Food Literacy Among Millennials

by Zoe Holland


What does it mean to eat as a millennial? We have unparalleled access to both information about food and food itself, but the information is often contradictory. Our cultural values often conflict our ethical and intellectual ones, so it is unsurprising that millennial food ideology is often at odds with what we actually consume. 

We want the local, family-farmed food our grandparents ate, as well as the packaged, processed foods that our parents knew and loved. Supermarket aisles overflow with varieties of cereal, as well as gluten-free and vegan options galore. We want it all, but “having it all” isn’t simple—CC’s contradictory discourse on food reflects this. 

For CC students in particular, words like “organic,” “artisanal” and “fair trade” have become part of the common vernacular. On campus, it is common to hear people criticizing factory farming or discussing local produce from Ivywild, but it is also common to hear people complaining about Meatless Monday or expressing their love for tater tots at midnight Rastall. This contradiction reveals our lack of a cohesive food ethic. 

This complication is rooted in the tension between food literacy and culinary literacy. 

According to, "food literacy is “understanding the story of one’s food, from farm to table and back to the soil; the knowledge and ability to make informed choices that support one’s health, community and the environment.” Being culturally literate may mean going to Wild Goose and pronouncing quinoa correctly, or, alternatively, enthusiastically attending Midnight Breakfast and making daily 7/11 runs. Food literacy means understanding where your food comes from and making choices that reflect this knowledge. In this understanding of the term, food literacy suggests sacrificing parts of these cultural connections to food. 

For the majority of millennials, food literacy remains weak. The way we talk about food may have changed, but there is a large gap between knowledge and action. According to a study conducted by Batten, Barton, Durstine & Osborn marketing group, 48 percent of millennials identify as “foodies,” but 89 percent of these self proclaimed “foodies” still choose to eat at McDonalds, and 44 percent eat fast food one to four times a week. This is not exactly the diet one might expect from a locavore, food-obsessed millennial. 

This tension between our action and our knowledge has to do with the excess of contradictory information. New York Times food columnist Mark Bittman tells readers to “pretty much eliminate GMOs from your diet” while Forbes published an article entitled “2000+ Reasons Why GMOs Are Safe To Eat and Environmentally Sustainable.” Diet fads range from the Paleo, “eat like a caveman,” mentality that promotes a meat, fish and vegetable based diet to raw-veganism. Tutt Library alone has over 100 books on healthy eating. The path to understanding what one should eat has never been more confusing. No one knows where the future of food lies. 

These contradictory food habits are not solely derived from an indiscriminate response to conflicting information; a lot of cultural food trends are embedded with “culinary resistance.” This term, which Peter Naccarato and Kathleen Lebesco describe in their book "Culinary Capital," highlights this “counter current that resists [popular] discourses and derives pleasure indulging in ‘bad’ food practices.” For a generation that loves to soak up irony at every opportunity, food is no exception. Consumer culture among Americans has experienced a shift to a greater consciousness around healthy, natural foods which gives the junk foods of our childhoods an air of nostalgia. Among the hip new restaurants popping up in Colorado Springs, the selection ranges from juice bars to “gastropubs” to a French fry restaurant. New American restaurants like Nosh and 503W aim to recreate comfort food with a modern twist catering towards the “resistance.”

We are a generation that wants it all. We want to resist the norms and embody the contradictions. We want to stay up until 3 a.m. partying, we want good grades, we want to binge watch Netflix, we want to eat an entire jar of Nutella without judgment. With a variety of opportunities at our fingertips, it seems wrong to not take advantage of them. Cultural identity cannot be ignored, nor can it be separated from food, but the key is to integrate our knowledge around food ethics into our culture. Just as there is no clear path, there is no clear criticism of our current food ethos. What it boils down to is finding what food means to you and embracing your own food literacy. This means “understanding the story of one’s food” and reflecting this connection in every bite.