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Urban Culture Curve | As The Decade Wraps Up, Edible Insects Are Buzzing

By Jessica Best and Sammy Preston
4th Dec 2019

Welcome to the December Urban Culture Curve—your go-to guide for what’s on its way in, and on its way out, in urban culture.

It’s the end of the decade, and what have we learned? This month we take a look at the critters creeping onto menus and plates across the country, the rise and rise of the beloved “so-bad-you’ll-love-‘em” Christmas movies and a new category of wellness that’s centred on staying out late and having a raging good time—but not at the expense of your, well, wellbeing.

And as we leave 2019 behind, so too goes the reign of the iPhone, our nervous itch for more likes on Instagram, and the business sustainability once found in the troubled, outdated world of gender-led magazines.

So who’s with us? Here’s what’s on the rise, and on the slide this month. 

ON THE RISE

Edible Insects

As the global population has expanded—so too has the search for sustainable food solutions. And alongside lab-grown meat, favoured because it cuts out the heavy-hooved impact of farming on the environment without denying people the dream of a juicy steak—is a bunch of research on the viability of edible insects as a super sustainable meal. Not so keen? Bear with us.

Interestingly enough, a big 80 percent of the world’s population already enjoy protein-rich crickets, worms and creepy crawlies in their day-to-day—it’s just the Western world that has, until recently, been less inclined to stomach it all.

The concept has been creeping and crawling (sorry) around the edges of mainstream dining for the last 12 months—a new superfood touted for its impressive fibre, vitamin, mineral and protein content. In the wake of the climate crisis, eco-anxiety and the increase in environmentally sensitive dinner decisions—the trajectory of this trend is gathering speed, and fast. This year, Barclays reported that the bug protein industry will be worth a massive $US8 billion dollars by 2030. In Australia, the edible insect industry is still in its infancy—but it is on the up, with about 50 businesses around the country currently producing bug-infused pastas, protein bars, cupcakes and more.

As 2019 has round out to a close, it seems supermarkets want in on the edible insect story too—around the time of “World Edible Bug Day” on October 23 (yes, that’s now a thing), Woolworths started stocking cricket protein powder under its Macro label, IGA stores in New South Wales and Queensland currently stock cricket energy bars from Byron Bay start-up Grilo, and MARS Foods has backed Aussie company The Edible Bug Shop as part of the Seeds of Change accelerator. As for who else is playing on a smaller, local scale—check out Sydney-based outfit The Cricket Bakery, and Perth’s Grubs Up.

Cheesy Christmas Movies

Watching cheesy, feel-good Chrissy flicks in the lead up to the holidays is no new phenomenon. Searches for “Christmas movies” on streaming platforms peak around November and December each year, but it’s not just Home Alone, Elf and other classic hits screening. A tide of new, made-for-TV-style Christmas movies has flooded Netflix this year—more than ever before. They’re terrible, and they’re wonderful. But why do we love them so much?

Just this year alone, Google trends picked up global breakout queries such as “Netflix Christmas movies 2019”  (up 3,600 percent compared to last year) and “Christmas movies on Disney plus”. In addition, the general search term of “Christmas movies 2019” is also up almost 4,000 percent from this time last year.

For 2019, Netflix and Disney+ are the strongest entertainment contenders feeding into the demand of “so-bad-you’ll-love-‘em” holiday flicks. Netflix has a rep for spinning cheesy Christmas content come November, but this year the juggernaut streaming platform revealed a new suite of Yuletide-themed films and a “holiday” category to help users find their perfect Christmas tale. While we’ve always revisited the holiday films that defined our childhood, meme culture and a thirst for nostalgia has generated a new category of holiday content. When Netflix first dropped The Princess Switch starring Vanessa Hudgens in 2018, it’s poor quality went viral through memes (even though it collated no more than a 6 out of 10 IMDb score), which turned the bad into funny, and the funny into a full-blown phenomenon and not just a guilty pleasure.

While less progressive brands like Hallmark struggle to stay relevant with a lack of LGBQTI representation, streaming services like Netflix have tapped into this space with a cheesy, new sort of Christmas warmth—2019 releases like Let It Snow, Holiday Rush and The Knight Before Christmas each bring diversity to the forefront and into the Christmas fairy tale format.

Newer platforms like Disney+ (which has just kicked off in Australia and NZ) add to the already prolific demand for terrible (so to speak) holiday films too. Tapping into a number of generations with classics like Home Alone, Mickey’s A Christmas Carol, Miracle On 34th Street and The Santa Clause, Disney+ has effectively given a resurgence and more accessibility for cheesy Christmas flicks.

Party Wellness

Just this year alone, Urban List’s Health and Wellness vertical racked up two million page views, up 105 percent from 2018. As awareness of the prevalence of burnout and its causes rise, practising mindfulness daily becomes innate and “slow drinking” dips its toe into the mainstream—a new category of wellness has emerged. It’s all about partying, but prepping your body pre and post. Do your festival blowout, but rock up to the office in tiptop shape. Skip the gruelling hangover, but don’t skip the fun with your mates, and manage your life and your workload across the ups and downs of festival season without ever getting run down.

Wellness has become an all-encompassing concept, which means a greater understanding of how taxing going out until the wee hours of the morning is or how physically exhausting festival season can be. We’ve seen a couple of really awesome Aussie brands tap into this area, be it with marketing natural supplements to help festival-goers stay hydrated or natural juices meant to rid the effects of a big night out on the cans. From recovery fitness, to low-cal cocktails infused with collagen, while wellness and partying used to be two separate past-times—this new movement is binding them together, telling us we can have our cake and eat it too. 

Bae Juice is the Melbourne-based brand who has pretty much cracked the hangover cure code, with a tonic that preaches “wellness after badness” (and we dig it). So, what’s actually in Bae Juice? The product is 100% Korean pear juice, unlike many others that have hit the market in hidden grocery stores which are mostly sugar. And there are absolutely no additives, which is a big win given the additives you’re throwing in your body after a night on the grog.

Another company making marks in the spectrum of party wellness is Be.Nutrients, a company centred on festival supplements created to aid your body with the appropriate vitamins both before and after a festival in the sun (and it’s in high demand at NSW’s annual Return To Rio festival). The crew behind this one has curated a complex of plant extracts, amino acids, vitamins and minerals for anyone prioritising health and comes as tablets in pre and post-partying recyclable packets.

ON THE SLIDE

Gendered Magazines

“As men’s fashion itself becomes less gendered, so do the pages of GQ,” editor-in-chief Will Welch said when the men’s mag dropped its November issue this year. It was titled “The New Masculinity” and featured a cover shot of the ultimate futurist, Pharrell, in a floor-length, honey-coloured Moncler coat. He recalled his appointment as editor in September 2018, saying that while some said, “Congrats”—a female friend had said, “Yikes” and “Hell of a time to be in charge of a men’s magazine”.

Off the back of the #MeToo movement and the “Shut Up and Listen” era, the boys club has been under fire and with it, the magazines men have turned to for refuge, advice, guidance and, well, all those men’s only things that have been so clearly defined by advertising for so long. Titles like Esquire, and, maybe more notably, Playboy, have begun to lean into culture and social consciousness as their key audience currency.

Playboy has abandoned Hefner and the Playboy Mansion, hired millennial editors (two women and executive editor Shane Singh, who is gay) and embraced a more artistic bent where diversity, sex-positivity and intersectionality are the common thread. And on the flip side (if we’re speaking from an era when gender was thought to be strictly two-sided or binary), women’s titles like Glamour, Cosmopolitan and Bustle also have new editors, and Refinery 29 has been bought by Vice. On the home front (and at the same time GQ dropped its New Masculinity issue), Bauer closed its explicit, softcore titles People and Picture after BP and 7Eleven refused to allow them on service station shelves.

Traditional advertising categories defined primarily by gender no longer seem to have cut through, and magazines made to divide wants, interests and dreams by gender are no longer sustainable. Pitched as a magazine for feminist sex, dating and relationships for women, trans and non-binary people, Salty is one title playing in a much more fluid and accepting media space.

For Welch, the answer wasn’t in some revolutionary shift, nor was it flat out denial of the gender climate. “If we tell stories that excite our own smart, voracious, politically and socially engaged team, we will connect with a smart, engaged, diverse, and gender-nonspecific audience.”

The Reign Of The iPhone

Even on the first day of sales back in 2007, the iPhone has kept an indelible hold on consumers. Since the smartphone’s launch, Apple claims to have sold 1.3 billion iPhones, there are now 19 different models that exist (to date) and phone sales generate around half of Apple’s yearly profit. But these days, a quick squiz of Apple’s share price shows a massive dip heading into 2019.

Sure, there are a few factors that come into play when considering the dive but, at the start of this year, the internet was rife with renders, leaks and then final images of models like the impressively foldable Samsung Galaxy and Google Pixel. And these models did more than just add a little competition in what was seemingly the Apple world (that we were just living in). They shook the system and reminded consumers that there were more innovative and affordable designs to go after when choosing a smartphone.

The world barely felt the door creak when Apple dropped its latest iPhone 11 back in September this year and while sales started ok, they dropped off faster than expected as Apple's status anxiety-heavy clientele were glued to Instagram and YouTube with the announcement that Motorola’s iconic flip phone, the Razr, was due to get a reboot. Videos of the nostalgic design have garnered millions of views, showing a consumer thirst for new designs that break out of the iPhone mould, and those that are tangible and different. The takeaway? We’re entering a new decade, and the world is ready for a new king of tech cool, a product that excites them through the power of design. 

The Quest For Likes

This year, Facebook and Facebook-owned Instagram rolled out a Feed with hidden likes. Now, the volume of hearts or thumbs up is now only visible to account owners, and no longer a badge of the prosperity of your post for all the world to see. Instagram has come out and said the move was centred on user wellness, to remove the pressure of post performance, get users posting more often and to entice “followers to focus on what you share, not how many likes your posts get.”

Influencers—who’ve built a business on sheer volume instead of true engagement, were the first to complain about the switch, saying it was now akin to a performance with no applause. Even so, the age of the influencer hasn't faded.

While Instagram and Facebook might be correct in saying the quest for likes was an empty one, a world without likes isn't a negative experience. The platform shift allows marketers and brands to begin to measure deeper engagement in their community over mindless double taps. It goes a little way to remove the social anxiety so closely linked with platforms like Instagram, and it paves the way for new creatives and content best practices. 

Stay up to date and in the know of all things urban culture right here

Design credit: Issac Smith
Image credit: Getty and supplied

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