Food writer Eve Turow really immerses herself in her subject matter. When I called her up recently, she was busy basting brined and spice-crusted chicken, which she’d bought at Fleisher’s Craft Butchery in Brooklyn, with a mix of apricot preserves and chili sauce. Friends would be arriving soon to snack on heirloom tomato salad made with fresh tomatoes from the Prospect Park farmers’ market and basil from Turow’s garden, and they were bringing with them their own locally sourced bites: Ample Hills ice cream, homemade black bean salsa, eggplant dip.
But Turow didn’t always plan her days around food or surround herself with those who shared her passion. “I went from being someone who couldn’t have cared less about food to someone who was a food writer three years out of college,” she says. She credits much of her own food-loving development to the three months she spent in Buenos Aires, where she worked at an expat newspaper and discovered the lens into another country’s culture that food so often provides. Upon her return to the States, she quickly found herself spending her extra time hosting brunches, tuning in to Top Chef, making soft shell crab dinners and reading Mark Bittman’s cookbooks.
It wasn’t until one day in her MFA program in New York, when a fellow classmate was waxing poetic about a frozen yogurt spot with daily changing flavors, that Turow realized just how much company she had in her zest for all things culinary. “She had programmed the number into her phone so she could call everyday to ask about the flavors,” Turow recalls. “I was like, ‘This is absurd — we’re a bunch of intelligent, competent, worldly masters students, and when we have a moment to talk about something else we’re almost always talking about food. Why?’”
Those questions took Turow on a three-and-a-half-year journey through mounds of research and dozens of interviews to create A Taste of Generation Yum, a book exploring the food-enraptured tendencies of millennials that came out this July. In addition to sitting down with food luminaries like Anthony Bourdain, Mark Bittman and Michael Pollan, Turow spent a significant amount of time speaking with “yummers,” as she calls them — millennials who are devoted to food in one of three ways: those obsessed with restaurants and chefs (and who prove it via social media), super-serious cooks who might work in consulting but race home to make extravagant meals with high-quality, local products and those who have given up the nine-to-five job entirely in order to commit themselves to the food system through food studies, farming or otherwise.
“This is absurd — we’re a bunch of intelligent, competent, worldly masters students, and when we have a moment to talk about something else we’re almost always talking about food. Why?”
So what’s responsible for the fascination with tacos and the fixation with underground dinners? Of all the aspects steering Gen Y’s obsession with food, Turow returns to one of them throughout the book: control, or more specifically, the lack thereof. The response might only be natural for a generation whose masses graduated from college in the height of a historic recession, and it’s one that Turow felt personally. “When everything else in my life felt out of control — I had no idea really what I wanted to do with my career, I had no control over my love life — it was a really satisfying thing to break down a recipe, to learn a new skill, to have something tangible.”
Growing up with technology is another vital detail that Turow investigates, especially as it relates to self-branding. “We are an exceptionally narcissistic generation, but I don’t think it’s necessarily our fault,” she says. “We have been forced into a land of self-branding, and we need to brand ourselves in so many ways and on so many different platforms in order to get a job, to get friends, to get a date.” Food, Turow explains, has now worked its way into that picture as another form of social currency. “As food becomes more detailed — organic, local, free range, non-GMO – we use that as a symbol of what we know we can afford,” she says, citing a conversation with Anthony Bourdain on the secret joy felt in posting photos of Michelin-starred meals for his at-home Instagram followers.
And as much as technology and the need to self-brand can hurt us, they also might be the very things to propel us forward. “I talked to Michael Pollan about this, and the real question is, will people who like Instagramming pictures of their lunch ever start to care about where those ingredients in their lunch came from, or the rights of the farmers who picked those vegetables, or the subsidies given to those farmers by the government — and it’s not really clear yet,” she says. Her conclusion? Food policy should be part of the millennial brand. “It needs to be something that people are going to judge other people on, and it needs to be something that people want to be associated with,” she says.
As important as it is to know where our food comes from, Turow feels it’s just as imperative to be intentional about where it ends up. “We do not think enough about how we throw out our food,” she says. “Michael Pollan likes to say, ‘We get to choose what we eat three times a day, we get to vote three times a day,’ and I think you also get to vote at least three times a day when you’re choosing how to dispose of what you didn’t eat.” The book closes with a “Waste Less Challenge” from the author, who encourages readers to, in the span of one week, discard just one standard-sized plastic bag of garbage and either recycle or compost everything else. The Brooklyn resident insists it’s entirely possible — she’s been doing it for two years — and tonight, after a backyard BBQ of chicken, brats, chips, dip and artisanal ice cream, is no exception.