In recent years there has been a push to increase awareness in where our food comes from. Documentaries like Food, Inc. shed light on little known practices in the food industry that make some consumers question their choices. With so much focus on food, it’s not surprising there’s been a significant increase in variety at grocery stores and restaurants.

If you’re a foodie the influx of ingredients, food products and menu selections is a welcome sight. Now, finding exactly what you need to make specialties like gluten-free lime meringue muffins isn’t an impossible task. But what exactly is responsible for this food revolution? While many things contribute to food trends, three factors are primarily at play.

Specialized Diets

The USDA still promotes a simple diet that balances whole grains, lean protein, vegetables, and fruit. But that’s far from the only diet being eaten today. Right now we’re living in an era of the specialized diet. From Paleo to Mediterranean to vegan, it seems like everyone works their food around specific nutritional needs.

Gluten-free diets have also become much more common. Not long ago few people even knew what gluten was. Now, many consumers want to know where to buy xanthan gum and other essential ingredients for gluten-free recipes.

Dietary trends come and go, but one thing that’s become a certainty is custom diets are here to stay. The more elaborate and restrictive they are, the more likely you are to see exotic foods at your local grocery store.

Concern Over Toxins and Additives

Say three little letters and it’s enough to make some people shudder – G, M, O. Genetically modified organisms are now used to engineer some plant and animal-based foods, and it’s understandably freaking people out. GMOs are used to speed up the growth process, increase freshness and boost resistance to insects and weeds, but it’s far from a natural process. Even though roughly 80% of processed foods contain GMOs little is still known about the long-term effects, and there’s evidence GMOs could decrease the nutritional value of food.

Not to mention other unwanted ingredients like growth hormones and the pesticide toxins that can also affect food. Bovine growth hormone (bGH), also known as bovine somatotropin (bST), has been controversial since it began being used in 1993. Although scientists are unsure what exactly is causing development changes in children, many people are now speculating that growth hormones in dairy and meat products could contribute to the increase in childhood obesity and early onset of puberty.

While the reasons are still unknown, many parents are choosing to play it safe and avoid GMOs, growth hormones and non-organic foods. This means the majority of processed foods you typically find at grocery stores and restaurants are typically off the menu. The increasing demand for healthier alternatives is helping to drive the change in food availability.

How-To Videos and Social Media

As with many things in life, the Internet has greatly expanded our understanding of food and exposed people to dishes they wouldn’t normally see. Millions of recipes are readily accessible with a quick Google search. There are thousands of step-by-step videos that show people how to prepare dishes they’ve never made before. Instruction used to be a hang-up, but now it’s a non-issue.

Social media is now another resource for foodies to find new flavors and fare. For some posting pictures of their cooking process or plates with the finished product have become a regular practice. On Facebook, Instagram and Pinterest users are posting, liking and pinning foods that are then shared with friends.

Given the social influence food has on culture and identity, this trend makes a lot of sense. Family meals, dinner dates, work lunches – humans make many connections over food and it’s a natural way to build relationships. After all, everyone needs to eat to survive.

Globalization, population diversification in big cities and Internet access are all exposing people to foods found far outside their local region. Add that to our culture of customization and you have a country of people with very specific tastes that are always changing. Fortunately, we now have more ways to find foods for our unique diet.