I’ve been traveling this week and particularly enjoyed my time in Chicago, a city full of riches for foodies. I’ve been reminded through my observations and encounters how true this post from last week about Millennials is—what they buy and why, the importance of quality and authenticity to their generation, and specifically, how they think about and shop for food. Enjoy!
Today’s Foodie Friday features a guest post by Stephanie Jackson, a content writer and instructional designer for our company, Solutions Consulting, Inc. As a member of the Millennial Generation, Stephanie explores the ways Millennial Foodies are shopping, eating, and celebrating the world of great food.
I’ve been reading a lot about the Millennial Generation and our shopping habits lately. Besides sticking a certain late-90s pop song in my head, reading this research also has given me pause to consider the how and why of our current food trends. Certain articles and research reports describe us Gen-Y folks in mystifying terms—we demand fresh food, but we purchase frozen food. We champion organic, healthy fare, but we want indulgence and specialty treats. We seek out the highest-quality food items, but we want them to be inexpensive. We ask for one thing…and then buy another.
Well then. No wonder there are still some people who consider us to be entitled and contradictory (GYPSYs, if you like). Yet faced with an economy and a job market that don’t give us much room for idealism, we’re making our way toward our own success—buoyed by continuous education, perpetual optimism, and an appreciation of authenticity and quality in every area of life. Sound naïve? Maybe, but we also have the advantage of purchasing power, and retailers are scrambling to market effectively to us by learning about our lifestyles, a fact which means we’re not just being silly—we’re actually changing the consumer landscape.
For this blog, I decided to describe some of the seemingly contradictory information about Millennial shopping trends from the lens of my own experience. I was born in 1986, and with my “Hi, I’m a Millennial” nametag firmly affixed to my thrift-store t-shirt, I write to tell you the top five truths I think you should know about the foodies of my generation:
Which one, you ask? It doesn’t matter. Between Food, Inc., Hungry for Change, Fat, Sick, and Nearly Dead, Forks Over Knives, Vegucated and Supersize Me, the documentarians of our generation have engaged Millennials with a salient message: You have to maintain a healthier diet if you want to live and thrive and sleep well and rescue the planet. The sobering mandate of Captain Planet on our shoulders aside, it’s a compelling thesis. We live in a time that proves daily how complex the relationships between physical health, environmental sustainability, economic variables, and social justice tend to be. We want to know as much as we can about what goes into our food, where it comes from, and how it impacts our bodies and our world.
2. We all secretly want a deep freezer.
No, this isn’t out of fear of a zombie uprising (I promise). I’ve found myself on more than one occasion perusing the online stock of big box stores to scout out the best prices on deep freezers. Why? For one thing, there’s a good chance that one of my friends will kill a deer and have an abundance of venison steaks at their disposal (I do live in the South). But more practically, the idea is that I can cook ahead—a money-saving concept we Millennials view as a panacea for enjoying great food on a budget as tight as our typical apartment square-footage. This policy applies to our interest in canning and pickling things as if we’re pioneer women surviving on the Oregon Trail. Westward, ho! Or at least good vegetables in the dead of winter.
3. We’ve all considered a farming internship.
Ever heard of WWOOF? We have. And chances are, several of your Millennial acquaintances have seriously entertained the idea of spending a year raising bees in Italy or at least a few weeks herding sheep in Chile. The idealism behind the agricultural life stems from that desire for education I mentioned previously–and more broadly, building personal connections with our food by more deeply experiencing the land and animals that supply it.
I have several Millennial friends who have made dramatic lifestyle changes after reading the works of agricultural advocates–from hopeful essayists like Wendell Berry and Barbara Kingsolver to outspoken food philosophers like Joel Salatin and Michael Pollan. Our generation places a high premium on the power of story. Authentic and heartfelt words have real, lasting impact on us. Getting our hands dirty–whether at an overseas goat farm, our backyard garden or chicken coop, or merely in our own kitchen trying to knead homemade bread dough–is how we try to add our own chapter to the bigger narrative.
4. We realize we just contradicted ourselves.
Okay, but today? I’m not farming anything. I have plans to go out tonight, which means I’ll probably oversleep the farmers’ market hours. And I’ll still be hungry. This is where the Millennial hipster throws a wrench in the fixed-gear bike wheel. We love us some convenience. Don’t get me wrong–we want quality, but ideally, we’re looking for both quality and convenience at the same time. This is why, despite living in oh-so-trendy East Nashville, I will often make the traffic-congested drive over to oh-so-wealthy Green Hills to hit up the Promised Land of convenience and quality: Trader Joe’s.
When we’re out running errands, I’ll often run in TJs to pick up California-style sushi for myself and a tasty Cubano wrap for my husband–both healthy, convenient options that cost less than what we’d find on a fast-food value menu. Also, Trader Joe’s and their less-Americanized brother store Aldi are great sources for organic staples like milk, coffee, and produce, as well as meal components like frozen turkey burgers and inexpensive gluten-free pasta, plus affordable luxuries like fancy cheese and specialty chocolate bars. It’s not unusual for us to travel around town to source from different locations, such as getting a few generic or private-label items from Kroger and then buying a rotisserie chicken from a big-box store like Costco. It’s all about finding the best ratio of quality to price. I love the high-quality and eco-friendly Whole Foods Market and my beloved local Turnip Truck, but unfortunately, it can be all too easy to over-spend the grocery budget on specialty and locally-sourced items. (And yes, I have considered a CSA, but I’ve heard gourds are a bit over-represented in the colder months. We’ll see.)
5. We would pay for our food with travelers’ checks if we could.
My Millennial foodie friends and I would probably take a job as a travel/food writer over one with a physician’s salary. Food tourism is an obvious way to feed our curiosity and expand our palates, but until airfare prices drop, most of us look for ethnic food within our own zip codes. I love the local taquerias and Thai restaurants, International and Asian markets, and trying my hand at incorporating unique spices and flavors from other countries when I cook at home. Anytime a supermarket features a foreign or exotic flavor option (and offers samples!), I’m pretty much always interested. Ethnic food is also very share-able, and my Millennial friends and I love to cook and eat big meals and share them potluck-style together as a fun and affordable alternative to eating out. We all get to try new tastes and learn more about the best part of exploring foreign cultures: the food.
Just like visiting a museum, hiking the scenery, or touring the architecture of an exotic locale, at our best we enjoy food as a profound kind of art, and it provides an aesthetic experience that connects us to a culture in a way that no other medium can. And until I can afford to travel to Italy to enjoy their local food, we can at least splurge on a spread of artisanal cheese and $8 wine for a picnic!
And, as usual, we turn our attention to something a little weird (and really awesome):
If you’re looking for a way to know the best dish, etc. from any given menu—yes, there is now an app for that. The HotSauce app gives you the skinny on restaurant offerings such as pictures, Wiki pages, dietary/allergy information for selective eaters among us. Idiosyncratic Millennial foodies rejoice!
Happy Foodie Friday!
Stephanie works as a content writer and instructional designer. She lives in East Nashville with her husband, Josh, and their fluffy Himalayan cat, Erma.