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The Social Network of Food

by Kady Matsuzaki

Photograph courtesy of @bostonfoodies on Instagram

Millennial. A loaded word, full of associations and connotations, not all of them positive. Millennials are lazy. Millennials are entitled. Millennials fritter away their money. “Did you pay for those holes in your jeans?” baby boomers ask. They sound jocular, but there is often a mocking and condescending undertone.

The millennial-boomer tension is at its most palpable when it comes to food. No one over the age of forty seems to understand the appeal of unicorn lattes or activated charcoal, spaghetti doughnuts or sriracha-everything. But, despite daily headlines such as “Millennials are Killing Chain Restaurants,” and “Millennials are Killing the Napkin Industry,” Generation Y should not be ashamed to enjoy, and Instagram/Snapchat/Tweet about, their rainbow bagels and acai bowls.

There is a certain nostalgic appeal to the occasional meal at Chili’s or Olive Garden, but millennials have discovered that the experience of trying somewhere new, somewhere that has five stars on Yelp or was featured in Bon Appetit, has much greater value, both gastronomically and aesthetically.

“Exploring cool, new places which offer authentic food and Instagram-worthy decor is fun because it allows me to add to my list of favorite restaurants,” said Sam Kim (COM ’19).

Millennials do not want to settle for endless but mediocre breadsticks when there is a little Turkish place down the block which serves authentic, zaatar-dusted pita bread.

Earlier this year, in an interview with Australian 60 Minutes, Australian multi-millionaire Tim Gurner said that millennials couldn’t afford to purchase a home because they buy avocado toast.

"When I was trying to buy my first home, I wasn't buying smashed avocado for $19 and four coffees at $4 each,” he said

The backlash on social media was swift and, in true millennial fashion, witty.

Podcast personality Jennifer Albright tweeted, “I was going to put a down payment on a house last year but then I spent $44,000 on avocado toast.”

“I made my fortune flipping avocado toast. I buy rundown avocado toast or avocado toast seized for back taxes and then fix it up,” tweeted Canadian comedian Ian Fortey.

Treating oneself to a nice meal should not be considered shameful or taboo. Restaurants across the country are innovating at such a rate that, to young people, it is almost a crime to abstain from dining out. Creative, delicious food is everywhere and more financially accessible than ever before. Anyone with an iPhone and an appetite can call themselves a “foodie” because ingredients once considered exotic, such as jackfruit or spirulina, are no longer offered exclusively at four-star restaurants. Expanding one’s gastronomic horizons now has a $15 price tag, instead of a $100 one.

Along with increasing accessibility to trendy and high-quality food, there seems to be another reason for why millennials are abandoning chain restaurant culture.

“I love trying new places with friends; it is honestly an exciting experience to share with the people you love,” said Jae Yoon Bae (CAS, ’19).

Ultimately, millennials are seeking what baby boomers seem to have forgotten: experiences. Maybe it is more cost-efficient to make one’s own avocado toast at home, but to millennials, eating out is about more than just the food.

Yes, the cronut, oozing with fig jam, is an integral part of visiting Dominique Ansel’s bakery, but waiting with three friends for hours in Soho is also part of that experience. One will remember both the epic dessert and line of strangers who bonded over a shared sweet tooth one Wednesday morning.

It is true that the first thing that many millennials do when dining out is take photos of the space and the food. This is often met with eye rolls or sighs of impatience from older diners. However, Snapchatting a gooey, funfetti croissant, possibly with a mini succulent in the frame, is just the newest way of defining which foods are beautiful and delicious enough to let your loved ones know that they should try them too. In the end, to millennials, food is about sharing: it nourishes both the body and their relationships with each other.

Human connection is human connection, regardless of whether it is made when bumping into someone on the street, at brunch over golden milk lattes or when one simply double taps on a friend’s food picture on Instagram. But to millennials, some ways of connecting are infinitely more delicious than the other, and that should not be a cause for shame or baby boomer-issued mockery.

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