As study after study shows that Americans are gaining dangerous amounts of weight, many public policy experts have striven to find effective regulatory solutions. In 2008, Los Angeles officials sought to curb unhealthy eating in its impoverished South LA neighborhood by imposing a ban on new fast-food restaurants. However, according to recent independent research from the Rand Corporation, instead of becoming healthier, people in the neighborhood actually gained weight between 2007 and 2012.
The study looked at those who were either obese or simply overweight and found a startling rise from 63% to 75%. While the studies only looked at South LA, a relatively small part of the city, the neighborhood comprises some 700,000 residents, creating a huge potential sample. Given that the national obesity rate only ticked up a single percentage point in the same period, the results are dismaying for public health experts in LA.
The Rand report suggested that the ban failed to achieve its aims because the zoning laws only targeted traditional fast-food establishments and didn’t encompass all kinds of unhealthy foods. Furthermore, the law never managed to address the other part of the problem: lack of access to local healthy food outlets. Others have claimed that an influx of Latino residents in South LA may have had an effect, though this suggestion relies on anecdotal data. The LA County Department of Public Health has acknowledged the report, but has urged people to refrain from making any judgments, arguing that changing people’s habits can require far more than a few years of a single policy.
Every year, new fads sweep through and change America’s food culture, transforming plates across America as though everyone were ordering from the same giant menu. Previous years have brought underused and healthy foods into the limelight, like kale and quinoa, while trends such as the move toward local ingredients and environmentally friendly practices have fundamentally altered the restaurant and grocery landscape. Experts have long been trying to predict where the market will go, and for 2015, a few industry leaders have weighed in with their research on the next big things in food.
The Sterling-Rice Group (SRG), a consultancy focused on various food industries, has identified numerous foods and trends that they expect will sweep the marketplace. Some of these seem obvious; the company expects that global cuisine and sustainable practices will continue to spread across America, as it seems they have every year. Others, however, are more surprising. SRG predicts, for example, that “true” Asian food will begin supplanting the Americanized fare many have grown accustomed to. They also believe that coconut sugar, Japanese powdered matcha, and hop-free beer will grow in popularity, and that different flavors of newly legalized cannabis will soon be highly desired.
Meanwhile, the National Restaurant Association has published its “What’s Hot in 2015” Culinary Forecast to help restauranteurs capitalize on upcoming trends. As in 2014, the top spots on the association’s list are occupied by already-established trends, including the move toward more local, sustainable, and healthy foods. However, other trends have begun moving up the list, including artisanal cheesemakers and butcheries; ancient grains, such as spelt and amaranth; house-made ice cream; and so-called “hyperlocal” ingredients, such as those grown in restaurant gardens on-site. Meanwhile, the report also outlined foods trends that are on their way out, so those who love gazpacho, the foams and froths of molecular gastronomy, or bacon-flavored anything should try to sample these flavors before they’re washed away by a new set of trends.
People tend to think of fine dining as an evening affair; whether it’s a candlelit meal in a luxurious restaurant or dinner al fresco on a rooftop patio, people tend to focus their attention on gustatory delights that can be served after sunset. However, like the residents of any big city, Angelenos needs their morning meals to power through the day, and they have no excuse for grabbing a quick muffin or dry piece of toast on the way out the door. Not with the innumerable breakfast-focused restaurants littering the city, many of which feature culinary treasures that can only be sampled in the morning.
Those interested in the classics can select from a number of old-school diners, such as Millie’s Cafe in Silver Lake, an institution that has been serving equal parts classic Americana and delicious food since 1926. Others might want to stop by Nate ‘n Al, the iconic Beverly Hills diner that focuses on classic Jewish breakfast foods that have their roots on the East Coast. However, LA’s restaurant scene spans the entire globe, and those looking to branch out in the world of breakfast food can sample from countless foreign cuisines. Try the Vietnamese breakfast sandwiches at Bánh Mì My Tho, the delicious pho at Viet Huong, or the Taiwanese breakfast delights at Huge Tree Pastry. In addition, those who love a good plate of huevos rancheros should visit El Huarachito, which makes its own tortillas and serves classic Mexican breakfast dishes all day long.
Angelenos seeking something a bit fancier also have many options for fine dining in the morning. Locavores should look no further than Salt’s Cure in West Hollywood, where everything on the menu hails from California and the menu changes each weekend. Diners who don’t mind spending a bit more cash can head to Farmshop in Santa Monica, which does breakfast in the most luxurious fashion possible.
Very few people would argue with the idea that a home-cooked meal is healthier than one eaten at a restaurant. Scientists would certainly agree. In fact, studies have shown that people consume 50 percent more calories, salt, and fat when eating out, and researchers have consistently proven that diet has a powerful effect on our health. However, better nutrition is only one of the many health benefits that home cooking provides. In reality, this practice seems to offer incredible benefits across all areas of health.
The act of cooking itself can be powerfully effective in focusing the mind, something that has been known for centuries. The Zen masters of ancient Japan wrote treatises on how cooking can be a meditative act that increases mindfulness, while modern practitioners and chefs have discussed how cooking can unleash creative energies that may be difficult to capture in everyday life. In addition, the act of dining together at home seems to be equally important, especially for children. Studies show that frequent family meals lead to better grades, higher levels of happiness, and reduced chances of drug and alcohol abuse.
Of course, many will insist that eating home-cooked meals is mostly important for the nutritional advantages, especially since researchers have found that those that eat at home often consume more fruit and vegetables, as well as many healthful vitamins and minerals. However, cooking itself, regardless of content, seems to be healthful in and of itself. In a landmark study conducted in Taiwan, researchers examined the cooking habits of nearly 1,900 subjects above the age of 65. A decade later, they returned to check the health outcomes of the subjects, and the results showed that those who cook five times or more a week were significantly more likely to live longer. Even controlling for various other factors, such as smoking, scientists found that cooking at home contributed to longevity. Given that kind of advantage, avoiding take-out in favor of a delicious home-cooked meal seems like a no-brainer.
It should come as little surprise to most people that the current food truck craze has its roots in LA, a city of cars. Indeed, loncheras, a staple of Mexican-American communities on the city’s Eastside, have been around since the 1960s. Street food has always been popular, but it has never seemed so glamorous, with gourmet options proliferating in major cities across the country. A strange turn, some might say, for a kind of dining that was first intended as a purely utilitarian mode of providing nutrition.
While mobile carts used for serving food have probably been around for hundreds of years, scholars generally consider Charles Goodnight, a Texas rancher, to be the “father” of food trucks. In the 1860s, he rebuilt a wagon to serve as a makeshift kitchen in order to serve cattlemen out on the range. Meanwhile, in the cities out east, street food vendors began sprouting wheels in search of customers. By the time cars had gained popularity, mobile kitchens were proliferating, especially among Mexican chefs, who found that on-the-road diners could often be coaxed into parking with the promise of a perfect taco.
The growth of today’s food truck industry required a perfect combination of events that clicked into place thanks to the recent recession. First, out-of-work chefs, seeking an easy way to start a business, began looking to the humble food truck, which offered a far cheaper route to serving meals. Next, a food truck industry superstar and evangelist arose. Roy Choi, whose Kogi truck specialized in short rib Korean BBQ tacos, quickly proved that food trucks could be glamorous, thanks to the wonders of social media, which helps food truck owners connect with customers regardless of a truck’s location.