neomania [nee oh MAY nee uh] noun; An obsession with the new.

Neomania is disease of modernity. And in fact the most telling examples of neomania usually involve tech gadgets. Ask any iPhone owner, especially while he's lining up outside an Apple store excitedly waiting to be separated from a thousand dollars.

But neomania exists in the world of food too. It appears in ingredient bragging, a topic we've discussed previously here at Casual Kitchen. It seems so cool to be the first food blogger to share some exotic-sounding ingredient with your readers. For example, ten years ago, if you were one of the early bloggers to offer a recipe featuring "garlic scapes" you were too cool for school! You were in the know, ahead of everybody else.

What about neomania in restaurants? I know I unfairly pick on New Yorkers all the time here, but New York City is simply loaded with people obsessed with going to the latest restaurant. And since restaurants in New York City have an 80% fail rate within five years, neomaniac New Yorkers always have an unlimited supply of the "new" to chase.

Travel? Yep. If you're the first person in your circle to go somewhere, you get tremendous status heirarchy points. First among your friends to visit Medellin? Check. First to Iceland? Check. Bali? Laos? Tibet? Check. Another bonus: trendy locations go in and out of fashion over the years, so when a hip tourist location goes from new to old to new again, you can say you went there before it was cool--and be right twice!

What's consistently depressing about neomania is how within months of a thing being new, it's quickly no longer new, and we contemptuously roll our eyes at things we recently thought were amazing. You might be too cool for school if you were early to the garlic scapes trend, but heaven help you if you were late to it. Borrrr-ing!!

Think about various trendy concepts in the restaurant industry: sea foam, lobster ravioli, avocado toast, or, for the beverage neomaniacs among you, overpriced "mules" served up in a distinctive copper cup. And think about how, if we look back honestly at the trumpeting of these experiences when they were trendy, how we all now feel vaguely sheepish having participated in the neomania when it happened: how we wish we hadn't written that me-too recipe featuring garlic scapes, just like everyone else did at the same time. How we wish we hadn't paid $15 for that mule in the trendy copper mug in that trendy upscale bar. And how we'd rather forget all about that time we paid $42 for an entree of "scallops and sea foam" at some restaurant whose name we can barely remember... that isn't even in business any more.

Neomania in cooking
There's one instance where I find neomania to be particularly offensive: when I see a perfectly perfect recipe appallingly butchered by neomaniacs. One example that comes to mind is taking a flawless, timeless recipe like apple pie or apple crisp, and using some abstruse, expensive neomaniacal new apple variety that nobody's ever heard of [1] when anyone with half a soul knows that in-season, traditional Macintosh apples [2] are the only acceptable variety to use for apple pies and crisps.

Finally, if we extend our time horizon a bit, we can see how neomania has caused us to introduce needless, even harmful elements to our lives. Consider the now-infamous government food pyramid, or worse, things like olestra, a new (and supposedly healthier) oil. I'm not sure which is worse: a set of food recommendations that were exactly, exactly wrong, or a new oil that became infamous for causing anal leakage.

Neomania is a type of infirmity, an illness, because it causes us to shun already-familiar things that work well and chase "new" things that usually don't work at all.

The new is rarely better, but it's always designed to seem so. And it certainly tricks enough of us as we scramble from vacation spot to vacation spot, from ingredient brag to ingredient brag, from new restaurant to newer restaurant, from tech gadget to tech gadget, constantly straining for more, when what we already had worked better all along.

READ NEXT: Is Organic Food Healthier? Or Just Another Aspirational Product?
AND: A False Referent

[1] The new "Jazz" apple variety comes to mind, itself ironically a cross of two other neomaniacal apples: Royal Gala and Braeburn.

[2] Okay, maybe Cortlands in a pinch.

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Marcia said...

Hey, I visited Iceland in 1994, so I must be so cool!

(My boyfriend and I were flying space-A on an Air Force cargo plane. The crew had been on duty for too long, so we made a stopover at the Navy base in Iceland for a half day. They put us up in the Officer's quarters for free. We walked into Keflavik and had pizza. And walked home in the bright sunlight at 9:30 pm. Went to bed. Got up early and back on the plane to Frankfurt.)

Marcia said...

Also, anyone who knows anything knows that apple crisps should be made with literally any apple you have, as long as it's not Red disgustings.

We get apples from the farmer's markets - it's whatever grows here, and whatever is in season (and there aren't any Macintosh locally). My apple crisps taste great, whether it's pink lady, fuji, gala, Granny smith, or what's usual...a massive mix of them.

Emily said...

My family is team Granny Smith for baking, Jonagolds for eating. Not a big fan of the texture of Macintoshes for either use.