Eat This

I Belong To the Wrong Generation

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Laura Weil whipping up magic burritos on handmade tortillas at the Saratoga farmers' market

Last week, The New York Times ran a piece suggesting that Brooklyn is turning into Berkeley, a place full of young, hip food entrepreneurs setting new standards for culinary adventuresomeness and exquisitude.  And I had a thought I've been having a lot lately: I was born 20 years too early.

Let me tell you about my generation.  We grew up in the suburbs on jarred Ragu spaghetti sauce and Swanson TV dinners.  Not me, of course, because my mother is European and thought the way Americans ate was insane.  But everybody else, and it's not as if there were vegetables being grown in my backyard, either, or anybody was getting very dirty or living in some natural fashion at my house.  We lived like the neighbors, among extremely pale wall-to-wall carpets and velvet couches and gold-leafed mirrors.  Nature was a lot of inert Japanese evergreens that bloomed once a year in toothache-inducing colors.

We were late boomers, out on the street riding our Schwinns when Woodstock took place.  We were serious in college. The few earth-loving types among us ate blunt and gluey vegetarian fare that converted no one to the cause.  We were too stupid to notice the glorious Gothic architecture and lovely plantings surrounding us.

We went to work on Wall Street or as waitrons supporting some vaguely artistic dream.  We either wanted to be Exene Cervenka of X or Diane Keaton in Baby Boom, before she gets to Vermont, and mainly because she looked so good in those sharp suits.

No one dreamed of farming.  No one thought much about food, except for finding someone who'd take us to the latest fashionable restaurant.  (My best friend's boss, 40 and male to our 24 and female, happily obliged.)

There were no farmers among my cohorts, no cheesemakers, no handmade tortilla geniuses. Even those of us who always liked to cook and really, really liked to eat, never saw food as much of a career.

No, we drove SUV's and did jobs that felt important or lucrative and ideally both, until one day some of us woke up and thought, is anything really more important than food?

But by then, it was too late!!!  There were mortgages to pay and children to feed.  The time for experimentation had passed.   Oh yes, we could be backyard farmers.  But actual farmers?  That was best left to people with the muscular firing power of youth.

Fortunately, we useless and abstract late boomers will soon be replaced on the stage by the young farmers and ice cream makers and tortilla geniuses I see at the Saratoga farmers' market.  They are my people, though I missed being one of them by a simple twist of fate.  I am glad they will inherit the earth.

People say that what these college-educated craftsmen are making is food for elites.  I call it food that's actually worth the money.  Sustainable, life affirming, a sign of a culture that is finally growing up.  It's at least as important as anything that's happened on Wall Street in the last 20 years and a lot more benign.

If I were an echo boomer or a Gen-Xer, I might very well be the hyper-opinionated manager of a CSA today.  No, we are not planting that rubbery lacinato kale instead of the frilly stuff that's so sprightly in a soup!   But
as an actual boomer, what can I do?  Nothing but plant my greens in
lonely fashion and rue the narrowness of my world several decades ago.

Posted by on March 6, 2009 at 1:20 am, in the category Eat This.
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22 responses to “I Belong To the Wrong Generation”

  1. I feel your pain, Michele! But look at it this way–we led the way and made all things possible for the wonderfulness that follows us. 😉

  2. TC says:

    This is the first time I’ve ever seen Exene Cervenka and X mentioned in blogland. Maybe I don’t get “out” much. “X Live At The Whiskey A Go-Go On The Fabulous Sunset Strip” was and is the only punk rock CD (I had the cassette tape, but it got buried somewhere down in Tucker Holler, KY) I’ll ever listen to. That’s not what I really wanted to say though; I actually wanted to say that I, like you, feel kind of left out, and ruefulness never wears off.

  3. queenie says:

    ‘There’s a time for everything’ – as ‘is written’. . . . Like you, I’m glad that those who care about food are inheriting the earth! I’m glad to think that there will be farmers – people! – farming the earth instead of mechanical combine monsters. I pray that the human element will never again be lost. Bring on the frilly, sprightly stuff, and pass me another handmade tortilla. . . .
    thank you very much.

  4. LauraP says:

    There have always been maverick organic farmers & gardeners, tortilla geniuses, and cooks who created healthful magic on a daily basis from a basic of garden gleanings. They just weren’t chic — isn’t it wonderful how stylish this lifestyle has become?

  5. Kristine says:

    great post, was there doing the hippie thing back then, now in small apt with no garden, so have to go to kids!

  6. It’s never too late to change your path. I was there then, but moved on to being “responsible”…got one of those important, lucrative jobs, but after a decade or so I realized that the “dream” I was trying to fulfill wasn’t fulfilling me. So I decided to change my course and set a goal of owning my own organic nursery/farm, and am realizing that goal now. I haven’t been able to quit my day job yet, but it won’t be too much longer and I will be able to pursue my own business full time.

  7. vicki says:

    Hey…at least you “woke up.” Many others did not.
    And to add JUST ONE other answer your question, “what can I do,”

    you can keep writing.

    By the way, there are lots and lots of examples of people who STARTED making a significant, positive impact on other people’s lives when they were much older than you are.

  8. The writing is as important as the doing. The information and inspiration needs to be spread, shared and recorded. Otherwise it is only a small group of folks who can’t make much of an impact. I think it’s also really important that a record exists to help those who come after build on what came before.

    And Vicki is right: it’s never NEVER too late! Read about Helen and Scott Nearing if you need a bit of a boost.

  9. Nikki Smith says:

    Hey, now you’re talkin’ bout my generation. …

    I don’t have a mortgage yet, but I am super busy with work and hobbies. It’s hard to find time to eat something more than a microwave dinner. (Amy’s Organics are tops.) I aim to eat four home-cooked well-balanced dinners each week and have developed a great interest in organic cooking and growing my own food. It’s a declaration of independence; I don’t have to depend on the man for sustenance.

    I think the Internet has enabled this renaissance. Great recipes. Gardening tips. No information is out of reach, and no one is left outta the loop. No one that’s web savvy anyway. If you can manage an iPod, you can totally make a magic burrito.

    Ironic that you believe YOU were born in the wrong generation, though, cause it seems like a lot of my cohorts believe they were born 20 years too late.

  10. Liisa says:

    “I don’t have to depend on the man for sustenance.”

    Thank you, Nikki — you made me smile. :-)

  11. Karl Katzke says:

    I don’t know that I’d say you were born too late. Any corner that you feel painted into is yours and yours alone.

    My Internal Medicine doctor retired last year at 65 and bought a big piece of land outside of town. He’s now happily farming, and doesn’t even give a hoot if he manages to grow anything.

  12. Susan Harris says:

    I feel compelled to defend Boomerhood! I’ve always thought it was the coolest possible time to come of age and felt _sorry_ for people coming along after us in much more boring times.
    Not to mention how lucky I feel to have been born into an educated and privileged family, by world standards.

  13. Pam J. says:

    This theoretical discussion about what different generations do, or don’t do, suddenly reminds me of a line in some movie, possibly a Woody Allen movie, “No, that’s OK. I don’t mind being reduced to a cultural stereotype.”

  14. commonweeder says:

    I think there have always been people who cared about food and the land, and other important things even when it wasn’t noticeable because it wasn’t trendy or fashionable. How happy for all of us that there is a fashion right now – and I am praying that it becomes one of those classic fashions that remains with us as a kind of bedrock style, no many how many frivolous frills try to replace the essential requirement for our health and the health of the planet. I’m a pre-boomer myself, before they started naming every generation.

  15. Steve says:

    Commonweeder put it in perspective. I grew up in the 60’s and 70’s, and don’t really think the world was all that narrow. And surely, most of us have seen enough of life to know to be careful of deriding people who drive SUVs, or even like lawns–are we so sure that in a few years one of our own certainties will not be exposed as a folly?

  16. Jan says:

    I’m an early boomer and think of the idyllic childhood we had – running around the neighborhood all day, biking anywhere we wanted without helmets, elbow/knee pads or warnings about strangers. Our only responsibility was to look both ways when crossing the street.

    Queenie, I drive a “mechanical combine monster” during harvest and it is both hard work and a hoot at the same time.

  17. Plantanista says:

    Late boomer here. My backlash against the thrice-weekly Burger King dinners my poor mom resorted to while trying to work and raise four sugar-addicted kids was an attempt at organic farming in the 80’s. Young, strong, and overly ambitious, we broke even and enjoyed the party scene crunchy-style. It was a blast, and my former partner is still in farming.

    I agree with others that although we weren’t considered stylish at the time, there have always been food-conscious garden enthusiasts making a mark on the world in their early twenties, we just weren’t as noticeable. Unless we had just applied the fish emulsion, in which case we turned heads, oh yeah!

  18. Frances says:

    Hooray for the younger generation and their home made ice cream! :-)

    Frances at Fairegarden

    co owner of The Hop
    Asheville, NC

  19. Kathy says:

    Grow where – and when – you are planted…

  20. peg says:

    I was born in 1963; not quite a boomer, not quite a Gen Xer. But I was raised with parents who were into both home gardening and home cooking. Aside from my college years when food was easier to eat if someone else made it, I’ve been cooking for myself and others, and avoiding processed prepared meals.

    My dad, who grew vegetables every year as far back as I can remember, passed away several years ago. I learned that, after a brief conversation with me where I told him that he could command higher prices at the farmer’s market for organic veggies, that he and his gardening partner were planning to stop using sprays. But Dad died before he could put this into practice. So it is never too late to learn or change, but it’s also true that we are not promised tomorrow.

    I’m planting apple trees in honor of my dad, and last summer’s organic tomatoes, the first I have ever tried to grow, bore huge fruits while everyone else in the neighborhood suffered from too much rain. I’m thankful I inherited the right genes.

  21. germi says:

    Michele, I love you
    You speak my thoughts EXACTLY!!!
    I have so many young friends who are so enthused about the growing and making of food, and I always think -“what was up with my generation?”

    You said it!

    And TC – I don’t know if I’d call ‘X’ punk rock exactly … but that’s another discussion for another time between late boomers (although I’ve always identified as an early Gen eX-er)

  22. Adriana says:

    You’re pretty rad to not only make an X reference but a Richard Hell reference too.

    I am a Gen X’er, punk, vegan, high raw foodist and from scratch nerd yet I feel like I was born too early. You see, I consider myself a farmer despite being a corpo accountant by day. I am methodic when I plant. I sow cover crops and start all my vegs from seed. I practice organic sustainable farming. I’d kill to live and work in a farm of yore.

    PS, lacinato kale makes a killer raw Mediterranean salad.

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