Modern life moves quickly, essentially at the speed at which we can transmit information. Someone who shot to fame was once described as an overnight sensation, but these days you can go viral (and sink back into obscurity) in a matter of hours. Memes blow up and fizzle out at such a rate that the sparkle of recognition, without the patina of longevity, is less dazzling than it once was.

The trend cycle has accelerated too, including in the food world. And the data heads at New York Times blog The Upshot took some time to explore that quickening with their nifty Times Chronicle tool, which measures how often a particular term has appeared in the paper. A search for “fried calamari” reveals it was first mentioned in 1975, was alluded to often in the 1980s, peaked in 1996 with citations in 56 articles, and then started dropping off in the last decade.


Using this admittedly imperfect measure, the Times is able to trace the arc of a food fad over time

Fried calamari made a voyage that dozens of foods have made over the years: They start out being served in forward-thinking, innovative restaurants in New York and other capitals of gastronomy. Over time, they become more and more mainstream, becoming a cliché on big-city menus, showing up in high-end restaurants in smaller cities, and eventually finding their way to neighborhood bistros in the hinterlands and chain restaurants across the country.

The article goes on to measure other trendy foods, past and present, against this Fried Calamari Index.


The rate at which a fad peaks is noticeably more rapid today (taking just over 10 years on average) than a generation ago, when a trend would slow burn for almost 25 years before it jumped the shark. But once they’ve cooled off, some items have proven to be more than a flash in the pan—like pesto, quiche, and goat cheese, which continue to be mentioned 20 years after they first surfaced.


Whether kale, cupcakes, and ramen have got the same staying power remains to be seen. But to Millennial ears, two decades sounds like enough time for something to go through a complete revolution in the Circle of Hype: heat up, cool off, get a parody video, and then stage a comeback.

Check out the complete analysis on The Upshot.