gateway, leading consumers to an interest in cultures that they may otherwise not have been aware of. Watch for it to change the menu!