The generations share the landscape

“We live in a decaying age. Our youth spend their time in taverns and are disrespectful to their elders.”  -Anonymous graffiti, circa 1800 B.C., from an internal passageway of a pyramid.

By Morf Morford
Tacoma Daily Index

Maybe it is social media that makes every topic public and immediate. It might be that a new generation, with its own values, energy and possibilities is taking it place alongside – or on top of – or entangled with – a previous generation (or two).

Whatever the cause, Millennials are making (or at least attempting to make) their place in the grown-up world of work and personal autonomy.

Millennials are also, perhaps like every emerging generation, “ruining” everything from cash to avocados.

Millennials and Boomers seem to have a running competition on who has – or will – “ruin” more of America, if not the future for everyone.

Boomers get “credit” for “ruining” the economy, affordable housing, education (especially higher education and student debt) and the environment).  (1*)

You would not think there was anything left but wait…

Millennials are blamed for “ruining” cursive handwriting, diamonds, department stores – and malls, golf, napkins, analog clocks, cars (especially sedans), handshakes, lunch, cereal, avocados, mayonnaise, work, cruises, Applebee’s, physical media (like books, CDs and DVDs) and sex – among many other things.

Thanks to Millennials, “Adulting” has become a word – and not used often with confidence – either of doing it or even defining it.

History is dense with examples of generations dismissing or rebelling against the values and identity of the previous generation and bemoaning the values and character of the on-coming generation.

Children today are tyrants.  They contradict their parents, gobble their food, and tyrannize their teachers.  – Socrates

In previous eras, adulthood was thrust upon young people by war, hunger or necessity.

We have wars (several in fact) but they are far away and participation in them is (for most young people)voluntary.

Military service is the experience, nationwide, of about one percent of us. Yes, military service quickly makes adults of young people, but there are statistically few and they tend to be clustered around military installations, so they have little large scale social impact.

When it comes to food, the person under 40 who can cook a meal (with nothing frozen, in a box or microwaved) is rare indeed.

About 5% of households owned a freezer in 1974. By 2000 that figure stood at 94%. That means that for far too many of us, the freezer (and it’s culinary companion, the microwave oven) have become kitchen necessities.

Cooking doesn’t need to be complicated – in fact the best meals are often deceptively simple to prepare.

One of six young adults eats fast food twice a day ( And most young people eat fast food at least two times a week.

One in four 21 to 34-year-olds said they missed breakfast most of the time. They were also most likely to skip lunch.

They were the generation most likely to exercise regularly, with 86% claiming they did.

21 to 34-year-olds are also the age group most likely to be vegetarian (15%) or vegan (7%). And suffer from eating disorders, food allergies and sensitivities.

Over a third of young people are, or are rapidly approaching, obesity. Diabetes, once relatively rare, is now almost a generational marker.

When it comes to food, or almost anything related to it (like napkins, or alcohol, or coffee or toast) nothing is as it was just a few years ago.

Millennials have reframed, re-defined or abandoned not only food, but the social niceties that gave food a social context. Country club membership? Meh….Predictable food, or eating schedules? Nope…. Romantic dinner? Uhhh….not likely.

Eating standard bread or drinking cow’s milk? No thanks. Artisan, gluten-free, lactose-free are the defining terms for a typical millennial meal – especially a shared one. Food “sensitivities” are the marker of this generation.

The standard American diet of meat, milk and mashed potatoes is evaporating.

The aspirations and achievements of one generation might seem paltry, even embarrassing, to another.  Photo: Morf Morford
The aspirations and achievements of one generation might seem paltry, even embarrassing, to another. Photo: Morf Morford

Previous generations, especially the Depression and World War II generation ate anything they could – they knew hunger and they knew how to improvise on the stove top.

Most young people panic and think they are going to die when they experience hunger. They are known for opening a densely packed refrigerator, shutting the door and screaming “There’s nothing to eat around here!”

To be fair, becoming an adult is never easy, but we, our culture, has made it even more difficult and confusing.

And in too many cases, nearly impossible.

Becoming an adult used to mean moving out from the home one grew up in and establishing one’s own place and a distinct and separate life.

Thanks to barely changing pay scales, student debt and spiraling rents and home prices, who could do any of those traditionally “adult” actions?

Nationwide, about one of three young adults, by necessity, lives with their parents.

As you might expect, this is most common in the most expensive states – New Jersey, California and New York.  (2*)

But it is rapidly becoming the norm in almost every city – and Millennials, according to the stereotype, love their cities.

The term “generational warfare” has emerged to define this conflict of values and opportunities between Millennials and Boomers.

Like any metaphor, “warfare” has its limits. An old proverb regarding international diplomacy is “Nations have no permanent friends or allies, they only have permanent interests.”

Generations, like genders, could never really be at “war” – we need each other too much.

Besides, for the most part, each of the two “sides” Millennials and Boomers, genuinely like and admire each other.

We might love and/or hate each other over some issues and there might be some difficult seasons, but I think we all know that we are all, each generation in its turn, making our place as only we, given our circumstances, ever could.

Besides, when you look at history, there are few things more enduring than misunderstanding, if not contempt, for the other generation.

The bottom line is that we, the involuntary if not reluctant representatives of the generation we were born into have much to learn from  – and maybe even teach – the other generation.

In Book III of Odes, circa 20 BC, Horace wrote:

Our sires’ age was worse than our grandsires’. We, their sons, are more worthless than they; so in our turn we shall give the world a progeny yet more corrupt.


(1*)    For a depressing analysis and documentation, check out the book “Tailspin; the people and forces behind America’s fifty-year fall – and those fighting to reverse it” by Steven Brill, Knopf, 2018.

(2*)    You can se a full list here –

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