As an ex-journalist I have a fascination with trend reporting, because even with my experience I have no frame of reference for how trend reporters do their jobs. Do they keep a stack of industry trade magazines on their desks and flip through them in search of a pattern? Do they pull nouns from a hat, exquisite corpse style, and cobble a story together that way? Did the trend exist before the reporter pieced together correlating anecdotes and called it a trend? Is there desperation involved in trying to find a narrative? Do trend reporters stay on the phone for hours, sweating, until an industry public relations flack tells them, “yeah, we guess bowls are selling more than they used to?”
If you’re a trend reporter, don’t cure me of my ignorance. I prefer the mystery and (like trend reporters) I don’t care for hard data. What matters now is bowls. They’re “the new plates.” The Wall Street Journal said so.
Sales of bowls are rising as Americans prefer more casual, one-course meals that layer flavors. Tableware makers are reconfiguring place settings. Restaurants are overhauling their china cabinets and consumers are increasingly cradling their food while perched at kitchen islands, lounging on sofas or multitasking at a table.
Fiesta, the collection of colorful and sturdy dishes, says its bowl sales increased about 17% last year, the largest gain of any Fiesta tableware, which is made by the Homer Laughlin China Co. Bowls now account for about one-third of the brand’s sales, says Rich Brinkman, vice president of the company’s retail sales and marketing.
Mr. Brinkman says he anticipated a shift to bowls when sales of slow cookers started surging a few years ago. Calculating that most slow-cooked foods are eaten in bowls, in 2014 Fiesta introduced deep “bistro” bowls in 38-ounce and 68-ounce sizes.
“Before, the average consumer would buy one 68-ounce bowl as a serving dish, and now they’re buying six to eight of them,” says Mr. Brinkman. “People are eating from them, not serving from them.”
Reporter Ellen Byron hits the trend from many angles. My favorite is the final quote above because it plumbs the murky depths of America’s eating habits. Sixty-eight ounce bowls and people are eating from them?! Combine that with Byron’s point that people may be using bowls to eat more casually and you get a shocking mental image of someone walking around their apartment cradling an enormous salad bowl in the crook of their arm, troweling spaghetti into their mouth. It’s like something Dante would write about. Patton Oswalt saw this coming a decade ago. Is he a trend reporter, too?
The trend may not be as dark as all the above. Chefs prefer using bowls for some dishes because diners are more likely to take in the food holistically rather than pick the meal apart, as they would on a plate.
Bowls also may be a clever trick to get your carb-loving body to eat something healthy. Byron interviewed Juliet Boghossian, the founder of Food-ology, a Los Angles-based consultancy that researches eating habits. She said that bowls make healthy entrees look more appealing. On a plate, your eye would be drawn to the howling void where your bread or potatoes used to be. Bowls make vegetables appear as though you’re eating something with some heft.
Byron’s trend piece makes me consider my own eating habits more carefully. It makes me want to be more thoughtful about how I take in my meals. Bowls seem passive, the way she describes them. I guess that would mean plates would be the way to go if you wanted a clearer rhythm for your day. Plan your meals, set aside space for a plate and —for the love of god— remember to chew.
Bill Rodgers is the Managing Editor of cfile.daily.
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