The Winter Fancy Food Show is here in San Francisco through Tuesday, sprawling through the windowless, blue-carpeted acres of the Moscone Center. It's huge, filling both the North and South Halls on either side of Howard Street, over 2000 vendors on display, all here to make deals, talk shop, taste, schmooze, scope out the competition, see which way the market is moving. It's the biggest food-product show in the country, attracting all levels of the industry from big distributors with furry-suited mascots to small cheesemakers. The sleek Italians are here, promoting the wines of Sardinia, just a few aisles away from the guys touting a line of wine-bottle carriers and gift bags.
So what's on display? Everything. It's both cheering and depressing at once. Everyone seems to have the utmost faith in their product, a shiny white-teeth optimism that of course America needs bacon-flavored microwave popcorn that's also vegetarian and kosher, or applesauce in astronaut-style squeeze bags. Would you like to try a glass of water shipped from Siberia? Wouldn't you like to fancy up your dessert presentations with chocolate-truffle foam, now in a handy squirt can? Goji berries are good for you, you know. Here, you can eat them in cookies.
Everyone has a gimmick. These truffles are vegan and aligned with Indian ayurvedic practice, stamped with what could be the logo of a yoga studio and filled with coconut ginger-lemongrass ganache. These crunchy little cheese straws are made by real buttery-accented Southern ladies handing them out as if at a United Daughters of the Confederacy tea.
Tabletop wedding fountains spout ginger-haberno barbecue glaze as an entire Hyatt's worth of men in dark blue suits crunch spreadsheet numbers behind brightly lit cheese displays. Pisco sours are being poured in the Peruvian aisle (a good thing), Lincolnshire elderflower soda in the British one. All the chocolate is decadent, all the cakes indulgent but guilt-free. And everyone is still smiling, smiling, under the fluorescent lights, snapping up samples and trading shop talk about warehouses and brokers, reps and prices. All the packaging is bright, brighter, brightest. Hand-sanitizing stations are set up at the end of every few aisles, even as it's impossible to estimate how many fingers have dug into the big bowls of loose nuts on display at this table, or scooped into that oozing wedge of Brie. One uses a toothpick, looks for untouched edges or single-serving cups, and hopes for the best.