Do You Eat to Live, or Live to Eat?
I fall firmly in the live to eat tribe. Food is my language, and it seems I’m in good company. Food has become a meaningful part of Gen Z culture, experienced by those at the top end of the generation, with creative flair, emotional benefits and playfulness.
The mental health crisis in markets like the UK and US is having an impact on the happiness and motivations of Gen Z teens and young adults. Though they have grown up against a backdrop of EQ rising to meet IQ, mindfulness as mainstream and a climate of high awareness of mental health issues, it’s perhaps all come a little too late. The gap between awareness and ability to manage pressures and anxieties that come with modern adolescence is significant. They are locked into a continual cycle of emotional regulation and joy seeking.
And food, unlike therapy sessions and yoga breaks, is playful, inclusive, social, fun and comparatively less expensive. Food is giving Gen Z escape, lightness, and a sense of flow and being in the moment. Food trends have been exploding for a number of years and there are 3 we have identified that are resonating particularly strongly with Gen Z.
Functional foods and drinks have typically focussed on performance; omega 3 for sharper brain function, protein for muscle growth. Whilst this trend trucks on, there is a growing movement in functional options with ingredients that serve mental health needs.
For example, the pastel-hued, petal-decorated moon milk is more than just an Instagrammable beverage. Infused with adaptogen herbs and spices (known for protecting the body against stress and trending in other places too), such as maca, licorice, rosemary, lavender and cardamom, this cosy bedtime ritual is carefully crafted to calm the mind and promote healthy sleep.
And Cannabidiol (CBD), which has become a food and drink buzzword this year is bringing endorphin-releasing, anxiety-reducing and sleep-promoting benefits to lattes, brownies and gummies. Ben & Jerry’s have announced plans to launch a CBD-infused ice cream when it becomes legal in the US.
2. Hedonistic highs
There’s a lot to consider with today’s food choices; the planet, the producers, personal health. Anyone else confused about the right thing to do? I am, and Gen Z are too. This shows up in moments where guilt and worry are rebelliously dismissed through moments of hedonistic, sensorial food pleasure highs.
Gen Z didn’t invent the notion of #foodporn, but they might just take it to the next level. Millennials, who were responsible for the #yolkporn fascination, have inspired further iterations. Foods are now designed and sought out that have a burst, splurge, jiggle or oozing properties. I recommend channelling your inner Gen Z and visiting Instagram to feel mesmerised by videos of Nutella cascading thickly from lava cakes, fluffy Japanese cheesecakes that wobble like jelly, and sweet treats filled with squelchy boba pearls. You’re welcome.
Beautiful bowl food is a trend that Gen Z have carved out their own version of. The Millennial all-natural #wellness aesthetic (think avocado, poached egg and sourdough) has been injected with whimsy, fantasy, and a rainbow of color. Often inspired by themes of magic and mystery, such as outer space, unicorns and mermaids, these creations are true works of art to be made, sought out in new eateries, or lusted after digitally.
So what are their artistic materials? Superfood powders you might not have heard of play a starring role; ube, pink pitaya, and butterfly pea combined with magic-looking ‘frosty’ berries. You might question the practicality of actually eating these bowls, but that would be missing the point. Gen Z are creating these to play and relax; it’s as much about the process as it is about the final eating moment. You could say it’s another version of mindful coloring or cupcake decorating.
What have we learned?
Mental health is just as important as, and understood to be integral to, physical health. We are seeing this play out in the relationship Gen Z are forming with food and the trends they are hacking into. Whether it’s for play or stress relief, they are exploring and embracing a diverse food landscape to nourish their minds as well as their bodies, and in the future we can expect to see more explicit behaviors and choices motivated by mental health benefits.