Food & drink

Immersive Dining and the Theatre of Food

For the urban wealthy, there is nothing new about going out for dinner followed by the theatre. (Or for night owls, theatre followed by supper). But so-called “immersive dining” simply joins the two together – going out for dinner that is theatre.

Food is often used for entertainment but, in London and Tokyo, you can experience dining within new, interactive environments. For example, Gingerline runs a project called Chambers of Flavours. In 8 months alone, it fed 17,000 guests in theatrical sets, a gigantic machine, and a gondola, among other places. One group of 12 diners ate in a 16th century room, with every detail designed to hurtle them back in time.

Part of the attraction of these events is secrecy. Participants are not allowed to take photos, post online or mention specific details. In many ways, this is the opposite of encouraging word of mouth but, of course, the very act of staying silent works as word of mouth.

Diners do not even know what they are going to eat. This is appealing for adventurous people but potentially frightening for today’s picky eaters. The experiences are also very communal. People are drawn to these events to share with others, not to sit quietly at a private table. Some of these experiences over food can be “strangely bonding”, according to observers.

In Tokyo, diners at Sagaya can experience a fully immersive, multimedia dinner. One setting is Zen-like, with soft piano music, projected scenes of waves and flowers and even butterflies that land on a plate when somebody touches it. Every sense is sated.

The immersive experience has been compared to going into the world of Narnia. After all, once people grow up, they often lose their sense of fantasy and stop thinking there is another world at the back of the wardrobe. Immersive dining can, like Harry Potter, give adults a nostalgic sense of magic again.

Ref: The Guardian, 31 May 2016, ‘The whole restaurant’s a stage in the world of immersive dining’ by A Duggins.
Digital Signage Connection, 26 April 2017, ‘Zen and the art of immersive dining’ by J Kushner.
Search words: immersive, theatre, restaurant, secrecy, kitchen, Twin Peaks, adventure, multimedia, Tokyo, Sagaya.
Trend tags:Physicalisation, experiences, counter-trends

All You Can Eat Food Videos

In case you thought everyone was watching cat and dog videos, a huge slice of the viewing public is watching food. We are fascinated by the appearance of food, how to cook it, how to present it, how to eat it. As one expert noted: “There’s a visceral joy and relate-ability of food. Watching people make food makes people happy”.

If watching videos is anything to go by, people are becoming very happy. During 2015, food videos attracted 23 billion views, a 170% rise on the previous year, and most of it on Facebook and YouTube. The majority of viewers are 18-34.

The most popular online recipes site,, says 50% of milliennials look at food content every day, mainly because they are bored. When BuzzFeed posted a video on Facebook showing how to make a chocolate biscuit snack, it generated 8 million hungry views in 4 hours.

Other popular food sites are Food Network, SheKnows Media/BlogHer – Food, MyRecipes and MSN Food & Drink. But there are others, all vying for a piece of the starving, food-watching audience. The appetite for it seems insatiable.

One obvious selling idea is to show people recipes and then sell the ingredients they can use to make them. New York Times, which stores 17,000 recipes and has 7-8 million monthly users, now sells these meal kits. It creates them for specific recipes, then delivers by Chef’d within 1 or 2 days.

Of course, not all food media are online. Tesco has a 2 million circulation for its free print magazine and Asda has its Good Living magazine. Hard to believe, but sales of cookbooks rose yet again from 2013 to 2015, suggesting desire for hardcopy recipes still has not waned, in spite of ubiquitous online recipes. Perhaps it’s the glossy pictures.

Celebrity chefs also play a huge role in keeping people hooked on food, glorious food. Are we really that starving for food entertainment? One consolation is at least food videos alone cannot make you fat.

Ref: FT Weekend (UK), 21-22 May 2016, ‘Appetite for recipes feeds online media growth’ by R Cookson and A Nicolaou.
Search words: recipes, BuzzFeed, food, video, YouTube, Facebook,, meal kits, cookbooks, chefs.
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Drinking in The Future

If you want to know what we will be drinking in the future, ask a food futurologist. Just in case you never met one, they know a lot about the difference between a trend and a fad, what we will be drinking in 2025 and even what kind of vegetables we will put in our cocktails.

Current trends are water, rum, whisky, beetroot, cocktail vending machines and edible containers. A passing fad is matcha tea (leaves n all), which has lost its mojo.

Who would have thought water could be so infinitely marketable? Now you can find artichoke, coconut and birch water as well as BLK - black water. There is even an intelligent water bottle that calculates how much you should drink based on your weight and activity.

An extension of the water trend is using ice in creative ways, making it tasty (smoked ice) or stimulating (alcoholic ice). In a broader sense, we are becoming aware of a possible worldwide shortage of water and designing new ways to conserve it.

Rum, craft vodka and whisky have replaced gin as the new spirit (though you can still pay $2,000 pounds for Watenshi gin). Whisky wants to update its “pipe and slippers” image with botanicals and micronutrients for a new, younger audience. New vodka distilleries are setting up in the UK. Bartenders will use vegetables in their cocktails, such as beetroot or carrots rather than fruit, with more fizz, and high end tea.

For bars, there are two paradoxical ideas running side by side. Some bars will focus more on being entertaining spaces, so the bartender becomes an actor in the theatre. They will become special again, so people are not tempted just to buy cheap alcohol at the supermarket and go home. Already there are bars with a crazy golf course, darts or hairdresser (hair of the dog anyone?). Another idea is single serve bars selling just Dry Martinis or Bellinis – keeping it simple, stupid.

The idea of cocktail vending machines goes in the opposite direction. It rejects the idea of bar equals theatre, but adds to the ever increasing list of unlikely products that sell via machine (like cars, for example). There might even be a bar set up with only vending machines.

Already many bars sell beer or wine in tanks or boxes. But edible containers may eventually replace plastic and glass, in the interests of sustainability. You might literally drink the container. Or save the container for a second purpose that is equally, gulp, nourishing.

Ref: The Cocktail Lovers (UK)
Search words: water, whisky, gin, vegetables, tea, bar, vending machine, edible container, sustainability, ice, cocktail.
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Why Healthy Food Makes Us Fat

Did you know 70% of middle-aged Britons are overweight or obese? Much the same is true for Americans and Australians and yet many of us have healthier diets than we had 40 years ago. What is going on?

About 40 years ago, people ate about 500 more calories (more bacon, butter, lard) but they were thinner. We even ate only half the fresh fruit we eat today, and we ate five times as much sugar and jam. Yet the average male is nearly a stone (over 6kgs) heavier. Meanwhile, rates of obesity and diabetes are soaring.

One of the biggest changes, apart from diet, is lifestyle. Much of our manual work is replaced by machines and, in spite of gyms, sports fields and exercise bikes, most people spend their days sitting down. The more time spent sitting down, the less need for food. But unfortunately, it is all too common to eat not just from hunger, but from boredom, for entertainment, or just out of sheer habit.

Another theory, just as valid, is that these data are wrong and people are still bingeing on butter, bacon and lard and not eating fewer calories. When it comes to diet – and especially alcohol – people are prone to under-report their intake. Even so, there is no doubt the population is swelling in more ways than one. (Don't forget that excessive eating can also be linked to easier availability of food, lower cost and even anxiety - Ed).

Two scientists, Richard Johnson and Peter Andrews, have been in search of what is called the “thrifty gene”. It was first proposed by James Neel, who thought during times of famine, our species devised a genetic mutation that would store fat to help it survive.

Uricase is an enzyme that causes the body to store calories as fat, rather than burning them for energy at the time. However, if the mutated uricase gene is present while food is plentiful, it causes weight gain. Johnson and Andrews looked at the history of apes and found apes with a mutated uricase gene survived famine but those with an intact uricase gene did not.

Today people eat a lot of fructose, through foods high in sugar and corn syrup. The scientists found high intake of fructose generates uric acid and the uricase mutation stops it from breaking down. A build-up of uric acid adds to higher fructose levels, which makes the body hoard fat, and raise blood sugar and blood pressure. As a result, they want to investigate further whether reducing uric acid could help lower blood pressure, slow kidney disease and prevent weight gain.

This story approaches the problem of obesity from two angles – lifestyle and genetics. While both are informative, it is easier to go and make a salad than it is to check for the presence of mutated uricase genes.

Ref: The Times (UK), 31 December 2016, ‘Why healthier eating is making us fatter’ by T Whipple.
Scientific American (US), October 2015, ‘The fat gene’ by R Johnson and P Andrews.
Search words: uricase, mutant gene, fructose, apes, weight, survival, famine, fat, blood pressure, uric acid, diet.
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Supply, Demand and Health Trends in Food

Agricultural commodities, like wheat, butter or sugar, are traded all over the world.Until relatively recently, they have depended far more on supply and demand than concerns about health. Today, whether or not a food is seen as healthy, strongly affects demand. Three trends – gluten-free, anti-sugar, and back-to-butter – strongly affect agricultural trade.

Gluten-free, originally just for coeliacs and now for anyone affluent enough to afford it, is a $3.5 billion market, forecast to grow to $4.7 billion in 2020 (Euromonitor). It is not the first trend to put a dent in wheat supplies. The Atkins Diet, high in protein and low in carb, hit wheat demand in the early 2000s. Today many people are looking for wheat alternatives. They want breads and pastas made from lentils, peas, rice and quinoa.

Gluten-free, or wheat-free versions are often chalky and crumbly, but new ways are bound to develop to give them the appealing appearance and texture of bread or pasta. This could hit the wheat market even harder.

The anti-sugar trend in North America and Europe is seriously worrying for sugar and sugar-based producers, even though it creates only 15% of world demand. For health campaigners and governments concerned about health budgets, this is good news, but for producers it is a challenge. The price of sugar is just under 17 cents a pound, a third down from its 4-year high in 2016. Worldwide demand for sugar is growing only 1% a year, which is half what it was.

Finally, the resurgence in demand for butter has seen trading at record highs of just under $US5,000 a tonne. Following new health advice about fat and heart disease, people are wary of trans-fats found in margarine and butter alternatives.

Trends and fads in food, whether brief or long term, go all the way down the supply chain. It goes to show agricultural producers will need to be careful what they rely on for their bread and butter.

Ref: IndoAsianCommodities (Ind), 12 April 2017, ‘Modern food fads shaking up agricultural commodities world’ by R Choudhary. Also published in the FT (UK).
Search words: uricase, mutant gene, fructose, apes, weight, survival, famine, fat, blood pressure, uric acid, diet.
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