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FOOD – Generation X: the lost food generation

By SYLVAIN CHARLEBOIS
Senior Fellow
AIMS

GENERATION Xers don’t cook. They never acquired the skills. Most of this group (born between 1965 and 1976) grew up when food was essentially an afterthought.

Sylvain Charlebois.

Different generations have different relationships with food and cooking. Recent studies show that baby boomers (born between 1946 and 1964) have time to cook and most do. Millennials (born between 1977 and 1995) not only want to, but can and do cook – although they also go out to eat a lot. Members of generation Z (born after 1995) believe they don’t have enough time to cook.

Social factors affect how each generation perceives food and food systems.

Boomers were generally exposed to some food education, with women playing a larger role. Recipes were passed onto the next generation with pride. Life was often about connecting through food.

Millennials connected through social media. But since food has been such a focus since the late 1990s (including in social media), it’s impossible to find a millennial without an opinion on some food issue. Sustainability, animal welfare, fair trade, organics – millennials have added layers of altruism to food that have compelled the industry to think differently about the marketplace. After all, millennials now outnumber boomers, according to Statistics Canada.

Generation Z is benefiting from the foodie phenomenon, the hype around cooking and the celebration of culinary heritages. So they’re eating out more often than any other generation.

Generation Xers grew up in an era when food was functional and boring. As a result, many don’t cook and have little interest in the culinary culture

These attitudinal differences influence the tug-of-war between the food service and food retail sectors. The line is definitely becoming blurred between these two dimensions of the food system. As more restaurants offer meal kits and online delivery service, grocery stores offer more ready-to-go meals. By 2035, Canadians could spend more on food from the food service industry than from grocery stores, largely thanks to millennials and generation Zers.

Generation Xers haven’t really been exposed to the same experiences, so their influence on the food industry has been limited. They mostly experienced a couple of decades of nothingness, food-wise. In the 1980s and ’90s, most household were economizing. And food stores, except some in Quebec and British Columbia, offered uninteresting, limited selection. There were few cooking shows on TV. School home economics courses were stripped from most curriculum. Kids memorized the food guide without any real meaning behind it, while contentedly drinking their subsidized milk.

Food was anything but an experience – it was just a learning outcome, like mathematics, English or physics.

Things have completely changed. There are more cooking shows than ever. Stores are labyrinths of stimulating flavours, vibrant colours and aromas, hooking you to foods you want to eat on the spot. And if cooking isn’t part of school activities, many community groups desperately try to build awareness around good eating.

Essentially, during the 1980s and much of the ’90s, food was merely a function of people’s lives. Multiculturalism was already a reality but it never really affected dinner tables until Canadians started to travel – and travelling became more affordable at the end of the 1990s. But by then, gen Xers were already set in their ways.

The Internet wasn’t around when gen Xers were growing up to give them a forum to advocate for and influence food systems.

Gen Xers are essentially the lost food generation. While most generations were shaping their food destiny, this group just took what was available without discriminating.

There’s hope, though. Some data shows that gen Xers are becoming weekend cooks. Almost 55 per cent of them cook on weekends, more than any other generation. As a result of professional and personal pressures, they’re turning to cooking for peace, tranquility and enjoyment.

Still, Gen Xers are doing all right. Music from the 1980s and ’90s remains popular. Perhaps a music culture helps compensate for those lost decades of food culture.

Sylvain Charlebois is dean of the Faculty of Management and a professor in the Faculty of Agriculture at Dalhousie University in Halifax, and author of Food Safety, Risk Intelligence and Benchmarking, published by Wiley-Blackwell (2017).

© 2017 Distributed by Troy Media

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About Mel Rothenburger (4923 Articles)
ArmchairMayor.ca is a forum about Kamloops and the world. It has more than one million views. Mel Rothenburger is the former Editor of The Daily News in Kamloops, B.C. (retiring in 2012), and past mayor of Kamloops (1999-2005). At ArmchairMayor.ca he is the publisher, editor, news editor, city editor, reporter, webmaster, and just about anything else you can think of. He is grateful for the contributions of several local columnists. This blog doesn't require a subscription but gratefully accepts donations to help defray costs.

1 Comment on FOOD – Generation X: the lost food generation

  1. That’s a pretty serious over-generalization there, and inherently incorrect.

    As a GenX’r, I grew up during the time when International cuisine spread at an increasing rate, and our appreciation of food norms in far away places slowly became standard fare in both the restaurants that opened, but also in the ingredients available at the grocery store.

    Italian restaurants and the ability to make pasta at home became the norm. Japanese and other asian cuisines proliferated, sushi and Thai became commonplace. We first became aware of Jamaican, middle eastern, and Mexican food moved on from the crispy taco. Even east European ingredients became staples at the store.

    In my 20’s our friend group would get together for dinner nights, where we shared and experimented with our burgeoning knowledge of new far away foods and tastes. At first we replicated the recipes, eventually becoming experimental in combining extreme cuisines into new flavours and presentations. We laid the groundwork for the generation to come who put sushi on a hotdog bun on the street corner; fusion (although not yet named) was the future, of what our generation founded. We increased the ingredient list, we brought the cultures behind those cuisines to the magazines we read. We created the market for the wok, the bamboo sushi roller, the tagine, the tortilla press.

    We cooked, we began to disregard unhealthy cooking norms, we began the cultural move away from wonder bread and towards whole grains. Salads became larger and main course, interesting and tasty soups became the norm. Perogies, butter chicken, souvlaki, falafel and hummus were in our fridge, and we learned how to make them.

    Its true that travel was not inexpensive or commonplace, and we did not have the internet for research. What we did have was refugees and immigrants from all these cultures move into Canadian cities and open restaurants and demand ingredients at the stores. It is also true that there was a large segment of the cooking population that initially rejected these influences and maintain their historic norms of shepherds pie, roast, pork chop and burgers, eventually it was our generation that began to disregard our parents pantry.

    Today you can walk down mainstreet Kamloops and find cuisines and ingredients from every corner of the world, and its thanks to GenX for putting it there.

    Think of that the next time your in Superstore.

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