I have no issue with black food that is meant to be black: I enjoy forbidden rice, black truffles, black garlic, and squid ink pasta. I also don’t have a problem with tasteless food coloring being added to products, like macarons, to entertain those under ten. And I have accepted that a large segment of society now assesses dishes based solely on appearance rather than taste. This has led to multicolored “unicorn” food, avocado roses, and “toasts,” which are nothing more than see-through sandwiches.
What concerns me is the invasion of foods transmogrified into blackness via activated charcoal. The gimmickry merely seemed sad a few years ago: a charcoal bun on my lobster roll at Hinoki & the Bird, a charcoal waffle with my duck at ink. Even then it seemed like a goth teen was in the kitchen, making me want to go in there, turn off the Morrissey, and hug the staff. But now it’s everywhere. You can get charcoal soft-serve on charcoal waffle cones at Little Damage, charcoal lemonade at Juice Served Here, charcoal cocktails at Josiah Citrin’s Charcoal Venice. There are charcoal burger buns, charcoal pizza crusts, and, I’m certain, charcoal spiraled vegetables. Depressingly, Menotti’s, the superb third-wave coffee shop I visit whenever I’m in Venice, has unveiled a black latte. At least when red velvet was a fad, we understood that magic-subscribing Southerners believed dye made the cake taste better.
Proponents claim that activated charcoal (wisely rebranded from “burnt coconut shells”) removes free radicals and toxins, which are Angelenos’ favorite things to remove after body hair and first wives. And while charcoal is indeed given to patients who have swallowed poison, this does not mean it is good for you if you haven’t swallowed poison. Charcoal, it should be noted, also leeches useful chemicals from your body, including anti-anxiety and birth control medication. (Too many Instagrammable drinks could lead to an Instagrammable baby.) The free radicals I’m more concerned about are the ones who think coloring food with briquettes is a good idea.
This overwhelming obsession with looks over taste is what cursed us with Red Delicious apples, Florida tomatoes, and our city’s cultural reputation. The only hope that it will end is if Instagram creates a filter that makes brown food look as cool.