What do you do when you graduate college into an unstable economy?
Naturally, you turn to food — for comfort, for an identity, for control. Eve Turow explores plenty of reasons for millennials to be focused on food in her new book 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.
The book that has been three years in the making has taken Eve from underground restaurants to organic farms and on interviews with food culture elites like Anthony Bourdain and Michael Pollan.
What started as an analysis of our generation led to insights about millennials’ unique approach to changing the food industry.
Between the book launch and preparing for her wedding, Eve has a lot on her plate. But she made time to talk with us about her research, food writing and the future of the food industry.
How long has your book A Taste of Generation Yum been in the works, and what was the process like getting to this point?
I started the book four years ago while getting my grad degree in creative nonfiction. It’s been a whirlwind! I originally thought this would just be an article, and then, years later, it’s a book! I became so interested in the topic, and it took me to a far richer place than originally anticipated.
With such a huge interest in this generation and food, what does that mean for the food writing and food critic industry if everyone is branding themselves as food writers and critics on social media?
I think it means you have to be really great to stand out. The best of the best still rises to the top. More than anything, perhaps we —as writers— should just focus on the fact that it’s great that so many people are interested in reading about food!
After all of the research you did for this book, what was the most interesting thing you discovered about our generation and about yourself?
The most interesting thing I discovered is our deep desire to feel in control. I didn’t think that an investigation into food trends would lead me quite so deep into the emotions of the Millennial generation.
But I remember the interview when my subject connected the notion of restricted eating diets (like vegan, paleo, gluten free) and eating disorders — that many young people today are craving control in their lives, and choosing what we eat, at least three times a day, is providing a sense of comfort. It puts the eater in the driver’s seat. The same can be said for breaking down a recipe, or reading the memoir of a chef of the restaurant you’re going to go eat at. We want to understand, and have control over, our food.
Did you consider your book turning into a discussion of food policy from the beginning or was that something you discovered along the way?
It was definitely something I discovered along the way. I was originally just interested in answering the question: “Why are young people today so obsessed with food?” But then, as I got further along in my research, I started to think more and more about the challenges we as a generation do and will face in terms of global warming, food distribution, agriculture subsidies. That, paired with my learnings of my research, have me concerned about how we involve more young people in the more political side of food.
What sort of improvements give you hope going forward in regards to the food industry?
Lots of things! For the first time ever, Big Food is responding to a demand for “real” foods. Millennials are such a powerful, populous, population. The fact that we’re coming together on issues like organic is pretty exciting. There are also amazing things happening in the food and tech industry, as it relates to agriculture and creating alternatives to traditional meat.
What is your biggest fear for the food industry?
My biggest fear I guess would be that things somehow revert—that we continue to feed ourselves junk, that obesity rates continue to rise, rates of diabetes continue to rise, that organic foods never become affordable for all. It will take a lot of effort for the food industry to keep up—there are government changes to farm subsidies that need to occur—but I have faith that we’ll get there.
What’s the biggest takeaway someone should have after reading your book about altering our food choices and the way we look at food?
I guess that food is about so much more than food. The way we eat is, today, a result of a changing set of wants and needs for a young generation. I also then hope that readers go the one step further and think about how what they eat (and don’t eat) affects the planet.
Is your book getting the kinds of reactions you had hoped for? Are you seeing good results from the #WasteLessChallenge?
The book is getting far more reactions in general than I ever could have hoped for. I self-published this book in July. Since then, it’s been promoted in papers and on the radio all around the world—Israel, Canada, Spain, Australia. It’s really proving to me that this is not an American trend but a global, generational trend. It’s been a fun ride!
Do you find yourself writing about food differently, for articles or for social media posts, after writing this book?
I’m not sure yet! Life has been quite hectic, so I haven’t done much outside writing in the last couple months, but my perspective on everything related to Millennials has shifted significantly—whether that’s a conversation about the impact of phones on eye contact, the growing interest in tiny houses, the boom in the shared economy. The Millennial wants and needs are now my lens for everything!