The Massive Gray Middle

My Generation

If you're not an organic/local/politically correct foodie and you're not a 24/7 take-out family, then what are you? And does anyone care?

Published on: December 9, 2010
I'm thinking through my column for January today, and thinking about the whole lot of us who make up the massive gray middle ground. Like when I see a Newsweek cover that proclaims, "The Dinner Divide: How our foodie obsession is driving Americans apart." The story itself is excellent, if telling.

In it, the author leads with the stories of three families and their eating habits: the first (a mom, dad and two small kids) spends 20% of their income ($1000/month) on food, buying local, organic and politically correct. The second family (a diabetic son and his adult mother) spends $75/week plus food stamps, and spends hours of their lives shopping farmers markets and trekking about the city for fresh food, plus two hours per night cooking. The third family (a single mom of two kids) spends $100/week, usually breakfasts on what the author calls "bodega food," and often orders supper out during the week – McDonalds, Chinese or pizza.

(I've recently learned that bodegas are those convenience stores you see on every block in big cities. Sort of like Casey's, but without the gas. I have no idea why they call them bodegas, but they're apparently well stocked with high-calorie, super-processed junk. And for a lot of people, they may be the closest thing they have to a grocery store.)

The thing is – and I could be wrong here – but I think there are a whole lot of us out here who fall well into the middle of those descriptions. There are those of us who can pull a chicken or a roast out of the freezer and cook it. We can take some comfort in knowing how it was raised. We don't fault those folks who buy organic at the grocery store, but we understand how non-organic was raised and we know it's healthy, too, and we're not about to spend more money than we need to. We like fresh fruit and vegetables, but we sometimes use (gasp) Jell-O and Velveeta, if a recipe calls for it. Not every day, but sometimes. Moderation.

And I know a lot of young people look at a beef roast with confusion, but a lot of us are not confused. We know how to cook it, because we asked our mothers or our mothers-in-law.

So what about us? I really think there are a whole lot of us, all over the greater Midwest and Plains states, aren't there? But we don't make it into those kinds of stories, I suppose because we don't live in New York or L.A. 

Yet what happens when the food movement (which is what it really is, a movement) skips over us? When coverage makes like a huge swath of the nation's grocery buyers don't exist? What then? Should we be worried, if we're not included in the discussion?

Note of correction: South Florida resident and Illinois farm girl Katie Leigh informs me that bodega is Spanish for small grocery store.