Foodie Underground: When Food Fusion Becomes Confusion

ColumnNovel food combinations aren’t just silly, they’re missing the point.

“I’ll buy you a cupcake. They have red velvet ones.”

I glared at my friend, Dave. “You know how I feel about cupcakes. Just get me an iced coffee, black.”

In recent months, I’ve developed a bit of a vendetta against cupcakes. “What could one have against a cute little baked good?” you might ask. A lot. And now I have another reason to cringe: cupcake vodka. The cupcake trend is now the cupcake hangover.

Whatever happened to simplicity? In today’s food fusion scene, experimentation and authenticity are out, confusion and crazy are in.

And it’s not just cupcake vodka. Food combos gone awry can be found everywhere, seducing us with complex creations and taking our focus from what’s actually in the food we’re eating to the novelty of the relationship noted on the label.

Take bacon chocolate, for example.

Dark chocolate can be sublime. Dark chocolate with a hint of salt is even better. But combine our meat du jour with a timeless classic and the results border on ridiculous. Or, at $7.50, certainly ambitious.

In an effort to push the culinary envelope, we find ourselves surrounded by food creations like these that aim to please experimental palettes, but destroy the essence of the ingredients in the process. There’s plenty of sustainable, locally cured bacon out there for the meat lover, and fair trade, organic options abound for chocolate. But the two together? Over the top. Bacon and booze is even worse. If you thought bacon vodka was bad, take a moment to contemplate bacon and tequila. (The spring break of nightmares.)

There’s a never-ending list of things that we come across at the grocery store that simply shouldn’t exist: bubblegum flavored pudding, cotton candy yogurt, turkey and gravy soda. You get the idea. Why can’t we keep our ingredients to themselves? These edible misfits aren’t food, they’re “food products,” and marketers are getting good at selling them. They sound and look novel so that they sell, but they’re drawing attention away from real fare worth celebrating.

Mark Bittman, New York Times food columnist has said, “Few people get fat eating real food.”

(Sure, chocolate and vodka aren’t cornerstones of the food pyramid, but individually, they’re at least made from whole ingredients.)

I think about the colorful cupcake vodka label, inspiring fluffy visions of Candyland. I had a comparatively different vision last week when I was in Boulder, Colorado and was served a drink made with locally distilled vodka made with biodynamic grapes. Clean and simple label, with a description of the vineyard where it came from right next to the bar. No fusion. No confusion.

Some fusions are so incredible they’re downright heady: think truffles and mac ‘n cheese. Or Indian Chinese cuisine. And we don’t need to deny ourselves the fun stuff, by any means. No one wants to say no to cocktails, chocolate and cake, but it’s just as important to think about what goes into them as it is to think about where our kale and broccoli come from.

Maybe that’s why I turn up my nose at cupcakes. It’s not what they are, it’s what they represent: an obsession with glorifying food that we shouldn’t be consuming in the first place.

Editor’s note: This is the latest installment of Anna Brones’s weekly column at EcoSalon, Foodie Underground, discovering what’s new and different in the underground food movement, from supper clubs to mini markets to the culinary avant garde.

Images: Cupcake VodkaAllie Bombach

Anna Brones

Anna Brones is a food + travel writer with a love for coffee and bikes. She is the author of The Culinary Cyclist and Fika: The Art of the Swedish Coffee Break. Catch her weekly column, Foodie Underground.