It wasn't all that long ago that Havas PR's annual trends report barely touched on the topic of food. Our trends for 2010 included a forecast of "increased interest in mastering skills that were previously outsourced," such as "fixing the plumbing, putting up shelves and growing vegetables," and that's it. Food hadn't taken over everyone's lives like it does today.
And yet ... in our agency's "11 Trends for 2016" report, we are already predicting the death of cooking.
No matter the lifetime's worth of ideas and inspirations from food channels, TV shows, cookbooks, magazines, websites and blogs, says the report, "assembling is the choice for people who want to feel involved in preparing the food but are happy to pay a company to do a lot of the work." For rather than an army of would-be Julia Childs over their stoves--and although people are eating at home more and eating out less--Americans in particular are watching other people cook for entertainment instead of doing it themselves. Traditional cooking, in the sense of making things from scratch (and cleaning it up), is on its way out. As Time editor Bill Saporito put it, "The reason my wife and I don't cook our food is the same reason that we don't hunt our food. These skills are no longer required to sidestep starvation." A growing proportion of kitchen activity involves warming up ready-to-eat meals and precooked ingredients, and the market for them will keep rising.
The report also brings to the fore an übertrend: Life now is defined by a sense of unease, if not outright fear, that things aren't as they should be, that threats are looming and that people need to do something about it. Emotional alarm bells are endlessly ringing. Here's the constant question we'll be facing more in the coming year: What's the easiest or most enjoyable way to make my present and my future more secure? In the area of food, that's evident in the continued rise of food orthodoxies: going vegan (or eating insects) to help the environment, going paleo because we don't think we should eat anything our caveman ancestors didn't, going gluten-free because we're afraid "frankenwheat" is toxic.
On a related note, it used to be that if restaurants or food packagers said their food was gluten-free or paleo or whatever, then we assumed it was. But now, thanks to a fearful and distrustful culture, and the ever increasing shunning of grain, a new portable device called Nima has been invented. Nima senses gluten in liquid or solid foods in about two minutes--no more relying on anyone else to inform us.
And speaking of uneasiness, it's no wonder parents have gotten so protective. But a backlash against helicopter parenting is brewing. There's increasing concern that kids who are shielded from all risks are more vulnerable as adults. And parents are getting nostalgic for their (maybe imagined) own carefree childhoods. Of course, everyone wants his or her children to be healthy, and the rise in kids' food allergies is a very real thing, but look for an awareness that when parents strictly impose their food dogma on children, those children might grow into teenagers who rebel by overdoing it on junk food. And a realization that gluten-free, vegan birthday parties just aren't as much fun.
Livin' Large No More?
We've also been noticing that many of the smartest people in the world's great cities are cashing in and moving on, and the next generation is bypassing them altogether. Employers and talented workers are looking to second- and third-tier cities, often drawn by the intellectual pull of regional universities. Chefs are no exception, and many of the most talented will continue to search out new venues and look toward smaller cities like Charleston, S.C., and Portland, Ore.--perpetual winners on "best food cities" lists--where costs of living are lower but the populations are sophisticated enough to get what the top chefs are offering.