Many older boomers grew up on meat loaf and mac-and-cheese with an occasional milk shake at Howard Johnson's. Later, fast-food restaurants bloomed because teens in cars wanted a place to hang out.
Today, boomers eat out more than ever, spending a household average of $1,260 annually, according to the National Restaurant Association. And their tastes have gone far beyond the old staples. While their "greatest generation" parents couldn't imagine eating raw fish, boomer patronage put sushi restaurants on speed-dial. The same goes for Brazilian, Indian, Thai and other ethnic fare.
Boomers also went healthy. A recent survey found that 54 percent of boomers say they buy more organic and natural foods today than they did 30 years ago, helping to establish a $24.8 billion industry.
Typical is organic food pioneer Erika Polmar. Her Plate and Pitchfork dinners in Oregon communities are prepared by local chefs with farm-grown ingredients. The cost: around $125 a person — including wine and a tour of the farm.
Among the most well-known promoters of locally produced organic ingredients is chef Alice Waters, owner of Chez Panisse in Berkeley, Calif., which has patronized local farmers for decades. With her creation in the mid-'90s of the Edible Schoolyard, a model one-acre vegetable garden and nutritious cooking program at Berkeley's Martin Luther King Jr. Middle School, Waters shares her culinary passion with future generations.
Cathie Gandel is a freelance writer based in New York.
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