Celebrating meals virtually can deepen our holidays’ meaning

Contributed by Sophia Retchin, Gen-Z Advisor at Aleph Farms.


I’m having a virtual potluck in a couple of weeks. Doesn’t sound so tasty, but it’s a great way to connect with others and share some recipes during this time of social distancing. Now with a lot more time to cook, my university Food Politics professor assigned the class to create an online cookbook to share stories about our most meaningful recipes, then cook another student’s recipe to connect to someone else’s story.

While my class is connecting through food over Zoom, we are delving into the deep interdependencies in the system that gets our food to the table. One question I’ve brought up is, what is the role of these connections to our current situation? Further, how do we prevent this from happening again, and emerge as a better world? As you probably know, coronavirus is one of the many mass diseases that have originated from the sale and eating of slaughtered animals, and shines light on how our food system needs some re-thinking on the paths it takes, moving forward. I am seeing this challenging time as an opportunity for people to have that ‘aha’ moment of understanding the deep connection of people, environment, and animals, and our individual vulnerability within this network.

I often wonder if Gen Z’s average of four hours and fifteen minutes on our phones per day may be unhealthy, and maybe a bit obsessive, but I believe that the connectivity to a world of people, ideas, and information that this obsession creates is our generation’s greatest strength. Our awareness and exposure to the connectivity of the world has improved our understanding of the network of relationships within our food system. We’re demanding transparency. We have grown up googling every single little question that pops into our minds on the smartphones that never leaves our hands.

This not only fuels knowledge, but also ways to get into action. Whether it’s making a petition go viral, advertising a protest or event, or promoting a fundraiser over social media, organizing online locally or globally, is not new to us and propels us into action: over Facebook, many students were spurred to participate in the nationwide protests at universities to demand on-campus Wendy’s to shut down until they abide to fair trade tomato purchasing, and after two universities in London banned beef to curb their carbon footprint, schools across the UK and in California started online petitions for red meat bans, one getting 90,000 signatures.

This online organizing isn’t stopping with the coronavirus. I was in the midst of starting a new Alternative Protein Project club at UNC right when we were all told to stay home to social distance. I’ve had meetings with professors for potential advisors online, emailed departments to advertise the club, have organized a Zoom interest meeting for students, and am collaborating with other Alt. Protein Projects around the world to plan a webinar.

What fuels Gen Zers to keep innovating is the exposure to so many different people online who are already creating change. Ted Talks work. We’re not watching the nightly news that perhaps our parents watch, but a vast variety of news outlets and groups on social media. We aren’t afraid to pursue new opportunities, and build a better food system and world, because we see people doing this all the time online, inspiring us to do the same.

One of these new, world-changing opportunities is cultivated meat. Our comfortability with technology has translated over to food, as a recent study shows that 71% of Gen Zers are comfortable with food tech, compared with two generations back, Gen X, only reporting 51%.

We’re also driven through being constantly inundated with news about climate change doomsday, we are realizing the stakes, and are reflecting this in our food choices. Our “phones eat first” culture is turning into a culture of taking that time to contemplate the system behind our food, and not just the resulting beauty of it.

When I sit down at the virtual potluck in a couple of weeks, I’m sure we’ll enjoy sitting around the screen together and learning from each other’s dishes. For my recipe, I chose an updated, plant-based version of my grandmother’s matzo ball soup recipe. While this happens to be my favorite dish for any time of the year, it’s particularly meaningful since Passover is this week. She wouldn’t be so happy with it, but, one day soon the recipe will return to its traditional form — with cultivated meat.

Sophia is a second year undergraduate at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, pursuing a B.A. in Environmental Studies. Sophia is a highly engaged student with a passion and dedication to build more ethical and sustainable societies and business practices through promoting alternative protein products. Planning to pursue a graduate degree in business to become an even bigger game-changer in shifting food choices, she’s been interning as an Investment Banking Analyst, analyzing and advising on marketing strategies and financial analyses of alternative protein companies, along with interning in the Corporate Engagement Department of The Good Food Institute.