We want our food to improve us, reflect who we are

The Baltimore Sun

We big-foot baby-boomers are at it again, changing the nature of the relationship between humans and their food.

And I am not talking about Early Bird Specials.

It seems that a good meal isn't good enough. We want dinner to heal us, to postpone aging and prevent disease.

With the dressing on the side.

The buzz at the recent Institute of Food Technologists conference in Chicago was all about "nutraceuticals" or what they are calling "functional foods."

Apparently, we baby boomers are demanding food that will keep us eating for a while -- food filled with antioxidants to prevent cancers and vitamins to hold off the signs of aging, such as heart disease, memory problems and arthritis.

It seems that just about all the new food products on display at the expo were laced with heart-healthy fish oil or free-radical-busting green tea.

There was food to curb your appetite and food to boost your immune system, food to add fiber to your diet and good bacteria to your intestines. Food to increase your stamina and improve your memory.

There was even healthier chocolate -- laced with air bubbles to cut down on the calories.

The experts at the food expo were urging food makers and food researchers to take advantage of the fact that the largest and most affluent generation ever is willing to purchase food that might help prolong life and improve its quality.

But boomers aren't just concerned with the effects of food on the mind and the body. Many of us gave up red meat and white bread long ago.

We want our food to represent adventure and personal growth, too.

We want to experience different cultures and different places -- not only in cuisine, but in food items like the acai berry from Brazil and the rare tropical mangosteen.

Food is also central to our nesting instinct, and we build monuments to that instinct -- 1,000-square-foot kitchens with Viking ranges and acres of granite countertop on which $3,000 espresso machines sit. All for an American family that eats out or takes out three nights of the workweek.

Food is political with us, too. Since we came of age in the 1960s, we have been driving the freshness and purity movement in this country. Now we are into eating locally and reducing the petrochemical portions on our plates.

Our latest concern is the water we drink.

(Aging fact: The awareness of thirst dulls with age, and we become vulnerable to dehydration).

We have begun to take note of the mountains of plastic bottles we have created with our taste for designer water from as far away as Fiji.

And it is starting to occur to us that if the rich drink water only from bottles, and the poor drink only tap, where is the incentive for government to keep tap water clean and healthy?

Boomers want only the best -- and we have always felt that we deserved it -- and that drives the food market, too.

We want our food to be farm-raised, wild-caught, free-range, grass-fed, corn-fed, sustainably fished, grown without pesticides, hormones or antibiotics and prepared without additives, chemicals, high-fructose corn syrup or too much salt.

It costs money to do things this way, but we pay, because this not only goes to our health, it also goes to our perceived evolution, our place as stewards of the Earth and the animals. Our place in the food chain, as it were.

Once upon a time, food was fuel. Now, it is so much more than that. Food has become another pillar in the boomer legacy.


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