Magazine article The New Yorker

What She's Having

Magazine article The New Yorker

What She's Having

Article excerpt


--Sophie Brickman

In SoHo, the lines stretch around the block for a Cronut(TM)--the croissant-doughnut hybrid, trademarked, to distinguish it from copycat Singaporean "crodos," British "dosants," and Venezuelan "Mister Cronuts." A few blocks north, tourists lap up pink buttercream frosting at the Magnolia Bakery, a shop made famous by "Sex and the City." Due east from there, at Momofuku, pilgrims arrive in the wee hours to sample David Chang's pork buns.

David Sax, the author of the new book "The Tastemakers: Why We're Crazy for Cupcakes but Fed Up with Fondue," was in New York the other day, visiting from his home in Toronto. He was way uptown, in Yorkville, a neighborhood where food trends go to live out their golden years and, eventually, die.

"There are certain neighborhoods where trends filter out to, and where they're less volatile once they're established," he said, referring to the Upper East Side. "The muffin"--a trend that peaked in 1987--"will always do fine here."

His first stop on a tour of frumpy foodstuffs was the specialty store Agata & Valentina, on First Avenue near Seventy-ninth Street. Sax, who is thirty-four, with salt-and-pepper hair, passed shelves of balsamic vinegar ("so big in the nineties") and tubs of wasabi peas ("Wasabi won't sell a product today the way sriracha would") before stopping in front of a dairy cooler.

"In the past five years, Greek yogurt has completely changed this case," he said. "Yogurt used to be this hippie-commune, sour, watery, health-conscious thing in the sixties." By the nineties, you had squeezable kids' packs of heavily processed Go-Gurt. Greek yogurt started the cycle over again. "A trend spreads its tentacles out," he said. "So you have not only all these brands but frozen Greek yogurt, Greek-yogurt cereal bars, until it becomes this sugary, blown-up thing."

He picked up a carton of water-buffalo yogurt marked $4.99. Two days earlier, after a shvitz at the Russian baths in the East Village--arguably a trendsetter in the realm of personal hygiene--he'd eaten some bad yakitori. "Maybe it'll help my stomach."

Sax has a unified field theory of food fads. "The most successful food trends reflect what's going on in society at a given time," he said. "The cupcake trend reflected a desire for comfort and childhood simplicity in the years after 9/11. The fondue trend took off at a time when Americans were looking to be cosmopolitan, in the sixties, when people were moving out to the suburbs and wanted something that could make this living room in suburban New Jersey a little more sophisticated than, say, a Jell-O salad would. …

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