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HALIFAX, N.S. /Troy Media/ â€“Â Generation Xers donâ€™t cook. They never acquired the skills. Most of this groupÂ (born between 1965 and 1976) grew up whenÂ food was essentially an afterthought.
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 â€“ although they also go out to eat a lot. Members of generation Z (born after 1995) believe they donâ€™t have enough time to cook.
Social factors affect how eachÂ 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), itâ€™s impossible to find a millennial without an opinion on some food issue. Sustainability, animal welfare, fair trade, organicsÂ â€“ millennials have added layers of altruism to food that haveÂ 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 theyâ€™re eating out more often than any other generation.
These attitudinal differences influenceÂ the tug-of-war between the food service and food retail sectors. The line is definitely becoming blurred between these two dimensions of theÂ 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 fromÂ the food service industry than fromÂ grocery stores, largely thanks to millennials and generationÂ Zers.
Generation Xers havenâ€™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 â€™90s, most household were economizing. And food stores, except someÂ in Quebec and British Columbia, offered uninteresting, limited selection. There were few cooking shows on TV. School home economics courses were stripped from mostÂ curriculum. Kids memorized the food guide without any real meaning behind it, while contentedly drinking their subsidized milk.
Food was anything but an experienceÂ â€“ 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 isnâ€™t part of school activities, many community groups desperately try to build awareness around good eating.
Essentially, during the 1980s and muchÂ of the â€™90s, food was merely a function of peopleâ€™s lives. Multiculturalism was already a reality but it never really affected dinner tables until Canadians started to travel â€“ and travelling became more affordable at the end of the 1990s. But by then, gen Xers were already set in their ways.
The Internet wasnâ€™t around when gen Xers were growing upÂ 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 groupÂ just took what was available without discriminating.
Thereâ€™s hope, though. Some data shows that gen Xers are becoming weekend cooks. Almost 55Â per cent of them cook on weekends, more than any other generation. As a result of professional and personal pressures, theyâ€™re turningÂ to cooking for peace, tranquility and enjoyment.
Still, Gen Xers are doing all right. Music from the 1980s and â€™90s remains popular. Perhaps a music culture helpsÂ 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, and author ofÂ Food Safety, Risk Intelligence and Benchmarking, published byÂ Wiley-Blackwell (2017).
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