The New Gastronome
Let’s Get Together
Food Projects Spanning Generations
by Eva Breitbach
by Eva Breitbach
When you think about your favourite childhood moments, what comes to mind? A family Christmas dinner with the traditional roast at the centre of the table? Birthday candles on top of grandmother’s famous plum cake with whipped cream? Standing next to the stove helping to stir as you observe the adults preparing a meal?
When we look at food in the context of family, we realise eating is more than just ingestion and energy intake; it is a social phenomenon – closely connected to our relationships, memories, rituals, community and culture. The knowledge around food, such as recipes or preparation methods, is often transmitted from generation to generation. “Eating behaviour is acquired while growing up within a certain environment in a familial, cultural, social and historical context. Our eating habits, therefore, reflect the routines and habits of the social group we belong to. “1
“Older people have a chance to pass on their cooking knowledge, experiences and skills, while younger people can share their insight into new food trends or (intercultural) culinary specialities.”
Within a family context, it’s mostly mothers who are responsible for the transmission of food knowledge, eating practices and family recipes.2 Looking at one family in the South-West of Germany over the span of about 100 years, the pilot study “Meals and eating practices within a Multi-generational Approach”3 shows the predominant role of women in food knowledge transmission: “The matrilineal dissemination of meal structures and opinions, family recipes, use of cherished cookbooks and customs is stronger than in the patrilineal mode and can be traced back multiple generations”1. Another study by Brombach et al. looked at three generations to understand what has been maintained and what has changed regarding nutrition and food handling. Here, they observed that while food storing, for example, is similar across generations, the grandparents’ generation has a better opinion of their own cooking skills and utilises leftovers more economically than the younger generation.4 Recent data underlines that, at least in Germany, younger generations are less proficient in food literacy than older generations.5
Older generations are rich in knowledge about food and meal preparation, and there is a transfer from one or even multiple generations to others. But what would happen if there were fewer moments for this transmission to take place? If meals became more and more externalised from our homes; if the preparation of convenience food outweighed home cooking; and if the older and younger generations interacted less and less?
Less Exchange between Generations
These are not rhetorical questions. When we look at the development of society, we can observe that multiple generations no longer meet as regularly as meeting opportunities in everyday life become fewer. In Germany, for example, the number of households with three or more generations has decreased by approximately 40% between 1995 and 20156. In England and Wales, geographical age segregation is a common phenomenon as well. Young and old often no longer live together in mixed communities. “A […] related problem is that this lack of social contact between different generations […] reduces opportunities for different age groups to share common goals and […] intergenerational knowledge transfers, thus impeding the creation and maintenance of a generative society “7. Both young and old could be missing out on the chance to learn from one another because they interact so seldomly. This situation worsened last year with the COVID-19 pandemic. Social isolation has become a major issue, especially for the elderly.
Looking at the demographic development in Europe, it can be observed that the number of older people is expanding and that society is ageing in general. Therefore, intergenerational relationships are an even more important topic to be considered.
Food as a Communicator
Intergenerational cooking, inside – and outside – of families, has many potential benefits for all involved age groups, like chopping and stirring together creates the opportunity for exchange between generations. Older people have a chance to pass on their cooking knowledge, experiences and skills, while younger people can share their insight into new food trends or (intercultural) culinary specialities. In addition, older people can tell stories from their childhood, memories of earlier times or personal experiences.
The nutritional situation has changed significantly in the last few decades. Aspects such as an increasing supply of food, technological developments in the food market, globalisation, immigration and urbanisation have led to a change in food culture. A trend towards a more sustainable lifestyle and diet can also be observed. Children and adolescents often give up meat and prefer a vegetarian diet.8 But, what is now a conscious decision for many young people, and is associated with deliberate renunciation in everyday life, was a given reality for older people when they were young themselves. The post-war generation was used to regional and seasonal foods due to their easy access and availability. Given food’s scarcity at the time, leftovers were always used as a matter of necessity.
The two generations have different experiences on many food-related issues, which they can share and learn from. In addition, both of them experience moments of self-efficacy when cooking together. While children and young people experience pride and a sense of independence cooking a delicious dish using several ingredients, older people experience a feeling of appreciation and recognition by passing on their skills. In addition, meeting members of the other generation can broaden the horizons of both, young and old.
The communal meal is also an important aspect as stories are shared at the dining table, sparking a social connection. Eating in society can connect people: whoever eats together also gets to know each other better. And although the two generations are different in many ways, there are also similarities to discover – a shared joy of cooking and eating, for example!
The following three international projects show how an interaction between the generations can be created:
The project brings together children aged 10 to 14 years with people aged 65 and over in cooking workshops across Germany. The project aims to promote food literacy through joint cooking workshops and, in particular, to promote social participation across generations. In multi-generational teams, the participants experience that cooking is fun and easy. During the cooking workshops, the participants are introduced to basic kitchen techniques, balanced and everyday recipes, diverse tastes and the sustainable use of food. Another important aspect is the exchange of skills, knowledge and stories around food between the generations. Of course, young and old also eat together, which is a crucial moment to form relationships. The project is conducted by the non-profit association Plattform Ernährung und Bewegung (peb) and funded by the Federal Ministry of Food and Agriculture as part of the National Action Plan IN FORM (www.in-form.de).
“Pasta Grannies” is an independent multimedia project that beautifully and authentically portrays older Italian women preparing a traditional pasta dish – always handmade and from scratch. As a series of short films, the women explain their regional recipes, show specific techniques, such as kneading dough or preparing sauces, and share insights into their life stories and families. The viewers are taken into home kitchens throughout different Italian regions and can intimately observe the “Pasta Grannies'” cooking process. The project, initiated by the journalist Vicky Bennison, acknowledges women as the family caregivers and keepers of traditional recipes while honouring and sharing their skills and knowledge in the kitchen to a greater audience. It is a celebration of Italian cuisine, traditional recipes and the true Italian chef – la nonna (“the granny”).
The “Food For Life Better Care Project” was established by the British Soil Association in 2017 as a pioneer project to use good food to improve older people’s health and well-being. The long term goal was to ensure that older people have access to good food and company – to eradicate or mitigate malnourishment as well as isolation and loneliness. The program gave people aged 75 and over – living in care facilities, hospitals or their own homes – support to eat and enjoy good food by interacting with the community. Furthermore, generations are “linked” by inviting older people into schools and young people into care homes for shared meals, cooking and food growing activities. It is also important to note that the programmes were co-designed with older people to ensure their specific needs were met. The program collaborates with local authorities, NHS (National Health Service), care facilities, local and national NGOs and volunteer organisations.
 Brombach C, 2017. Meals and eating practices within a multi-generational approach: a qualitative insight study. International Journal of Clinical Nutrition & Dietetics 3(122), S.1-6.
 Brombach C, Haefeli D, Bartsch S, Clauß S, Winkler G, 2014. What have we kept and what have we changed? A three generation study on nutrition and food handling. Ernährungs Umschau 61(11): 171–177.
 Kolpatzik K, Zaunbrecher R (Hrsg.), 2020. Ernährungskompetenz in Deutschland. Berlin: KomPart.
 Statistisches Bundesamt, 2016. Zusammenleben von Generationen.
 Kingman D, 2016. Generations Apart? The growth of age segregation in England and Wales. Intergenerational Foundation.
 Schürmann S, Kersting M, Alexy U, 2017. Vegetarian diets in children: a systematic review. Eur J Nutr 56, 1797–1817.
Photo ©Aarón Gómez Figueroa