by Charlotte Beal
The same day that I read former Gourmet editor Ruth Reichl’s sumptuous weeklong eating journal on Grubstreet, I read about Sundance documentary Finding North and its portraits of hunger in the US. We live at a time when there’s a great divide between the haves and have-nots, when more people are obsessed with finding the best versions of everything, and others are just trying to find some version of satiety.
In a recent trend about the Fragmentation of Foodies, I wrote about how the recession has pushed foodieism to a mass scale. Today, people just want to feel knowledgeable/excited about what they eat, whether it’s caviar or french fries. Still, the culture wars remain, and what started as food elitist vs. food democrat is shifting. The new trouble spot? Whether there’s a basic sensitivity toward the food-insecure from the vantage point of the food-saturated.
According to the Finding North website, 49 million Americans — one in four children — don’t know where their next meal is coming from. A Share Our Strength/ConAgra survey found that the frequency of eating dinner made at home increases as income decreases (January 2012). In other words, millions of consumers strive for the luxury of time and money when it comes to planning a varied diet, while others have the luxury of outsourcing that task to chefs multiple times a week.
What does this mean for marketers?
1. Until more people are employed, always remember to balance the embarrassment-of-riches tone of food excitement with acknowledgment of the other, have-not world.
2. Equally praising highbrow and lowbrow food (which Reichl did, from champagne to ramen) isn’t quite enough. Recognizing good luck, or even practicing self-deprecation, might be.
3. Touting quality rather than exclusivity can help a brand step away from the elitist/anti-elitist fray. Everyone deserves good food.
4. Aspiration is a key part of food marketing, sure, and Reichl is pushing the fabulous-life brand of an über-foodie (to be expected), but companies can make consumers feel included rather than jealous or bitter by balancing gilded lilies with cause projects.