Today, being a paleo locavore is hip. Going gluten-free is easy. Avoiding soy? Not a problem. So while I'd like to think that this is really all just a benevolent and worldly minded decision about wanting whole foods — I actually think — for the vast majority of gen yummers — it's also related to emotions tied up in things entirely unrelated to what we eat.
What Molly was describing — her interest in very specific foods — and her admission of the satisfaction that comes from controlling her food intake, made me begin to wonder: Is all this restriction just an eating disorder by another name? Are we a generation of disordered eaters, in search of control?
Molly had connected the two ideas: using food to subdue our ever-growing anxieties as a generation. I began to look around for more evidence of this theory.
Unlike veganism or the Atkins diet, which exclude certain food groups, locavores are concerned with supporting local agriculture and reducing their carbon footprint by purchasing goods produced within a certain square mileage. This was Molly’s ideal — attempting to eat only foods grown as locally as possible.
The researchers hoped to determine the motivations behind locavorism. What they found, after interviewing a dozen subjects, was the running theme of “empowerment”:
For most participants, a sense of control emerged not as a result of local food, but out of the choice to be local.
Many described eating this way as "making me happy”…Interviewee #9 captured this best when he said, “I later learned about the power of food ... it’s pretty liberating to have control over what you eat.”
This one example provided evidence that what Molly was expressing — the ability to calm herself through control over her choices, even if that just meant eating food from a certain place — was not an isolated incident.
“We are seeing more and more cases of orthorexia nervosa,” Peter H.R. Green, the director of the Celiac Disease Center at Columbia University Medical School, explains to Michael Specter for The New Yorker, discussing the method of progressively abstaining from specific foods. “First, they come off gluten. Then corn. Then soy. Then tomatoes. Then milk. After a while, they don’t have anything left to eat — and they proselytize about it.”
It’s all about the comfort of control. Bagels are perhaps not the culprit, but the growing anxieties and depression within generation yum.
Gen yum faces numerous anxiety-provoking factors: the barrage of constant buzzes and dings that demand immediate attention; a lack of face-to-face human connection; high unemployment rates and low pay; the management of the in-person and avatar identities; and general confusion over the functioning of our ever more complicated technologically infused environments.
And yes, perhaps our sketchy food system and the plague of too many choices are also driving gen yums out-of-the-ordinary food choices.
There’s nothing shameful in longing for simplicity and control. It’s what we crave — and what, more than ever, we’re lacking. We live in a world stuffed with intricate technologies, unstable economic systems, and a plethora of choices.
Today, we choose which online store to frequent, which TV series is worth binge watching, which aggregator site will come up with the cheapest flight, on top of considerations more familiar to previous generations: which stock to invest in, which route to take to work.