Here at NFESH it is not unusual to answer the phone and find a reporter with questions about our senior hunger research on the other end of the line. Typically, those callers cover news beats focused on aging or health or poverty or safety net programs. In other words, they are generally aware of the threat of hunger many seniors face and they are looking to see what progress or regress has occurred from year to year (much the same as we do). But the most recent conversation that we had with a reporter was different – because the reporter was coming from an unusual perspective. And the verbal exchange we had has led us to ponder some novel questions.
First, some background. It was clear from her voice that this reporter was young, and from the outset she admitted that the topic of senior hunger was an alien subject for her. She is the food editor of a municipal paper, and a millennial and a self-declared “foodie” herself. She routinely covers restaurants and food trends from a foodie’s perspective. And that means that she, like the near majority of her peers in the 25 to 35 age range, regard food in a vastly different way than generation upon generation before her, in nearly every nation and culture, has — when food was simply considered, along with shelter and clothing, to be essential to maintaining life.
Instead of “eating to live,” almost half of all millennials seem inclined to “live to eat.” Here is how Wikipedia explains it: “A foodie seeks new food experiences as a hobby rather than simply eating out of convenience or hunger.” Ypulse, a youth marketing and millennial research firm, puts it this way: for this age cohort “…food has become a new status symbol and a form of social currency.” It is easy to see how Ypulse reached that conclusion. Just turn on the television and you’ll find scores of cooking and food-focused programs on every channel, not just the Food Network. Social media is the same, with literally millions of photographs of trendy foods plastered across Facebook, Pinterest and Instagram. We are not saying that this is a bad thing, necessarily; but we are asking how this approach to food is changing the fundamental meaning of the question: “What am I going to eat next?”
As “The State of Senior Hunger in America 2015” reminds us, close to 10 million seniors were asking that very question that year, and it had nothing to do with a hobby or social currency. It was about survival and staving off hunger and hoping to improve or at least maintain health and well-being. It was doubtless also followed by this query: “And where and how am I going to get that food?” While we talked through the statistics that the reporter had called to confirm, we also posed what we at NFESH believe are important questions of our own. “How can we use the food movement to support the anti-hunger movement?” “What can we do to educate and then enlist the energy and passion of the stalwarts of the so-called “foodie culture” and “food movement” to move the dial on senior hunger?”
We think it starts with dialogue and taking every opportunity we can to ask how that movement can change the way that people in need can access food. The young reporter was engaged and attentive. She seemed to understand and she replied, a bit sheepishly, “Yes, we millennials need to realize every time we head out for a new food experience that somebody’s grandmother somewhere is hungry. She might even be sitting alone scraping the bottom of a jar of peanut butter.” And then she said that she was going to take that message forward, understanding that acknowledging a problem is the first step to grasping the need to help solve it.
That said, we want to make clear we are not expecting the foodies to provide the whole solution to a persistent problem. We continue to applaud and acknowledge the critically important work that senior nutrition programs have been engaged in for decades now. Our goal and purpose at NFESH is to support and encourage these fellow laborers by furnishing them fresh tools. To do so we’ve developed new approaches and technologies to help them improve operations and feed more seniors in need largely by challenging senior nutrition providers to dare to move out of their comfort zones – continuing to do things the way they always have – to disrupt the status quo in search of better outcomes. We like to think of it as a movement.
This week Enid Borden is on the road once again, carrying that message to scores of senior center and meal program directors gathered at the “One Team Mission” Conference in Cocoa Beach, FL. As the keynote speaker, Enid will set the tone for the two day event with her strong, inspiring message entitled “Stepping on the Grass: A Symphony of Solutions.” That stepping on the grass, as she describes it, is a critical and necessary stride toward a senior food movement that can ensure that fewer baby boomers, like the unknown grandmother the reporter imagined, will be hungry somewhere.