You were born sometime between 1980 and 2000, owned a Tamagotchi, played Pokemon (still do) and you mastered the Macarena at school discos. You went through an emo phase, spent most of your waking hours on MSN and occasionally did an all-nighter in a park. You’re a millenial and there are 14 million others like you in the UK alone. You’ve also probably been out to eat with friends at least once in the past week, have a camera roll with a food to friends photo ratio of 2:1 and you know who has won Bake Off every year since 2010.
Our obsession with food is endemic; it’s increasingly widespread, it’s fierce and most of all it’s sincere. Seen as something way more than the fuel that keeps us alive, food is the environment, politics, health and culture all wrapped into one, the same things that grace our newspapers each day and form the basis of human conversation. And for a generation so diverse and prejudiced with a simultaneous ability to exert free speech, it comes as no surprise that we’re the driving force behind the strongest devotion of the 21st century. Despite being slammed by an economic downturn, face-to-face with the most competitive job market to date and with the unlikely ability to afford a mortgage before mid-30s, millenials still spend 14 times more money on food than the average middle class family and 42% of us eat at a fine dining restaurant at least once a month, twice the rate of our parents, the Baby Boomers, and more than any other age group.
So as the net worth of the under-35s plummets and the wealth gap widens, millenials are subconsciously creating a sharing economy. We share our houses, we share our taxi journeys, we share our clothes and now we even share our food (well, sometimes). This sharing culture has embedded itself in society, helped by the development of leading apps such as Airbnb and Uber, and whilst with rent prices and travel it saves us money, we choose to spend any leftover cash we have on food and other unique experiences, valuing this over the desire to save or invest in material commodities and rocking the economy in doing so.
At the same time as complementing our new sharing economy, communal eating has become even more popular in a time when we crave a level of intimacy that is absent in our new tech-infused world. Facebook has over 1billion users, we each spend over 14 hours a week staring at our phone screens and 58% of us admit we can’t go an hour without checking our phones (a Bank of America Trends report in 2014 even found that our generation consider our smartphones more important than deodorant or toothpaste – in summary, we’re gross). In this time of heightened virtual connectivity, we haven’t felt more disconnected. As we sit behind our desks for 8 hours a day, 5 days a week, 48 weeks a year (at least), our lives are beginning to lack any sensory stimulation and were finding remedy in food. We sit around large tables, order sharing plates in their double figures and partake in an intimate eating experience otherwise known as therapy to our busy cybernetic worlds.
But looking beyond our relationship with food and the void it appears to fill, food also brings with it a new marker of identity in the same way music did with the Baby Boomers. Whilst food items gain supplementary labels such as ‘Fair Trade’, ‘Local’ or ‘100% Organic’, by being consumers we transfer this label from our food packaging to ourselves. Foodism offers up the same sociological characteristics as culture, requiring knowledge and connoisseurship and acting as a vehicle of status and aspiration. It’s a new form of social currency and by adding an element of competition with the likes of Masterchef and GBBO, it now edges on the side of egotistical, appealing to both men and women alike. Furthermore, tapping back into this idea of a virtual world we live in (quite literally), we can now share this food wealth online and the moment the decision in what you eat is posted on social media, it becomes more than just a choice but rather an insightful part of your identity, illustrating to your 800-odd “friends” your personal brand and your fortune.
The other reason why we’ve found ourselves infatuated with all things food is its compelling characteristic as a subject matter we can strive to understand in its entirety. We lose this ability to fully learn and understand the ins and outs of topics such as technology, politics and war and as everything in our lives gets more complicated, understanding the food on our plate and how it got there is a fairly effortless way of us comprehending and further still, controlling a huge facet of our lives. Generation Y has one of the highest levels of anxiety and depression, provoked by the immediacy of things that require our attention on a daily basis, the pressure from our careers and underlying financial status’ as well as the obligation we feel to manage both our inner and online selves. Being able to make choices about what we eat, where we eat, who we eat with and for some how often we do, is a millenials quest in finding serenity through control.
And this ability to understand food has led us to focus our attention on it, something which mustn’t be undervalued as the potential catalyst behind some of the significant movements we need to make towards sustainability and malnutrition. As a generation we’re surprisingly well equipped to change the world if we want to; we’re determined, we’re well educated and social media gives us a louder voice than ever before. So far we’ve been able to change the book industry with blogging, the music industry with Spotify, transport with Uber, hospitality with Airbnb and now we’re even searching for potential partners through an app on our phone. With a microscope over the food industry and a desire to make a difference, it’s only a matter of time before the food industry is next, if it hasn’t already made tracks in the right direction.
Ultimately, a millenial’s obsession with food is present, but it’s far from unhealthy. We might be obsessed and we might be leaving our savings accounts to gather dust while we spend our money on calamari and cosmos but it’s a shift that makes perfect sense. Whilst the wealth gap widens and a sharing economy forms, and whilst technology takes over and ironically leaves us more disconnected from reality, we choose to switch off, take ourselves across the city to a locally-sourced tapas bar with friends and find solace in the 21st century, choosing only to switch our iPhones back on when the lighting is good, camera is ready, cocktails are wacky and the pudding self-saucing.
Thank you to Eve Turow Paul and the fantastic A Taste of Generation Yum.
Pictures are not my own.