Saturday, June 10, 2023

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2022’s Top 10 Sustainable Food Trends: From the Erewhon Effect to Eating Small’s Big Impact


When it comes to sustainability, efforts to move the needle are most evident in our food system. Since the 1960s, there have been significant endeavors to clean up our food system with champions of organic, slow, plant-forward food changing the way we eat for good. We see this everywhere we look, from the supermarket aisles to fast-food drive-thrus.

Still, there’s progress to be had, particularly as demand for emissions-heavy meat, eggs, and dairy continue to dominate the system. But every year, we get a little bit closer to clean, green food system, and 2022 is proving to be no exception.

These are the top trends you’ll be seeing across the food and drink categories.

1. The Erewhon effect

Independent natural grocery stores have not had the easiest time in recent years. That’s due mostly to the success of Whole Foods Market, as well as Trader Joe’s, and Sprouts. But as consumers seek out healthier food options all around, competition has also sprouted up at mainstream supermarkets and club chains like Costco. You can grab vegan burgers and organic kale at Target and Walmart, too.

But one independent natural food chain, the Los Angeles-based Erewhon, is paving new trails. It’s often mocked for a lot of reasons, from its high prices, and, let’s just call it the unofficial dress code, to its proportionality high anti-vax customer base (see our own Derek Beres in a Daily Show clip on the issue, some of which is filmed outside the Venice Erewhon location).

Still, the upscale chain is a purveyor of quality food that puts Whole Foods to shame. It picked up the torch on supporting local producers that Whole Foods dropped after it was acquired by Amazon in 2016. And while the LA chain’s single-use plastic packaging for all those gourmet meals is a bit out of hand, the trade-off is customers are getting—and expecting—better, fresher food. Like the runways of Paris Fashion Week dictate trends at retail, Erewhon sets a tone for our food system, and 2022 is going to see fresh, healthy, local food as priority number one, even if it is a bit more expensive.

Image courtesy Eleven Madison

2. Fine dining 

McDonald’s added a meat-free burger in 2021; it was one of the last hold-outs in the fast-food arena to embrace the health and environmental benefits of plant-based meat. But you could say there’s an even bigger shift happening in the fine-dining world, and it’s showing no signs of slowing down, either. New York’s Eleven Madison went fully plant-based this year and Michelin-starred chefs are giving plants a bigger section on their menu boards than ever. Ingredients, too, are going more sustainable, from the locally grown (sometimes even on their own rooftops) to subbing out climate and ethics offenders like foie gras with healthful plants. Plant-based chef Matthew Kenney continues to open up fine dining restaurants around the world, and even the anti-vegan, Gordon Ramsay, has embraced the humble, sustainable vegetable. 

3. Eco spirits

Organic wine is nothing new, but sustainability is coming to the spirits industry in a big way. Kendall Jenner’s 818, Jose Cuervo, and Mezcal Amarás are steadfast in greening up the mezcal and tequila industries, bringing sustainable growing practices to agave, and working to preserve the heritage and culture that’s tied to the industry. Whisky, too, is making big strides. This year alone we saw the first biodynamic whiskies released by Scotland’s Bruichladdich Distillery and Ireland’s Waterford Distillery. The Macallan, long a champion of sustainability in its whisky production, launched its first recyclable box, made from cacao fruit pulp. And with Moët Hennessy recently launching a €20 million sustainability research center, it would seem we’ll be seeing a whole lot more sustainability in the spirits industry in the year to come.

Image courtesy Kin

4. Non-Alcoholic botanicals

Teetotalers fear not! There’s plenty in store for you in 2022 as well. The botanical spirits industry is booming. Here in Los Angeles, there’s a whole shop that only sells non-alcoholic spirits. Some brands are after the taste of spirits like gin or tequila, while others are focused more on the botanical blends’ impacts. Sourcing from sustainably harvested or organic ingredients, many of these products are small-batch made, too. With Bella Hadid recently joining Kin Euphorics, you can expect to see a whole lot more attention to the category, and that’s going to be a very good thing.

5. Vegetables are back 

Okay, so they never really left, but the plant-based craze that’s seen a rise in replicating meaty burgers that “bleed”, bacon that sizzles, and cheese that melts, have pushed vegetables in all their naked glory out of the limelight a bit. But vegetables in their natural state are coming back. You can credit Covid a bit for the return, ironically, too. Salads just hit different when they’re eaten in the staleness of being stuck at home for two years, right? So, as we start emerging from our couch caves, nothing’s going to quench the itch of getting out quite like a big ol’ bite of unadulterated nature itself.

6. Minimalism

Marie Kondo may have helped you declutter during lockdown, but get ready for minimalism across the food system, too. As restaurants scaled back for takeaway-only operations, many are keeping their menus small (and even reduced hours of service, too). The focus will be on local, minimizing supply chains, and letting the simplicity of foods shine. This is happening in supermarkets, too: expect an emphasis on shorter ingredient lists and trends like unsweetened yogurt and beverages. 

Image courtesy Wendy Wei on Pexels

7. Macrobiotics

The macrobiotic diet has been around for ages. It saw a resurgence in the 1960s and ‘70s as books by George Ohsawa, the father of macrobiotics, gained popularity. Much of the organic and natural food industry was born out of the diet, which centers on whole grains and beans, and fresh fruits and vegetables. Eating a macrobiotic diet means eating in harmony with the seasons (ie no watermelon in February), and it also means eating foods that are more inherently nourishing and unprocessed. Eating with the seasons means we can eat more local food, which is the most sustainable diet. And filling up our plates with veggies, whole grains, and beans is the healthiest diet for our bodies, too.

8. Food Tech

2021 was a big year for food tech, especially precision fermentation, biomass fermentation, and cultivated meat. There’s no question that technology pointed at replacing some of our biggest climate offenders is crucial in creating a more sustainable food system. Cultivated meat companies are getting closer to regulatory approval in the U.S., which could see meat, fish, or chicken grown from a few cells of an animal on menus in the coming year. And precision fermentation is indeed having a moment making milk by programming microorganisms to produce cow’s milk. This is already in the market, with the company Perfect Day bringing its milk-based products to the dairy aisle and even a test-run at Starbucks. Get ready for a lot more food tech in the year ahead.

Image courtesy Irina Iriser on Pexels

9. Mushrooms

Fungi are going to dominate in 2022. We’re seeing them in fashion, in pharmaceuticals, and in wellness supplements, but they’re going to be on our plates and in our coffee mugs, too. This is a good thing, even if you aren’t fully in camp ‘shroom yet. Chefs, like Tesco’s Derek Sarno, are bringing mushrooms to their fullest, meatiest potential in ready meals now available in the U.S. And companies like Forage Hyperfoods are putting functional mushrooms like chaga into coffee to boost brain function and help reduce caffeine jitters. Mushrooms are great for our bodies, and possibly even better for the planet. They grow in small spaces pretty quickly and can help to regenerate soil and ecosystems that have been impacted by toxic wastewater or chemicals. Who’s ready for a ‘shroom boom?

10. Eating for immunity

If there’s any silver lining to the pandemic, it’s that many people are now taking their health much more seriously. This is going to be top of mind in the year (and likely years) to come. What we eat is important, and eating for immune health, especially so. Food that supports our body’s immune system is generally food that supports our planet’s immunity, too, by being lower impact and more sustainable than processed foods. It makes sense; we are part of the earth, not separate from it, after all. And if there’s one thing to look forward to in the year ahead, it’s the hope that we don’t forget it.


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