In 2012, Time published an article that conjectured that despite small earnings compared to their senior age groups, millennials eat out more than any other generation.
In my own life, I have seen this ring true — walking through Mario Batali’s Eataly, or consuming the grilled corn in a creamy Sriracha sauce at the Little Owl has become a borderline spiritual experience. I’m not sure why, and you could blame the shift on an influx in supply: eating out, even while in, has never been easier due to phone apps that facilitate food whenever (and wherever) you want it. But supply is often an outcome of demand, so what is it about our generation that has turned even the least interested parties into veritable foodies?
In an interview with Adam Platt of New York Magazine, culinary culture writer Michael Pollan observes, “We spend our time in front of screens. We don’t exercise our other senses very much. And food is this complete sensory experience. It engages all five senses.” Given that we’re the first generation on record to spend such exhaustive time in front of our screens, could it be that we’re turning to food to feel something because we’re feeling less? Further and fewer between are becoming in-person interactions at work, or the mall, or even coffee with our friends. As technology evolves and we cry, “Solitude!” our experiences are becoming increasingly singular.
So could it be that we’re the “foodiest” because we’re also the loneliest?
In “A Taste of Generation Yum: How the Millennial Generation’s Love for Organic Fare, Celebrity Chefs and Microbrews Will Make or Break the Future of Food,” author Eve Turow Paul points out that for millennials, food is a form of anti-technology. “[Millennials] want to get out of their computer-induced comas and find home, or at least, interact with other humans. They want to see people, hug people, and break bread. They want something concrete to engage with after a day of participating in a virtual reality.”
Turow and Pollan are right; at the end of a long week, one largely spent interacting with machines, what I look forward to revolves around the social ritual of food. I have attached what seem like inextricable positive associations to it. A well-dressed dish provides stimulation, coupled with the false positives inferred by a glass of wine. And sharing a meal out with a friend? Is there an experience more tender? You’re surrounded by strangers with whom immediately, you hold common ground, all out in the shared pursuit of an impassioned sizzle of olive oil. Think about a traipse around the bustling Union Square Farmers’ Market on a Saturday morning; watching, hearing and smelling dough rise in an oven — these happenings provide the kind of sensory engagement that Ernest Hemingway once wrote in A Moveable Feast:
“As I ate the oysters with their strong taste of the sea and their faint metallic taste that the cold white wine washed away, leaving only the sea taste and the succulent texture, and as I drank their cold liquid from each shell and washed it down with the crisp taste of the wine, I lost the empty feeling and began to be happy and to make plans.”
But Hemingway wasn’t a millennial, so how do we reconcile that? The reality is this: food has always connected us. We’re bread breakers by nature, but never have we run the risk of watching technology supersede the human experience. Now, our engagement with food is no longer a luxury — it’s a necessity. That could mean a shared ramen bowl in a University’s cafeteria. A stack of fries from McDonalds, late night in the middle of nowhere or a very fancy, somewhat unaffordable meal because it’s cheaper than shoes but still makes you feel good.
The silver lining here for me is this: screens, for all the good they bring to our lives, still can’t match the power of emotional connection. We need it — and each other — to survive. We can’t become a society of robots, the proof is literally in the pudding and that’s somewhat comforting to think.
Something to mull over on your next soup dumpling tour through Chinatown.
Photographed by Krista Anna Lewis at The Smile.