In what’s sure to be a smash hit with mustachioed hipsters and people who list “foodie” as one of their personality traits, San Francisco is hosting the nation’s—and possibly the world’s—first-ever activated charcoal food festival this Sunday. (Yayyy.)
On July 22, food trucks and pop-up vendors will flood SoMa StrEat Food Park to hawk their charcoal-colored (but probably still delicious) foods and cocktails to hungry trend-pilgrims and Bay Area natives alike. Because, who doesn’t love a good “house-made charcoal sangria?”
For those who aren’t familiar with this tongue-staining trend, activated charcoal became wildly popular when people started marketing the stuff—which was originally used as a poison control medicine—as a sort of ‘body detoxifier.’ It’s purported to help with hangovers, cholesterol, weight loss, and a bunch of other vague maladies. As an added bonus, it turns food and drinks pitch-black, which (as we’d like to reaffirm) stopped looking cool after the first 100 times we saw it on Instagram.
Unfortunately for charcoal-lovers, most of these supposed health benefits (aside from being an effective remedy for flushing out certain poisons in hospital settings) have been met with widespread skepticism from the scientific community. According to the all-knowing and often anxiety-inducing WebMD, though, “there isn't really any evidence” that activated charcoal helps with removing the icepick from in between your eyes after a long night out. In fact, the site lists some nasty possible side effects from consuming charcoal by mouth, such as black stools, black tongue, vomiting andor diarrhea, and constipation.
Tim Caulfield, research director of the Health Law Institute at the University of Alberta and author of Is Gwyneth Paltrow Wrong About Everything?, isn’t here for the activated charcoal fad either. "Charcoal is used in the medical setting for very specific purposes, such as when an individual has been poisoned,” he told MUNCHIES a few years back. “But there is no evidence that we need to be consuming this regularly."
So if you can’t already tell, I’m just not sold on this one, San Francisco. There’s a reason that New York City banned activated charcoal in restaurants and bars. And don’t be fooled: It’s not because of all that FDA stuff. (Although that probably had something to do with it.)
But rather, it’s because deep down, everyone knows that coal isn’t meant to be in our cocktails—it’s meant to fill the stocking of whoever came up with this festival.