Friday, May 16, 2014

Snap peas and generation gaps

I walked into the staff meeting at the winery last night with a large bag of snap peas, and immediately became the most popular lady in the room. Three of the girls I work with and a couple of the guys came right up and started taking handfuls of peas out of the bag as if it was a cookie jar, oohing and aahing as they bit into the crunchy pods.  After the feeding frenzy I noticed one of my friends tucking what was left in the bag into her purse to take home and eat later.

 I find it heartening that so many 20-somethings are fans of healthy food.  In fact, I love taking excess produce to the winery for that exact reason.

My grandparents' generation ate healthy food which they grew themselves.  The ones who were not land-owning farmers turned parts of their city gardens into growing spaces, whenever possible. My parents' generation, on the other hand, entered adulthood at the exact time large supermarkets came into being, complete with frozen food on Aisle 5, where you could pick up a boxed TV dinner, bring it home, and heat up individual and unique meals for everyone in your family in minutes. 

It was a convenience that took hold, and the result is that many of us born in the 1960's grew up eating that way.

This was, I should add, a purely American phenomenon back then.  When I visited London in the late 1960's as a child, I was amazed when we went shopping with my grandmother.  We visited the butcher, the baker, and the fishmonger.  Paper goods we bought at a local general store. Milk, cream and butter was delivered to the front door every morning. Nowadays of course London has the same giant supermarkets we do, but back then they lagged a good 20 years behind the states.  And they were probably healthier for it.

Anyway, post-war London was the environment my mother grew up in, and so I can somewhat understand her wonderment and willingness to plunge into American Supermarket Life when she moved here and married my American father. We ate hot dogs, fish sticks, TV Dinners and Stouffer's Lasagna on a regular basis.  Our next door neighbors did the same and, in another nod to convenience, ate nothing that was not served on a paper plate, thereby eliminating dishwashing.

And so my generation grew up expecting that kind of convenience, and you'd expect that most of us would simply have passed that onto our own children when we came of age.  And most of us did ... for awhile.  Sometime after the Good Times With No Social Responsibility ended (also known as the 1980's), food became important again.  Trend forecaster Faith Popcorn called it "Nesting."  Staying home more, learning the art of cooking again, and even keeping an herb garden or small veggie patch in your suburban backyard.

"Nesting" took hold with the financial uncertainties of the 1990s, along with a swing back towards natural ingredients. My generation discovered a lot of the food we'd grown up with in the 1960's was, to speak frankly, crap. Kool-Aid contained Red Dye #3, which caused cancer.  Saccharine, which was supposed to deliver us from the weight-gain of eating real sugar, also was found to cause a variety of health issues. In short, my generation realized that if they continued on the path that our naive but well-meaning parents had put is on, we'd be dead or at least in chemotherapy by age 50.

But if we started the "natural foods" trend, the next generation ran with it and made it the norm.  No longer was eating at McDonalds seen as a healthy dinner option.  No longer would Diet Coke and a can of Pringles be an acceptable lunch. If my generation went back to the land for our food ( while sometimes wistfully remembering the soft, spongy texture of Wonder Bread or the extreme sugary sweetness of a Cherry Coke), my kids' generation turned their back on all that tasty but deadly garbage completely and made endamame, quinoa, pomegranates and locally raised-and-butchered animals the new cool food. And kudos to them for it.

The new "supermarket" in town.

As I sat on the counter of the winery watching this new generation of 20-somethings and young parents fighting over a bunch of fresh snap peas from the garden, I realized that Mother Nature always has a reset button -- a generational one.  My generation pushed it, the next one furthered it along, and now we just have to make sure the new generation -- the toddlers growing up now -- understand the reasons why their grandparents and parents turned their backs on food that wasn't real, and opted for a crisp snap pea over the stale snap of a processed supermarket cookie.

I hope they understand why. I really do.


  1. One of my favorite movies is "Baby Boom" and I think it captures that clash of '80s lifestyles so well. It's funny because my grandparents on one side were about 15 years older than the grandparents on the other. The older set grew up in rural Ohio and were so connected to food, even after the moved to the city. Even though they didn't have a lot of money, my grandma would devote a huge portion of the budget to high quality food from real farms. The younger set could not have been more disconnected. My mom still talks in wonder about the first time she ate a real tomato from my grandpa's (the older one, her father in law's) garden. I'm relieved the pendulum has swung so far back. I just hope it sticks.

    1. That's so interesting. It would be a fascinating sociological study to see how people connect and disconnect with their foods over the years, according to social class, era they grew up in, etc. At some point growing your own food meant you didn't have a lot of money (think the Middle Ages or Early America) and nowadays, growing your own food means you probably do have money as well as education. It just comes down to so much more than food itself, which I find fascinating!