How global events change our eating habits

Predicting trends is a tricky business. The “next big thing” may go out with a whimper (if that) before it even becomes noticeable. Sometimes predictions eventually come true, but with much delay and perhaps in ways not expected at the time.

When it comes to forecasting food preferences, it gets really complicated because the audience is so diverse. High-end foodies may have very different perspectives from average breadwinners who must balance tastes with budgets. So, when trying to foretell coming developments, let’s keep in mind that it’s almost always guesswork, albeit with some good reasoning behind it.

Much of what we eat is reflected in how we live. Like it or not, globalization has arrived on our dinner plates big time. The palates of today’s families are much more educated in terms of foreign foods and eating habits than ever before. All kinds of ethnic delicacies have become staples in households that were limited to locally grown basics just a generation ago.

Where I live, in the Pacific Northwest, you can practically embark on a virtual culinary tour around the world without ever leaving town. Grocery stores and restaurants offering international specialties keep popping up everywhere and are thriving. A fast-growing immigrant population does not only add diversity to our existing culture and customs, it also invites us to rethink our relationship with food.

“Engaging with food is a conduit to engaging with the world,” says Liz Moscow, culinary director at Sterling Rice Group, a marketing agency for food manufacturers.

To understand how people’s tastes shift, you have to look at the economy, what’s trending on the Internet, and what’s happening all across the globe, she explains in an interview with Food Business News.

We can even see it in the current mass migration from war-torn or poverty-stricken regions in the Middle East and North Africa, she says. Refugees and migrants, no matter how well they become integrated in their new homelands, bring their eating habits and food preferences with them. Oftentimes, it is one of the last remnants of stability left in their lives. And how could we not relate? Who doesn’t have fond memories of dishes only grandma knew how to cook?

“What we think is really going to happen [with regards to coming food trends] is this Middle Eastern fusion cuisine led by Persian influences and […] traditional Afghani cuisine,” Moscow predicts.

How much of this influx will be accepted into the mainstream here is anybody’s guess, but if history teaches us anything, it is that demographic changes always seem to pave the way.

So what predictions make the most sense? I would say, get ready for an ever more enriched and multifaceted culinary landscape that will not only further enhance our food choices but can also bring us closer together as neighbors and fellow world citizens. And what better place to start than at the dinner table?

TIMI GUSTAFSON, a registered dietitian and health counselor, is the author of “The Healthy Diner — How to Eat Right and Still Have Fun.