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Food past, presently and future

Fun and frivolity from the past 10 years
get your freak on Freakshakes, those zany mega treats that look like a Dairy Queen exaploded in your mug, originated out of Australia in the mid-2010s. <a href=""></a>

End of a year, end of a decade. Now with 2020 upon us, what else to look forward to but clarity of vision in all things, and 10 years of hindsight to put it in perspective, including what we eat.

The first eye-opener—or maybe not, if you've been digesting the news as it rolled out—might be the sticker shock of food prices here in Canada over the past decade. How about that pot roast that cost you $43 last Saturday, but was only 26 bucks 10 years ago? And there's more...The way climate change has played into that, and what we might be seeing in the future.

But given this column is the first one out of the gate for the new year, let's leave the serious stuff for next time. Instead, here's a fun peek at some of the lighter, brighter food fare from the past 10 years.

No. 1 on the list: Freakshakes (see above).

I don't know about you but just looking at an image of a freakshake makes me laugh. Also known as crazy milkshakes, we have our dear friends in Oz (in the capital city of Canberra, to be exact) to thank for these zany mega-treats that popped up about the middle of the decade and look like a Dairy Queen exploded and landed in your mug, make that a giant glass mug you might get a pint of BentSpoke Crankshaft in.

The milk, the ice cream, the whipped cream and flavoured sauces, the banana slices and berries, and all the ensuing special effects—pretzels, cake, cookies, waffle slices, gummy worms, you name it—that doesn't fit inside is piled, poured and dribbled on the sides or top.

Freakshakes, which some say were created as much for Instagram posts as anything, took at least parts of the world by storm in the U.S., even Hawaii, London and, of course, Australia. They've even earned a "worst trend of the decade" spot in social media.

Interestingly, they never caught on in Whistler or Vancouver, at least not so far (please tell me if you've found some). More likely, in this neck of the woods, they'd be freaky health shakes made with spirulina and oat milk and a cluster of kale sprouting from the top. Which highlights another big trend of the decade, a freakshake polar opposite and one that did catch on like wildfire in the Sea to Sky: all things healthy, gluten-free, dairy-free, sugar-free, vegan/vegetarian, even in fast food forms.

Actually, given that one freakshake can contain up to 39 teaspoons or 156 grams of sugar—the equivalent of four 12-ounce cans of Coke!—a playful, eye-catching healthy freakshake ain't a bad idea. (Attention, Nicolette and Pierre at The Green Moustache!)

Mind you, that venti white chocolate mocha from Starbucks you were eyeing the other day contains 72 grams of sugar, illustrating another trend this past decade—ever bigger, more sugary and fat-laced "coffees" (I use the term loosely) loaded with flavourings, syrups, milk and whipped cream.

Again, in what seems like a polarization and tribal effect regarding what we eat and drink, one as extreme as what's happened in politics and power this decade, outrageous fat- and sugar-laden coffees were counterpointed with things like lean, zen teas, such as those DavidsTea out of Montreal creates, or those so-called "healthy" vitamin-laced waters. (Buyer beware of the latter—those can also be loaded with sugars.)

If freakshakes and venti white chocolate mocha coffees are over the top, another decadal trend was the polar opposite: The minimalism, some say sensationalism, of platelessness.

Unlike weightlessness, platelessness doesn't necessarily mean everything floaty-floaty, or served up on the tabletop, although the Michelin-starred Alinea in Chicago was known early in the game for serving desserts right on the table. Yum.

Believe it or not, platelessness started in such high-end restos and then migrated to the masses over the decade. At home, this translated into lightweight, plate-free touches, as much to save time and dishes as to add a playful touch. From appy-sized mini-calzones served on brown paper squares to fresh fruit served dish-free in waffle cones, the domestic scene saw many plateless variations.

Dining out, though, the trend was turned on its head. Platelessness became a "heavy" affair that always made me feel sorry for our servers: Chunks of heavy wood decked out with appies for sharing or a piece of slate (basalt?) with artfully arranged sashimi. Some culinary schools, like Gates College in Ontario, even offer food-safety tips on the ins and outs of going plateless. After all, you wouldn't want your guests suffering anything untoward after nibbling on their beef Wellington bits served on a coil of barbed wire. (See Restaurant Zarzo in the Netherlands.)

To satisfy the human thirst for novelty and influence, platelessness, much like freakshakes, drove restos to more and more sensationalism over the past 10 years. How about your burger served on a shoe? In a dog bowl? Or the above barbed wire? All of this triggered a social media response: #WeWantPlates.

Which brings me to my own hashtag that I've just created for our future mutual dining pleasure, one you might want to share, too: #WeWantNoPhones.

I keep waiting for the post-post-modern etiquette "book" to come out regarding obsessive cell phone disorder in restos, or at least a discreet message somewhere, much like we've seen in movie theatres, for those who can't figure it out. Can everyone, please, just ditch your phones and stop photographing your plate, my plate, your neighbours' plates?

Forget social media. We don't care what amazing thing you're eating. Try sitting back and savouring the present moment and what's just been placed in front of you with all your senses—including your new, improved 2020 vision.

Bon appétit. Bhojan kaa aanand lijiye (Hindi). And Happy New Year.

Glenda Bartosh is an award-winning journalist who looks forward to the future.