Tiburón -Shark- Žralok

Tiburón -Shark- Žralok: Writing Cooking Traveling

Sunday, December 13, 2009

This is How You Eat

This week I created a survey based on culinary Top Threes- homemade dinners, desserts, breakfasts, childhood foods, and so on- and sent it to several dozen of my faithful friends. I was giving them the privilege of acting as representatives of the under-appreciated twenty-something-year-old demographic who in my opinion lives in a culinary limbo. We are too poor to have access to ingredients more expensive or exotic than the occasional steak (usually paid for by our parents anyway) but who have shed the simple tastes and invincible (or useless, in the case of D and myself) teenage metabolisms that made several weekly trips to Wendy's OK. A handful of this underrepresented demographic replied, making me realize that their under-representation is probably self-induced since most moaned about how they don't like thinking. But they were good enough to answer and their answers will become the basis for my case study in the changes in gastronomic preferences of a generation in transition. Big words!

Almost all my subjects are New York based, which does influence their responses for a number of reasons: seasonal and local availability of ingredients, NYC as culinary mecca, NYC as prohibitively expensive, distance from family. My friends who replied also had very varied backgrounds: Colombian, Mexican, Guyanese, Puerto Rican, Chinese, Libyan, white. Despite the difference there are a number of patterns that emerged which I will go on to analyze because its Sunday and I really have nothing better to do.

What we can feel good about, though, meaning us NYC-dwelling 20-something-year-olds, is that we still honor our food traditions but our diets have progressively gotten better. We may actually avoid becoming fat like our parents. Here's why (don't worry, I'm only going to list the more interesting sections):

Homemade Dinners:

"Some kind of pasta with marinara sauce."
"any kind of pasta"
"pasta, chicken, vegetable"
"grilled chicken (maybe with a side of broccoli, probably not)"

If you're going to invest in anything this year make it either chicken, pasta, or vegetables. Rice came at a close second as did soup. There were a handful of anomalies, more complex dishes like tagine, stuffed pepper, and other mostly North African dishes or simple Chinese fare like tofu and vegetables.

Dinner Ordered or Eaten Out:

Asian food was overwhelming mentioned, from Chinese, Thai, Indian to specifics like veggie lo mein and sushi. Pizza and burgers were in second place followed by the word occassionally. Most of these people even hold gym memberships. (That's right, none of my friends are fat.)


This category for reason confused some of my subjects. By top three some thought I meant four or more which they somehow turned into three by combining two things into one like "cheesecake/pie" or "cookies/brownies." Chocolate, cookies, cheesecake, and ice cream were the highest rated, with two practicing Communists saying they don't really care for desserts.

Blow-Out Feasts Eaten Out:

One word: Steak. Steakhouse, Outback, Churrascaria... the biggest blowout for my friends and I involves bloody, red meat. Second place went to Olive Garden and Max Brenner. Meals eaten abroad and paid for by someone else also came up which only confirms that if you're traveling and someone else is paying, you can eat as much as you want.


Christmas and Thanksgiving were prominent but what was interesting was how they specified that what made them special beyond just the food was the gathering itself with family or friends. Interesting because so many people hate these holidays for precisely that reason.

Most Hated Foods:

This was the Freak Show portion of the survey. The most mundane: Broccoli and cabbage. The most bizarre: sea urchin, bone marrow, chinese buffets, and "the Large Fish Eggs, the smaller ones I can live with on sushi because they blend in. but the big ones taste like suicide in your mouth." That's right, suicide in your mouth. An oddly common one was raw onion.

Guilty Pleasures:

We're still kids at heart:

"Peanut Butter Cups Sour Gummy candy Cookies!!!!! OH MY GOD YES"

"Ice cream with unlimited toppings ... like cookies, cereal, fruit, chocolate fudge all at the same time.. ON.. a hot brownie/chocolate cake"

"butter<--spreading too much of it on bread, cooking with it, baking with it, LOVING IT"

"the occasonal fast food dose. Like that time we went to McDonalds... Sometimes you just need a dose of gross."

One of the Communists left this section blank. Other notable items aside from the fast food and dessert orgams above were french fries, hostess cupcakes, and cheetohs. Mmmmm processed foods.

The last three sections all realte to each other as they prove three things:
  1. We are shedding college habits like fast food and hard liquor (with the exception of those who listed fast food as a guilty pleasure, which is still indicative of a reduction).
  2. We grew up on processed foods like pop tarts and slim jims which we don't eat anymore but which we remember fondly.
  3. There is a definitely vegetarian slant in what we have recently started eating with many vegetables like kale and brussel sprouts coming up and a sharp decline in meat.
I actually have to water down some of the self-congratulatory sentiment I felt when beginning this article. I was speaking to one of my friends/subjects while finishing this piece and celebrating in what good shape our generation is food-wise until he corrected: "at least the middle/upper class college educated generation." And sadly, that's the truth in a nutshell. My subjects are hardly a worthy sample of the whole of our generation and much less our country. Like I said, I don't have any fat friends and most live in NYC. Beyond simply being educated on better nutrition and eating habits we also have the resources to make those decisions. But then at the same time, considering what most of us earn per year, what's really missing in the decision-making process of the most of the nation is the inclination to make better food choices. I really hope Jamie Oliver and Mark Bittman can make this happen. Until then, keep up the good work, guys.

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