Gentrisize Me

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Oh yea, I just made that word up.

For years, the restaurant industry has tried flashy new ways to get our business. I’m not talking about flashy ads, deals, catch-phrases, or celebrity endorsements. I’m talking about the steady increase in gentrification.

Living in Vancouver, gentrification is a hot button topic. Typically when we discuss it here, we’re referring to the Downtown Eastside’s slow descent (ascent? It’s a matter of opinion really) into transforming into it’s West Side brother.

Condos
Fancy street-lamps
Cobblestone (oooh, I’m picking on Gastown aren’t I?)
Design studios
“Avant-garde” shops

Of course, chic designer restaurants.

Oh you know the ones…

Locally sourced!
Fair Trade!
Organic!
Gluten Free/Vegan Friendly! (Ok, maybe it’s unfair to pick on that particular territory. There ARE people who have dietary restrictions)

But let’s be honest. It was a natural trend waiting to happen. When you pay as much as $15-$30 for a plate, you’re going to want the best quality. No one can blame restaurants for taking the high road and cutting ties to GMOs and Monsanto. With a population trending towards the 25-35 year olds being the go-getter, money-makers in Vancouver, this city in particular has jumped on the bandwagon. (Of course, we’re not to distant neighbours to the original fad diet/food fad capital of California).

What of the big boys though? This type of approach was designed for the little guy. The start up. The locally owned type of eatery where the owner works the bar on Saturday nights. Don’t think for a minute your Applebee’s, Chili’s, Denny’s, et al have let this trend go unnoticed. Heck even the McDonald’s, A&W’s, Wendy’s, and BK’s are on board. The gentrification of fast food is furious my friends.

I’d have to go a long way back to recall when I first observed this trend. It was probably during the salad craze that swepts the nation in the mid to late 90s. It seems every decade there’s a salad craze.I remember McDonald’s introducing them and everyone was sucked in. Of course, it would later come out that they were just as unhealthy as a Big Mac once you drizzled your dressing over-top.

The first time I noticed the trend and was BOTHERED by it, wasn’t that long ago. I was in a Chili’s just outside of Texas. Their big promo was: APPLEWOOD SMOKED BACON.

Wait a minute…isn’t ALL bacon smoked?

It wouldn’t be long before every chain was thinking up fancy ways to state the obvious, yet give a regal air about their food.

One culprit lately that’s really got my eyes rolling is A&W. They’ve jumped on the yam fry bandwagon whole-heartedly. Commercials now boast they use no STEROIDS. I’m not naive, I know that steroids have been pumped into animals for years, I was quite happy to remain blissfully ignorant about who was doing it. By throwing that word into their ads however, it has the opposite effect than I think they desire. The new ad campaign has their chubby little “manager” offering Teen Burgers, asking how they taste, THEN revealing there are no steroids. “Hey, by the way, we aren’t poisoning your burgers!” They’ve also taken to announcing the precise type of potatoes that they are using; Russets.

This is an interesting trend in the food industry.

It’s like they are trying to re-assure us that they are indeed feeding us real food. I can’t wait for the conspiracy theorists to start claiming that “Russet”, “Romaine”, and “Concord”, are all just brand names used by Monsanto.

Of course, it’s not just wording used in marketing. It’s introducing “new”, “fresh”, “exotic”, foods to our palate. There are too many to list, but here are some favourites over the years:

SEA SALT french fries – Sea salt, what a crazy fad. It even extended to the dessert world! (I can’t lie I LOVE salted caramels).   Reaching into the depths of every chef in America’s fanciest spice rack, Wendy’s ratcheted their fries up a notch.

Sweet Potato Fries – I’d be curious to see who the ultimate culprit is in introducing this as the new “it” side. Suddenly, we’ve all forgotten about Onion Rings as a delightful and tasty fried alternative to fries. Oh, and that sweet sweet sauce…

Chipotle, chipotle EVERYTHING – Spicy is king nowadays. Sriracha is the sauce of choice. It wasn’t too long ago that Chipotle was the hep cat on the street. It’s found a renewed sense of popularity because of the aforementioned yam fries. Creating a whole new buzz word in eateries across the continent: aioli.

Avocado – I feel like Avocados become hip every decade or so, just like salad. Subway has been pushing their disgusting, poor excuse for a guacamole on us the last year or so. The rise in the pinche taco shop has also helped push this amazing, creamy, fruit to new heights of popularity.

Jalapeños – Piggybacking on the spice craze, jalapeños also have been benefitting from the Tex-Mex resurgence. Poppers, dressings, toppings, you name it. They’ll find a way to cram this little bugger into it.

Poutine – This one…oh boy. I grew in Ottawa, which borders the birthplace of this wonderful, messy, sinful, heart-attack on a plate. It’s recent surge in popularity extends well beyond the bounds of a select few restaurants slathering gravy and cheese on their fries. It’s become a beast of it’s own…with droves of shops opening up specializing in the delicacy of my Francophone roots, defiling it with all kinds of ridiculous toppings. For the record it’s not POO-TEEN. It’s POO-TSIN.

The amusing thing about all these, is the price gauging. If you go to the supermarket, and plan your meal around these fast-food fads, you’ll notice quite a dip in price. Now of course it’s normal to see these differences between restaurant meals, and your grocery bill. Restaurants have REALLY pushed their margins up lately though. Poutine in particular has been a crazy culprit. A lot of places will charge you $2-$3 (or more) to “poutine your fries”, while only charing $1-$2 to add bacon and cheese on a burger. That doesn’t add up.

Ultimately, we will always be a slave to these trends. It’s not necessarily a bad thing either. There’s a whole world of food out their, and we may never think to try certain ingredients out of some unfounded fears. The question will be, how far will they push it?

Locust burgers?
Frog-leg drumettes?
Squirrel Chili? (Kind of gamey for the record…)

Better yet, how far will we LET them push it? If they gussy it up enough, I suspect we’ll eat anything…

Filet of Shistocerca Sliders
Cajun-Fried Grenouille
Braised Ecureuil Chili

(French really helps add a delightful note of sophistication, doesn’t it?)
Bon Appetit!

DFP

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