Commentary: A Seismic Shift in How People Eat
For many, a trip to McDonald’s used to be a treat. There was nothing better than when your mom gave into your pleas and pulled into the drive-thru to get you a Happy Meal. However, recent studiesshow that many consumers—and millennials in particular—are distrustful of large food manufacturers and instead favor natural foods produced by more transparent companies. Consumers are trading in French fries for fresh foods.
Consumers are wary of huge, hard-to-pronounce words on ingredients lists, so manufacturers are looking to replace these chemicals with natural substitutes. It’s even becoming a point of difference for companies—Powerade is getting a leg-up in its famed rivalry against Gatorade by eliminating brominated vegetable oil, an ingredient that consumers view as controversial. Consumers are becoming wary of processed foods and the big food manufacturers that make them. Foods that used to be beloved household staples, like frozen dinners and candy bars, are falling out of favor as consumers look for healthier alternatives.
With this need for authenticity and focus on health, companies are being forced to keep up with consumer tastes. The food industry has evolved through this adaption to consumers’ tastes. As consumers demand more natural and healthy food, manufacturers must supply, or watch their sales plummet. Even McDonald’s, a pillar of processed food, has attempted to revamp its menu by removing antibiotics from its chicken. Previous generations were satisfied with the health level of food, but millenials are putting their feet down, and it’s causing a food industry revolution.
Consumers are making huge changes to age-old, seemingly foolproof formulas. More companies are going local, choosing to source their ingredients from local providers, which reduces carbon footprint and supports communities. Others are removing sugar, incorporating whole grains, or turning to more artisanal, handmade methods of processing. Companies boast these features on their advertisements, knowing that consumers are highly tuned to these buzzwords.
This is all good news for consumers and companies alike. Consumers are growing more aware of their role in the food chain. We used to take, take, take from the Earth, while twisting natural ingredients into over-processed, mutated versions of themselves. Consumers now want to eat food as nature intended, which not only hugely reduces the environmental impact of food processing, but also reminds consumers of their place in the world. It’s easy to believe that we, as humans, are superior to nature and don’t need to maintain the integrity of the natural world. However, doing so is environmentally responsible, honors the inherent value of food, and reminds us of our connection to the natural world.
Food companies were also in need of drastic change. Documentaries like Food, Inc. have revealed the troubles of the food industry—how food has lost its soul, how we have lost our relationship to food by relying on big manufacturers and their factory processes. Companies are being forced to return to more natural, personal methods of manufacturing, which breathes life back into the creation of food and reduces their impact on the environment.
Healthy food is good for your body, but it’s good for your mind, too. The revamping of the food industry is allowing people to rediscover their role in the natural world; it is a lot easier to understand how food can be fuel when you are consuming organic oats rather than a processed TV dinner. Consumers are becoming wise to the fact that healthy food is good for mind, body, and spirit, and companies are forced to keep up. This is revitalizing the food industry and allowing for a more mindful consumption of food.