The Millennials are Leading the Way….
A few years ago – well, 17 to be exact, Tom Brokaw published The Greatest Generation – a book which described the people born in the early part of the 20th century who grew up during the Depression of the 1930’s and went on to fight in World War II because it was “the right thing to do.” From his perspective, this generation was the greatest ever produced because they were raised in deprivation and yet, selflessly contributed to a war effort to stop aggression and genocide. No doubt their perseverance was a testament to their extraordinary character.
Since that time, the subsequent generations – the Silents, Baby Boomers, Generation X, the Millennial’s or Gen Y, and Gen Z – have each faced hurdles and grown up in a century in which education, technology, and medical breakthroughs have catapulted over the progress made by earlier generations. While the Silent Generation (born between 1925 – 1945) was also subject to the Depression and the war, they greatly benefited from the post-war effort in terms of education, health, and wealth. But, it was during the Baby Boomer (born between 1947-1964) and Generation X (born between 1961-1981) years, that one of the most profound changes in our country occurred: the industrialization of our food system.
During this period, synthetic chemical fertilizer replaced natural fertilizer allowing farm yields to explode. All of a sudden, the grocery store contained more processed foods than fresh foods because companies had all this food to make more food which supposedly made our lives more convenient. Then in the 1970’s high fructose corn syrup was introduced into the nation’s food supply as a cheap alternative to sugar which contributed to the introduction of even more processed food products.
If that weren’t bad enough, the explosion of fast food establishments is a testament to what our nation started eating regularly, if not daily. In 1970, there were approximately 30,000 fast food establishments in the US; in 2015 there are more than 240,000. To put that in perspective, there was 1 fast food establishment for every 7,000 people in 1970 compared to 1 for every 1,250 people in 2015.
Of course, all of this “progress” had an impact on our nation’s health. Nearly 70% of the adult population were overweight or obese in 2014 compared to about 45% in 1970. But, the really scary figure is obesity which increased from 13% of the population in 1962 to nearly 35% in 2014, making obesity one of the major health concerns in the US. Simply stated, too many people are eating the wrong kind of food – and too much of it.
Enter the Millennials (born between 1975 – 1995) who seem to be paving the path to change this trend. In the past decade, dozens of chain restaurants – Sweetgreen (pictured below), True Food Kitchen, Freshii, Maoz, Native Foods Cafe, Chop’t, Zoe’s Kitchen, Tender Greens, Fresh, Protein Bar, Jason’s Deli, Cava Grill, Veggie Grill, Modmarket, LYFE Kitchen, Simply Salad, Panera’s, Noodle & Company, Chipotle, Pret a Manger – have opened and are rapidly expanding because the demand for fresh tasting and healthy food is increasing, especially by those 40 and younger.
If that weren’t enough, the Millennials are starting companies in record numbers making everything from energy bars, granola, muesli, pasta made from whole grains and legumes, sauces made without sugars, non-dairy milks, ice creams and cheeses, chocolates, and more. They are shunning high fructose corn syrup, artificial flavors, artificial colors, preservatives, trans fats, and chemicals we can’t even pronounce.
One of the most progressive and vocal companies is Hampton Creek, a food technology company headquartered in San Francisco focused on finding new ways of utilizing plants in food products. They had the “audacity” to take on Hellman’s Mayonnaise by rolling out a superior tasting mayo made from pea protein called Just Mayo that is better for your body, your wallet and the planet. When Hellman’s sued Hampton Creek claiming mayo can’t be called mayo unless eggs are used, Hampton Creek took them on and succeeded.
The company has also developed dairy and egg-free cookie dough (Just Cookies) which will be in supermarkets nationwide, and heavily invests in R & D to create plant-based products that taste great, are good for your body, easy on your wallet, and better for our environment.
But, what recently shone the spotlight on Hampton Creek is the full-page ads the company has been taking out in the Sunday New York Times* calling on Food Leaders to do the right thing by making better, healthier food products, and Food CEO’s to think about starting over by putting taste and health ahead of cheap and crappy in making delicious and affordable food.
The company also addressed a letter to You with a message that we all need an affordable and delicious path to do the right thing because people are good (even though the systems in place right now are not). And, finally, the most recent letter was written to 23-year olds asking them to start companies to compete with them and other food companies because the 23-year olds are the generation who are “radically pragmatic, ecologically intelligent, and socially inclusive.” They show a commitment to common good over individual gain, which greatly reminds me of their great-grandparents, The Greatest Generation.
Millennials – more than just selfies. ~Hampton Creek
* To read these letters, click here.