Eating is more than a necessity to supply our bodies with nutrients, it is an experience. It is the crunch and crackle of the caramel crust on crème brûlée. It is the succulent smell of homemade barbecue sauce on a rack of ribs, the instant salivation and anticipation that occurs when you spot your waiter across the restaurant with your pizza in hand.
Eating is all of these things, yes, but more importantly, it is the memories we form around these experiences and the way that we tie them to our meals.
It is the laughter shared with friends that comes to mind when you remember that pizza and the anniversary that was toasted just before you broke the crust of the crème brûlée that truly matters.
This is what food means to Generation Y—we tie it to memories and use it as a way to connect with friends. It’s why we drive 15 miles into the city to find a small coffee shop we saw on Buzzfeed just to sit and talk over one, maybe two, cups and then trek all the way back.
As a generation, we travel farther for food and drink and document it more than ever, but we also use it as the central reason to connect with friends. On school breaks my days are filled with breakfast plans, followed by coffee, lunch, dinner, and then ice cream. By the end of break I have put on 10 pounds, but that is a whole separate issue.
I don’t need to be eating out for all three meals, and I certainly don’t need to travel 35 minutes (my record) for cookies and cream ice cream, but when we connect with others over food, we enhance the experience, we have a reason to gather and something to do.
In the New Media Age, our generation has become notorious for its dependency on technology, and often criticized for our enslavement to our phones, tablets and flat screen televisions. Many would say that there are abundant negative consequences from this, and maybe it’s true.
Perhaps the reason we feel the need to meet at restaurants and coffee shops is the comfort we find in having a safety net in case our communication skills fail us. When we meet with old or new friends, the fear of awkward silence plagues us, and knowing that you can take a sip of your coffee or a bite of food when this happens is comforting.
With decreasing attention spans and increasing distractions, our conversational skills may be lacking, but Mother always said no phones at the table. It is ingrained into us, so meeting at the table acts a treaty of sorts, a reprieve from technology and a promise to focus on nothing but conversation with each other.
Even when our parents are gone, this behavior remains a part of our generation’s social etiquette. While it might be appropriate to text, tweet, or post in other situations, the table remains one of the only places that we promise to truly unplug.
That’s not to say that technology doesn’t play a huge role in our eating habits. Between Instagram posts littered with #foodporn tags, Yelp, and food sharing, technology has successfully integrated itself into this generation’s food culture.
It drives where we go to eat, whether through user reviews or tantalizing images of our entrees taken by professional iPhone photographer foodies, every meal is documented and shared. In the meantime, the rest of us drool over these snapshots and consequently make plans with friends to visit this new eatery next.
We gather around food because it has never failed us before, and we dare to risk the wrath of friends whose texts will go unanswered in the hour that we dine with others.
Food trumps technology in a sense, it outweighs our need for instant gratification and gives us the bravery to let our friends wonder if we are angry with them simply because we didn’t play them back on TriviaCrack for five minutes.
We use our phones and social networks to get us to the food, to document our food, and to share our experiences with or about the food, but we leave our conversation to remain completely face-to-face.
And so we want to ensure that we make this time as unique as possible, to remind us that life outside of connectivity exists. We drag the time out, driving all the way downtown. We try to find the most unique places with the best food around in order to better the memories and enrich the experience.
Eating together shows the importance of the intimacy that sitting around the table with one person or a small group of people brings.
We construct these plans, so that when we look back and remember that rack of ribs or Joe’s Barbecue restaurant, we will remember our favorite dishes, but also the laughter and stories we shared with old friends.
While eating may have once been a necessary habit of life, our generation has turned it into a place to laugh, collect good memories, and also enjoy some damn good food.
When you aren’t eating with friends, check out these pieces: