It seems like 2018 only started yesterday. Wasn't it just one minute ago when Taco Bell launched its nacho fries and we were all talking about how maybe the keto diet wasn't so great after all? In fact, these big splashy news stories actually happened in January, and we've almost forgotten about those early-year news stories as people keep eating keto and trying even newer Taco Bell menu items. As we reflect upon the year behind us (including the best things we ate and drank), we can't help but consider just how much the food world has changed throughout the last 12 months and what the most impactful, wacky and intriguing news stories of the year have been.
To determine our 18 biggest news stories of 2018, we looked at which of our articles got our readers engaged through page views and social media feedback. We also considered the food news stories that will have an impact long after 2018 comes to a close and what stories got our staff talking the most throughout the year.
Some of these stories are wacky promotions and product launches. Remember the "new" Diet Coke and IHOP attempting to become a burger restaurant by flipping its name to IHOb? Other stories are far more impactful and serious- Starbucks closed all of its locations for racial bias training after two black men were arrested in a Philadelphia store, and the #metoo movement continued to impact survivors of sexual assault and harassment in the restaurant industry even as disgraced chef Mario Batali attempted to make a comeback. From the spread of plastic straw bans to a nightmare-inducing cheeseburger, these were the news stories that made a huge splash in 2018.
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The Keto Diet Is Everywhere, Despite Concern From Experts
Advocates of the keto diet may claim that going into ketosis - a physical state in which the body is flooded with ketones after being deprived of carbohydrates - turns the body into a "fat burning machine." Experts, however, are less convinced; one panel ranked it the worst diet one could possibly follow in January. They claimed that it's hard to follow, has a high fat intake and could have unknown long-term side effects. Despite this, the keto diet and keto-friendly recipes were everywhere in 2018, and this fad diet shows no signs of slowing down.
Diet Coke Gets Slimmer Cans and 4 New Flavors
Diet Coke has looked more or less the same for a long time, but in January the calorie-free soda got a brand-new look. In an effort to appeal to the oh-so-coveted millennial demographic, Coca-Cola introduced new, slim cans with a colorful vertical stripe. Ooh la la! The "High Line" cans, as they're called, also house four new flavors: Ginger Lime, Feisty Cherry, Zesty Blood Orange and Twisted Mango. When we tried the new Diet Cokes, our reactions were mixed.
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Taco Bell Launches Nacho Fries, and They're an Immediate Success
Doritos Loco Taco who? In January, Taco Bell added a classic fast food item to their menus nationwide, with a little twist. Nacho fries, seasoned with Mexican spices and served with a side of warm liquid cheese sauce, were a smash hit. By March, Taco Bell had sold over 53 million orders of the $1 item. The product launch was the chain's most successful in history and the demand caused them to run out of Nacho Fries. Luckily, they reappeared on the menu in July.
Mario Batali Considers a Return to the Culinary World, Twitter Rages
The #metoo movement was one of the biggest food news stories of 2017, as women in the restaurant industry came out with horrifying stories of harassment and sexual assault. Mario Batali, who had numerous accusations against him, subsequently lost his job on "The Chew," had his products pulled from store shelves (including at Eataly, which he co-owns) and stepped away from his restaurant business, Batali & Bastianich Hospitality Group. But just four months later, The New York Times reported he was eyeing a comeback, reportedly by doing charity work in Rwanda. The Internet was less than thrilled by the news, criticizing the legendary newspaper for giving a reported serial sexual harasser a positive platform.
Salmonella Leads to 200 Million Eggs Being Recalled
One of the many major food recalls of 2018, eggs made by Rose Acre Farms of Seymour, Indiana, were pulled from store shelves in nine states after 22 people fell ill. The egg recall was wide-reaching, affecting at least five different egg brand names and major retailers and restaurants, such as Walmart, Food Lion and Waffle House.
The Impossible Burger Goes Nationwide, Thanks to White Castle
Who needs ground beef when you have a plant-based substitute, right? The Impossible Burger, a "bleeding" meat-free protein made of wheat protein, coconut oil, potato protein and heme (a protein that is essential to making something taste and have the texture of meat) launched at White Castle in April. While it first started only in New York, New Jersey and Illinois, it then spread nationwide in September. Disney and other major food providers are also using this new protein, so vegetarians are lucky to have this option. And when we tried it, it wasn't half-bad!
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Starbucks Closes 8,000 Stores for 'Racial Bias Training'
While Starbucks would want you to remember it for its many seasonal lattes and holiday cups in 2018, the biggest news from this coffee chain in 2018 was less than positive. Two black men were arrested at a Philadelphia Starbucks while they were waiting for a business associate. Why? They hadn't ordered anything yet and were "trespassing." The chain was very quickly targeted by protesters and a #boycottStarbucks hashtag because of the racial discrimination. In response, Starbucks changed its bathroom policy to allow even non-customers to be in the store, issued an official apology and eventually closed 8,000 of its shops for "racial bias training."
IHOP Changes Name to 'IHOb'
In perhaps the most baffling publicity stunt of the year, IHOP changed its name to IHOb. Yes, it flipped a letter. The change was instantly mocked by Twitter (and the Internet as a whole), especially once it was revealed IHOb stood for "International House of Burgers." The move to try and promote IHOP's burgers didn't really land. Fortunately for pancake lovers, IHOP announced the whole thing was just one big publicity stunt, and they went back to their original name after just one month.
Bye Bye, Plastic Straws
It seems like every time you checked the news this spring and summer, another major company or city was banning plastic straws. Seattle became the first major city in the U.S. to ban single-use plastic straws, and other cities like New York and San Francisco considered following suit. Starbucks made a splash by announcing it was banning plastic straws at all of its locations worldwide by 2020, and other companies like Disney followed suit. Even McDonald's is reportedly planning to test plastic straw alternatives in America. All of these brands cite environmental concerns.
Anthony Bourdain Dies
Chef and TV personality Anthony Bourdain tragically died by suicide at the age of 61 in a Paris hotel room, leaving a huge hole in the culinary world and in the hearts of his many fans. In the days and weeks following his death, numerous tributes to the "Parts Unknown" host were erected by fans, from memories posted by his peers online to memorials at Les Halles, the restaurant that inspired his breakout book "Kitchen Confidential." Bourdain's legacy will live on through reruns of his TV shows, his many books and a biography to be released in 2019. All the tributes just prove how influential Anthony Bourdain was on the food world.
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United Airlines Removes Stroopwafels From the Menu, Passengers Revolt
In-flight dining is rarely gourmet, but there are some fan-favorite menu items in the sky, including United Airlines' stroopwafel. As fun to say as it is to eat, this Dutch cookie features two thin wafers and gooey caramel in the center that becomes perfectly soft when placed over warm coffee or tea. People love their stroopwafels, which is why when United Airlines introduced a new cookie to their breakfast service in June, passengers were incensed. And as always, they complained on Twitter. Luckily, the stroopwafel will be back in 2019.
Lay's Launches 8 New Potato Chip Flavors
Lay's is known for its limited-edition potato chip flavors and Do Us a Flavor contest. In July, the brand reimagined the concept by dropping eight new flavors at once. The catch? You couldn't get all of the flavors unless you traveled across the country. Yes, the flavors were only available regionally: Cajun spice (Central Gulf), chile con queso (Texas, Oklahoma, Mountain states, Southern California), Chesapeake Bay crab spice (Mid-Atlantic), Giordano's deep-dish pizza (Heartland and Mid-America), fried pickles with ranch (Midwest), New England lobster roll(Northeast), pimento cheese (Southeast), and Thai sweet chili (Pacific Northwest).
The Big Mac Turns 50
It's hard to believe life existed before McDonald's legendary Big Mac sandwich, but the iconic burger celebrated its 50th birthday this year. To celebrate, McDonald's released a series of special gold coins, which could be redeemed for one free Big Mac. That is, if you were willing to part with this collectable item.
This Man's Tipping Method Goes Viral for How Rude It Is
It's a tale as old as time: A diner places several dollar bills on the table for the server to see and takes $1 away every time the server "messes up." At the end of the dinner, however much is left is their tip. What we thought was an urban legend turned out to be one rude diner's actual tipping method, and his Facebook post went viral in all the wrong ways. Former servers came out swinging against this disrespectful behavior, which they felt was degrading to hard-working men and women everywhere. While this viral tipping method is one of the rudest things you can do at a restaurant, the "Tip the Bill" challenge, which asks diners to tip 100 percent, shows there is still some good in the world.
Olive Garden Launches Annual Pasta Pass, and It Sells Out Instantly
Olive Garden has been selling its Pasta Pass, which allows diners to get unlimited amounts of its Never Ending Pasta Bowls for eight weeks, for five years. To celebrate this landmark anniversary, the Italian chain restaurant sold its first-ever annual pasta pass. For just $300, pasta freaks could get unlimited noodles and sauce for an entire year. As always, Olive Garden's annual and normal Pasta Passes sold out in less than one second. But just a few weeks after the passes sold out, OG introduced a mysterious countdown clock and launched a scavenger hunt that enabled the winners to score their own Pasta Pass.
Burger King's New Sandwich Causes Night Terrors
In case fast food wasn't scary enough for you, Burger King chose to kick things up a notch this Halloween by launching the Nightmare King burger. Reportedly, the combination of a beef patty, a crispy chicken fillet, American cheese, bacon, mayonnaise and onions caused people to be 3.5 times more likely to have vivid dreams. The scariest part of this burger isn't the three meats, it's the dark green burger bun. Spooky!
Chef José Andrés Is Nominated for the 2019 Nobel Peace Prize
Chef José Andrés helped to feed those in need after Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico, and his humanitarian efforts led to a nomination for the 2019 Nobel Peace Prize. It looks like being named one of Time's 100 most influential people won't be his biggest honor anymore. It was a big year for chefs lending a helping hand to those in need - Guy Fieri and others also helped to feed first responders after devastating fires ravaged California over the summer.
Romaine Lettuce Causes 3 Different E. Coli Outbreaks
2018 was not romaine lettuce's year. There were not one, not two, but three E. coli outbreaks connected to this favorite green in the last 12 months. The first was from an outbreak that began in December 2017, resulting in 25 illnesses. The second E. coli outbreak occurred in April, and was linked to lettuce from the Yuma region of Arizona, but not before causing 210 illnesses, 96 hospitalizations and five deaths. And just when you thought it was safe to eat Caesar salads again, a third E. coli outbreak linked to romaine lettuce occurred in November. As of this writing, that outbreak is ongoing but has been linked specifically to romaine from California. Romaine was far and away one of the biggest food recalls of 2018.