WHY MILLENNIALS HAVE THE RIGHT IDEAS ABOUT FOOD
There’s been a lot of discussion about Millennials’ eating choices, which just may be prophetic. The U.S. began its culinary expansion in the 1970s by exploring different cuisines, mainly Asian, and authenticating familiar ones like Italian and Mexican. Since then each generation has left its mark on the country’s Culinary Growth Chart, but the largest will probably be the Millennials’ because it may well point to the way we will eat in the future, both nutritionally and of necessity.
Rarely are so many older generations so united in opinion as they are over Millennials eating habits. Mentioning the subject to a Baby Boomer graduate school professor and a Gen-X corporate executive elicited the identical response. Even though both women will pick chicken or seafood over red meat, both snack on granola trail mix and carry energy bars in case they work through meals, very 21st century options, both considered the Millennials’ food choices ‘weird’.
The Boomer described bags of odd looking snack mix and the Gen-Xer mentioned brown bagged containers of ‘grey goop’. The former was mostly a mix of seaweed, herbs, dried fruits and nuts and the latter was cooked grain with herbs and seeds, akin to the Quaker Overnight Oats recipes. Of course there were no additions of artificial ingredients to make these foods more appealing cosmetically, but that’s part of the Millennials creed.
To understand the Millennials direction in food choices, one must remember where they come from. These are people to whom war, terrorism, global warming and climate change are not worrying possibilities, but realities of life. They understand the need for conservation and maintaining sustainable food sources because we’ve over harvested and polluted so many of our natural ones. Also that we now experience increasingly frequent, severe weather events which affect those sources we rely on, creating the need to explore alternative ones as well. They know that poultry carries Salmonella, that chemical waste in rivers reaching the sea creates toxins in the food chain and that only beef fed on grass, not the corn we now feed them, eliminates the E-coli they naturally produce.
The Millennials have grown up hearing discussions about the dangers of GMOs, chemical additives, preservatives and artificial ingredients. T hey’ve been taught since birth that sodium and saturated fat are dirty words, processed foods are bad for you and sweeteners, even natural ones are to be avoided. It’s a safe bet 90% of them grew up in families with members trying different ‘fashionable ‘diets, South Beach, Atkins and more recently Paleo. Probably an equally large percent have a friend or relative who’s become a vegetarian or vegan. Their childhood mantra was that natural foods keep you healthy.
All these negative aspects should be a real food turn-off, but remember the movement in the 1970s to explore different cuisines? It’s had 50 years to gain momentum. Trying new tastes and discovering new ingredients is considered adventurous and fun. In fact, several new cuisines have been developed along the way. There’s the Pacific Rim, which led to the Fusion category which is still expanding. Gourmet is an everyday word. Chefs are stars and food presentation has become an art form. Traveling includes ’eating destinations’ and it isn’t unusual to find a world class chef operating a restaurant in a small town.
This sense of adventure seems to have prevailed because, all things considered, despite the negative aspects, the Millennials are true ’foodies’, really into food, but on their own, quite sensible, terms. They are aware of the three basic groups, protein, carbohydrates and fiber, the function and necessity of each and include them in their diet. They still adhere to the 3-on-a-plate nutritional guideline but their choices, types, proportions and preparations are different.
One change is that they avoid the big commodity crops, wheat, corn, soy and, generally, all GMOs. They also avoid pre-package and/or prepared or processed foods preferring to cook ‘from scratch.’ They opt for fresh ingredients of top quality and they‘re willing to pay more for less to have it. For example, they will seek out a specialty butcher to get grass fed beef, and settle for smaller portions, cooking it rare and slicing it thin or with interesting flavorings to get the maximum taste experience. The meat ‘birds’ I discussed in last week’s post are good examples of this approach.
Vegetables are the same story. Fresh is a must, preferably heirloom and/or organic varieties. Sources of choice are farm markets, boutique produce shops and health food stores with produce sections. Here again presentation, and preparation, including amount, is changed. Traditionally steamed or boiled veggies, are now blanched, braised, sautéed, or roasted, mixed with herbs or other flavorings and served in lesser quantities. Starchy ones formerly baked alone or with other ingredients are often replaced by grains, which add carbohydrate value, but are higher in fiber count and nutritional value.
A real change is that leafy greens and other vegetables which can be served raw or blanched are not chopped in chunks as before but thinly sliced and presented in layers or lightly tossed. Condiment vegetables, like radishes, scallions and olives aren’t served on the side, but sliced and included for taste. Cheese, chopped nuts and seeds which are added for protein value and texture contrast, together with grains make the combination complete and satisfying and, in fact, with the addition of meat, a whole meal.
Grains play a major role in this culinary scenario. They can be cooked and served, as they have been for centuries, with flavor additives to form a snack or bedding, but more often now, cooked, cooled, dried, and separated or toasted and incorporated into the vegetable presentation. They’re are not just for breakfast anymore and even that way of enjoying them has changed as shown by a visit to QUAKEROVERNIGHTOATS.COM. The same is true of nuts and seeds. They too are toasted to enhance flavor when added to other ingredients rather than regarded as a separate item.
Dishes accompanying the meal are treated as extensions of the entrée rather than separate courses. The emphasis, as always, is on fresh food freshly made, especially with desserts. Gone are the elaborate displays and heavy sauces. There is no less taste indulgence, but the triple chocolate pudding may be avocado based rather than custard. Older recipes like shortbreads, crisps, even pandowdies, which showcase fruits in a ‘straight from the oven’ way are making a comeback.
The presentation is casual and the preparation often communal. People join interests, artisanal breads, cheeses and beverages, herbs, spices and cooking methods to make a meal a social event. The past few years have also spawned a lot of talented, creative chefs who are opening small, local restaurants. In either case, the atmosphere is casual and the food appears to be casually done as well, but it isn’t.
Sophistication comes from carefully calculated contrasts of texture and infusions of flavor by introducing unexpected, innovative ingredients. There is an eagerness to try new tastes, discover new ingredients, herbs, plants, and explore new flavor combinations. In desserts alone there are fused herbs in ice cream, spices in mellow dishes such as fruit desserts, and salt sprinkled on sweets. All flavorings are authentic, nothing is imitation. The resulting impression is, correctly, of fresh foods, prepared in straightforward ways allowing the true taste of each item to shine through and be appreciated.
This is where Millennials are different from their elders. A good proportion of them are, are becoming or interested in becoming, knowledgeable about food and how the various cuisines use it. When baking a cake, they don’t pick up a package and read the mixing directions; they get a recipe and buy the ingredients. They don’t subscribe to ‘diets.’ They simply want to eat healthy meals of natural foods cleanly, but flavorfully prepared.
Millennials may not be the easiest generation to understand but I’m convinced their attitude toward food, from provisioning to plating is the best one for us to follow to ensure a healthy future for several reasons.
- We can’t continue to ingest the amounts of sodium, refined products, chemicals and other preservatives we’ve been eating and not have it affect our health.
- We have depleted our natural resources to the point real conservation is needed to sustain them. Finding ways to still enjoy them while consuming less is sensible.
- Prices are going to continue to rise. Once again, finding ways to be able to enjoy expensive items by consuming less of them is the answer. This is especially true of meats. Butchering has changed. In beef, cheaper cuts, flank and brisket are now ground, while chuck and round are sold as roasts and in pork, bacon has come a long way!
- For years nutritionists have been advising less protein, more fiber and concentration on complex carbohydrate with simple carbs provided mainly from fruit. This is the perfect food philosophy for that diet and a way to control weight easily.
- Adding more fiber to our diet while boosting our protein intake with nuts, seeds, grains and cheese is the ideal solution to a healthier diet and a more sustainable eating plan for the future.
I’ve combined 6 of my short books on separate food categories into 1 reference book titled FOOD FACTS FOR MILLENNIALS. It contains complete information on:
- The different cuts, the uses, cooking methods and times for Lamb, Veal, Beef, Pork (including Ham)
- How to choose, use and carve all types of poultry, Turkey, Chicken, Pheasant, Goose, Game Hens, Squab and Duck with recipes
- The difference between simple and complex carbohydrates and when to choose each
- A description of the basic baking ingredients and of all the alternatives available, even some exotics
- The different types of seafood, Finfish, Shellfish, Crustations, how to select them, clean and store them and serve them
A complete definition of sauces and gravies, the difference, the ways to make them, ’save’ them and their uses. A description of each of the Classic Mother Sauces and their offspring down to the third generation as well as directions for quick pan sauces
Find the complete volume, as well as the separate books contained in it on the site Bookshelf, or on Amazon or our Etsy store.