Aurora Magazine

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I’m Instain’ It

Published 16 Aug, 2023 02:57pm
Muhammad Bin Husain explores transformations in food and culinary preferences among Gen Zers.

To try and write about the changing lifestyle choices among Gen Zers would take a full volume to capture. However, narrowing it down to their food preferences may be worth the attempt within the limits of this article’s word count. Let’s begin with the fact that in terms of age, Gen Z ranges between nine and 24. As to why the food preferences of this generation have changed, it is important to understand that whereas Millennials grew up while adopting and adapting to the rapid changes in digital technology, Gen Z were born with technology at their fingertips and have never experienced any limits to the information they can access. Furthermore, whereas Millennials always lived with one foot in the physical world, Gen Z’s life experiences are defined by what is happening online. As a result, many of the routine and mundane tasks that used to be functional for previous generations have become experiences for Gen Z. Food is one of them.

Food used to be a means to an end. A way to acquire the sustenance and energy we need to live a meaningful life. However, it is also a fact that food has multiple emotional benefits. It is a way of winning hearts, changing minds and facilitating conversations. For Gen Z, the emotional aspect is very important and they have elevated culinary experiences to a form of lifestyle. Young people today do not just use food to function; for them, food has to be experienced, enjoyed, analysed and critically assessed.

Multiple research papers have proved that peer recommendations are a stronger influence on this generation compared to any previous one – and this applies to food too. Recommending what to eat and where to eat it has become the social currency of these times and a tool to gain popularity. You are not cool if you haven’t been to the latest ‘in’ place to eat. Gone are the days when the roadside halwa puri tasted better than anything else, and when the company and the conversation filled any gaps in flavours and ambience. Food and the appreciation of its taste, quality and experience are key with this new generation – and the reason why culinary adventures hold such a central position in their lives.

A typical weekend kicks off with a message on a Whatsapp group. The most active member of the group replies in the affirmative first, then others join in, the person known to eat out the most is called upon to advise where to go (suggesting an already visited place is a cardinal sin) and after much debate, a time and place is set.

The appointed time arrives, the friends gather and after the mandatory Instagram check-ins are done and the food is ordered, gossip and conversation ensues. Then suddenly, like a twist in the tale, everyone falls silent. The food has arrived! One by one, the dishes are served, phones are taken out and a short photography session ensues, enhancing the delectability tenfold. The food is enjoyed and the event ends with a group selfie. Or does it?

Later the same day, multiple reviews on Instagram follow one another, each one better worded and hashtagged than the last one. A straightforward eating-out plan only concludes when it is etched forever in the annals of the internet.

This process of charting memories on our Instagram feeds started with the Millennials, mostly motivated by the dopamine hit that came with the validation accrued from the engagement that follows on other people’s personal accounts. What has changed is the fact that the indigenous relationship Gen Z have with the digital landscape has turned them into social media creators rather than consumers. It is this creative quotient and the need for peer reviews that has led to the dramatic rise in ‘food blogging’ in Pakistan.

What started with Food Fusion and high-quality content pieces have now given way to organic blogging styles such as Irfan Junejo, GirlGottaEat and Mystapaki, among many other food bloggers.

In this emerging niche, every creator has his or her own area of expertise. Some cover street food and desi cuisine in a desi tonality with 10-second videos covering the mouth-watering dishes found on the streets of Pakistan. Others take a more sophisticated approach and critically review the more refined options available providing a thorough review of prices, menu items and facilities. Food bloggers are so prevalent now that any culinary decision can be thoroughly researched and evaluated.

The impact of the heightened attention to the culinary arts and the impulse to amplify every experience is so strong that hardly any food vendor in Pakistan is oblivious to the impact one bad review or unappetising picture can have on their business. This relentless digital scrutiny has led to both fear and opportunity. Our local cuisine has had to be reinvented to provide superior quality and greater innovation as well as a constant influx of new and exciting options. This has led to a multitude of local food entrepreneurs breaking into the scene with innovative dining options, from Cloud Nan’s menu of naan filled options to variations of local favourites such as nihari and barbecue. If anything, this has reinvigorated our local restaurant brands and forced them into much-needed innovation, compared to the early 2000s when global fast food chains dominated the market.

Along with a renaissance in our local cuisine, Gen Z has had a significant impact on global culinary food trends, as their awareness and exposure increases. Gone are the days of generic ‘Chinese’ or ‘Continental’ restaurants. Today, it is about being ‘authentic’ Italian, Thai, Turkish, Lebanese, Japanese – you name it. Entire menus are curated to provide patrons with the flavours of another country, and for this group of restaurateurs, offering multiple styles is a cardinal sin. Gen Z demand a specialist experience in everything they do. The result is that young chefs are receiving professional training abroad in order to provide their patrons with bespoke and exclusive experiences.

To conclude, the relationship that has emerged between food, the food industry and Gen Z is unique. It is much more intimate and demanding. It has led to a higher level of culinary appreciation and digital advocacy. It has also led to more innovation, the introduction of global flavours and boutique dining experiences. The rise of food blogging is the visible handle that guides this important new audience to their next food experience, an interplay that has led to the overall improvement of the food industry. Bon appétit everyone!

Muhammad Bin Husain is Marketing Manager – Skin Care, Unilever Pakistan. For feedback: