Are we a country that no longer cooks?
A story in the Harvard Business Review — published last year, but only getting notice now — revealed that only 10 percent of Americans love to cook. Forty-five percent absolutely hate it, while another 45 percent are indifferent.
The story’s author, Eddie Yoon, conducted a similar survey just 15 years ago, and more of us were interested in cooking then. Fifteen percent then said they loved it. This means that the number of people who love to cook has fallen by one-third in just a decade and a half.
Some of those who used to cook are, sadly, no longer with us. In 15 years, the demographics will shift; it is the way of the world. The younger generations who are coming up are less inclined to cook than were their parents. If nothing else, that means they are also spending more money on food.
An unnamed 21-year-old unintentionally — but hilariously — made this point recently on a website called refinery29. She kept careful track of her finances and everything she did for one week.
This young woman, a college student, has a summer job as marketing intern in human resources, lives in New York and makes pretty good money for doing what appears to be almost no work at all. She is also financially supported by her parents and her grandfather.
In the week in question, she spent more than $266 on food. For one person. In one week. And that does not include the five meals that were paid for her by others.
Most of this money went to restaurants, everything from pizza and sushi to bagels and frozen yogurt. And coffee. And two different salads. And a veggie burger.
The veggie burger, along with a side of sweet potato fries, cost almost $20, or it would have if she had not received a $12 discount for having an app on her phone. She also got a goat-cheese and avocado wrap lunch from a health-food restaurant for $23.
The sushi dinner, incidentally, was $45. But at least she said she was “in shock” at the price.
Looking at her choice of food for the week, two facts are abundantly clear. She prefers to eat foods that are healthful, or are at least reputed to be, and she is willing to spend very good money for it.
According to the experts, she is far from alone.
Celebrity chef Robert Irvine was at the recent Summer Fancy Food Show in New York, where he was interviewed by Foodable TV. He said millennials and those in Gen Z “are controlling how we eat right now.”
They want food quickly, they want it to be healthful and they want to know where it comes from, he said.
The food industry is responding with products that are increasingly plant-based and specifically sourced, with different flavors attributed to different locations.
On store shelves you can now see “olive oil from France or Germany or Italy or Spain or Greece. You pick which one you want,” he said.
The many new food products would indicate that some in the younger generations are still interested in cooking. However, he said their true interest is in restaurants.
“A millennial and a Gen Z and a Gen X will all pay more money to go to a restaurant that is busy and can be seen, even if they have to use a credit card and go into debt to do it,” he said.
Not only do they want to be seen, they want to preserve the moment. So they take a picture of their food, as a way of saying “By the way, I’m here and you’re not.”
Friends see the postings of the food, and then everyone wants to go to that restaurant. It’s one way social media is driving the marketing of restaurants, hotels and food products.
Irvine believes our interest in getting fed quickly will lead to ever-faster dining experiences. The explosion in fast-casual restaurants proves that, he said, and then he broke my heart: “We got rid of fine dining. There are still a few out there, but fine dining doesn’t happen anymore.”
Very much in contrast, he said that at some point in the future he expects us to simply push a button on a machine and receive well-made delicious food.
In my mind, I picture an automat, but with better food. Still, it isn’t fine dining. It isn’t even cooking.
Daniel Neman writes for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.