We humans tend to like things that are bad for us. This rings true with food most of all, with fast food corporations remaining popular despite repeatedly coming under fire for their unhealthy items. As generations who’ve grown up learning what harm eating such foods can do, one would assume that junk food would be breathing its last with Gen Z and Millennials. But that would be wrong.
See, nothing inspires a Tylt vote quite like a food debate. And no, this isn’t the kind of food health teachers encouraged you to incorporate into your diet. What these debates center around is munchies and desserts. “Which is better: milk chocolate or dark chocolate” drew in as many as 15,705 votes (for the record, #TeamMilkChocolate won by 59.7 percent). Heck, 56 percent of Tylt audiences even claim chocolate milk is a far superior athletic recovery drink to that electrolyte elitist, Gatorade.
Supposedly nourishing options didn’t fare as well. In the same way they prefer real meat and fish over all the “impossible” foods, Trader Joe’s cauliflower gnocchi—a product which the nutritionally conscious hold in high esteem—was deemed more a “healthy horror” than a “delectable dinner” by Gen Z and Millennials. Ever into self-care, it looks like the ideologies of the “treat yourself” mentality of younger demographics extends into guilty pleasure food as much as it does face masks.
This preference for more “treat yourself” food is also reflected in Gen Z and Millennial attitudes toward food policy. An overwhelming 79.2 percent of Tylt voters were against the banning of chocolate milk from school cafeterias despite nationwide PTA efforts. A study conducted by Cornell researchers appears to agree with this sentiment. The research within the study found that—when children were deprived of chocolate milk as a lunchtime option—they were less likely to drink milk in general, missing out on the protein and calcium needed for healthy development. Food waste even increased, as students who purchased white milk options threw away 29.4 percent of it.
This isn’t to say that Gen Z and Millennials reject all health efforts. If that were true, Peloton and other fitness services wouldn’t have garnered such popularity. Gen Z is particularly focused on how “clean” and nutritional the food they ingest is (a NPD report estimates they’ll grow the holistic and healthy snack category by five percent come 2023). It’s more so the fact that brands misinterpret their interest in health food as an absolute obsession, one that has younger generations doing away with all the potato chips and sweets entirely. But by putting all its eggs into the healthy basket, the food industry is ignoring the potential behind the “guilty pleasure” category.
Just because something’s healthy doesn’t mean it’s good for you, both as a consumer and a company. Gen Z and Millennials know this, and would still gladly take a side of fries over that salad. Binge-eating will always belong to the Dorito, never the quinoa chip.