They May Not Have a Healthy Diet, But at Least It’s Not a Boring One

The Young and the Omnivorous

If you are what you eat, young Americans are an even more motley crew than we’d supposed. In a survey of 13- to 24-year-olds by Alloy’s Y-Access unit, respondents were asked to say which of a number of foods they’ve eaten at some point in their lives. Pizza (cited by 95 percent), spaghetti & meatballs (92 percent), macaroni & cheese (91 percent) and peanut butter & jelly (89 percent) were dietary fixtures. Burritos were nearly as commonplace (83 percent). Nearly half the young folks (49 percent) have given sushi a try, and 37 percent have eaten curry. More striking, though, is the fact that sizable minorities of respondents claimed to have consumed such exotic edibles as caviar (25 percent), frogs legs (22 percent), dim sum (17 percent), escargot (17 percent), tapas (15 percent) and pad thai (14 percent). When asked to cite their favorite ethnic cuisines, 58 percent mentioned Italian food, putting it ahead of American (53 percent), Chinese (49 percent) and Mexican (47 percent). Cajun was the only other cuisine to register in double digits (cited by 10 percent).

Elsewhere in the poll, 38 percent said they “try new foods all the time,” while 27 percent said they’ll “pretty much try anything,” as long as it’s not “too weird or different.” These adventurous eaters outnumbered the 25 percent who “like to stick with the foods I am familiar with, but will sometimes try new things” and the 8 percent who “don’t really like to experiment with new foods” and prefer “to stick with what I know.”

What governs the food choices young people make? Not health and nutrition. When asked to cite the top three factors that influence them in deciding what to eat, just 26 percent included “how good it is for me.” Far more chose “how good it tastes” (84 percent) and/or “how much it costs” (53 percent); 30 percent picked “how big the portion is.” Sixteen percent consider whether they can consume the food while “on the go.”

As for their daily eating habits, just 8 percent said, “I’m a goodie-goodie when it comes to food; I eat what’s good for me.” A candid 25 percent confessed, “I pig out on whatever I’m in the mood for,” and another 18 percent said, “I’m a snack-food junkie.” Lots of the young folks are simply indifferent to what they stuff into their gullets: 24 percent said, “I eat whatever’s made for me (at home, at the school cafeteria, etc.),” while 19 percent said, “I don’t really think about what I eat.” Relatively few respondents systematically restrict the foods they eat. Five percent said, “I’m on a diet; I can only eat certain foods.” Three percent identified themselves as vegetarians, and 1 percent said they’re vegans.