Young consumers exhibit less demand for fresh vegetables
At-home demand for fresh fruits and vegetables among younger consumers has decreased over the past 20 years, according to a report released by the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture (USDA) Economic Research Service released a report in August 2009 (DatelinERS Newsletter, August 2009).
The study focuses on several possible reasons for this decline. One is the ever-growing popularity of convenience foods and prepackaged foods, which have been heavily marketed over the past 50-plus years. Another reason tucked away in the article is that parents no longer take the time to teach their children how to cook for themselves.
If a child doesn’t know how to carve a cantaloupe or to properly peel a tomato, they aren’t going to be comfortable cooking a meal from scratch and will purchase the prechopped, prewashed, prepared convenience foods instead.
Many younger adults know how to use a microwave but have no idea how to cook or bake with a regular oven. Unless someone is able to convince them that there’s something wrong with that picture, they aren’t going to be inclined to do the work necessary to learn how to cook for themselves.
The growing popularity of convenience foods may be difficult to reverse if, once households cut back on home cooking, their cooking skills decline. On the one hand, among younger people, evidence of such a decline exists. Many food manufacturers and publishers of cook books, for example, have had to simplify the language they use in recipes for younger people (Sagon, 2006). “Food companies have to acknowledge that there used to be a level of teaching in the home by moms and grandmas that is not as evident today,” explains Janet Myers of Kraft Foods (Sagon, 2006, p. A01). On the other hand, the growing number of popular cooking shows on television may stimulate all cohorts to learn to cook.
Of course, fresh vegetables are often used as a basic ingredient in meals cooked from scratch. Most traditional varieties are low on the convenience scale and tend to require some amount of peeling, chopping, and cutting. Studies further show that vegetables, including fresh and processed foods, are most popular among adventurous cooks who claim, for example, to often try new recipes, entertain guests, and cook nutritious meals (Wansink and Lee, 2004)
One possible solution is for colleges and universities to offer and require students to take a Cooking 101 class, like the requirement many of them already have for remedial English. If children may not be learning the basics on feeding themselves while under their parents’ roofs, so colleges may have to step up and make sure students graduate with cooking skills as well as reading, writing and arithmetic skills.