Wednesday, November 1, 2017

The Return of the Generation Gap—in the Grocery Aisle

Today's generation gap isn't centered around music (much to their chagrin, I quite like most of the bands my sons listen to); it's centered around food. In a recent survey done by The Institute of Grocery Distribution, statistics show that shoppers under 35 are twice as likely to want organic food as those over 35, and a third of them don't mind paying more for it. Those under 35 are also more likely to waste less food, cook from scratch, and base their food purchases on a company's reputation for social responsibility. 

Having read Michael Pollan's riveting and enlightening book, The Omnivore's Dilemma, my eyebrow inevitably quirks any time I read a product's proud proclamation as "Organic!!!" (though I've recently conceded that if I'm planning to eat the peel on a fruit or vegetable, perhaps it really is worth paying for the chance it might actually be pesticide-free). Meanwhile, my 28-year-old's silent stares of recrimination when he's with me in the produce aisle are such that—at least when he's around—I find myself picking up organic more and more. In fact, the changed eating habits of my three sons—all under 35— have changed my own grocery buying habits dramatically. Gone are the white bread, soda, chips, cold cuts, and sugary cereals they loved in their youth. Now they ask for brown rice, dried beans, sweet potatoes, oatmeal, whole grain pasta, and Brussels sprouts. Yes, Brussels sprouts.

How is it that a generation raised on Pop-Tarts, Red Bull, and sundry processed foods has suddenly discovered their inner Euell Gibbons? These are children who grew up with 2XLs and Furbies, not Easy-Bake Ovens—children who ate more meals in back seats than at dinner tables because their parents were always working or on the go. That 28-year-old who now sneers when I reach for sugar instead of raw honey was the "Taco Bell Kid" until his passion evolved from burritos to bicycles a few years back.

But all this purity is a good thing, surely—and not just for those farmers wily enough to grab on to a USDA label. (Go for it, guys; you farmers deserve any break you can get.) Certainly there's enough evidence now to convince us that homemade whole wheat bread is healthier than a loaf of Sunbeam, that snacking on a fresh apple from a local orchard is a better choice than French fries from a local McDonald's. And how can you fault a mom who works all day then comes home and willingly makes kale and goat cheese calzoneswith tomatoes and basil from a backyard garden, no lessinstead of whippin' it through the Pizza Hut drive-thru?

No, I'm quite willing to let the Millennials lord their superior nutritional standards over us Boomers, because while I will never feel the need to apologize over serving up a cake that started with a box from Duncan Hines, I readily admit that Happy Cow un-homogenized whole milk, with no additives, from [happy!] grass-fed cows, is significantly better than ye olde mass produced 2% and worth the price difference. Meanwhile, it's pressure (read: guilt) from my own 3 Millennials that has reduced my soft drink consumption to almost nil, my fast food meals to a minimum, and my love affair with white food to the occasional crush. For that, I credit them (and say a heartfelt thank you) for a healthier body and a hefty weight loss.

I'm not quite ready to jump on the tofu wagon or give up Coke completely, but if this generation wants to raise their own chickens, bake their own bread, grow their own fruits and vegetables or insist on buying what goes into their bodies from someone they know instead of from Monsanto, who are we to stand in their way?

Respecting those choices is the least we can do after raising them on Pop-Tarts and Tang.

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Is Encouraging Entrepreneurship the Solution to Unemployment?

The man in the middle is my dad. He started a Western Auto franchise in a tiny little town in central Florida and won one top sales award after another. He loved his employees and they loved him!

Did you know this is Small Business Week? Sponsored by the U.S. Small Business Administration since 1963, this annual celebration of the foundation of the American economy is a great time to consider a few facts you might not know:
  • More than half of Americans either own or work for a small business.
  • Small businesses create 2 out of every 3 new jobs in the U.S. each year. From the end of the recession (mid-2009) through mid-2013, small businesses were responsible for 63% of the net new jobs.*
  • From 2002 to 2012, self-employment among young people age 25 and under decreased by 23%. In that same time period, self-employment among senior adults 65 and over increased by 66%.
I'll come back to that last bullet point in a moment but, in the meantime, if you think big business is where big ideas come from, think again: a 2008 study** from the SBA’s Office of Advocacy found that small companies are much more likely to develop emerging technologies than are large ones. Plus, small business owners have a strong interest—and an active voice—in economic and political affairs: a whopping 95% are registered voters and 84% vote on a regular basis. Small business owners put their money where their mouth is, too: 91% of them routinely volunteer for, and donate to, nonprofit and community organizations.

So why, when small business is the proven backbone of this country, have we made it so ridiculously hard to start one? Even if they can figure out what licenses have to be obtained, what forms need to be filed, what regulations must be adhered to, and what taxes need to be paid, what small business owner has time to DO all that when he or she is likely working 70-80 hours a week to get that new business off the ground? And how’s he supposed to pay for all those licenses and taxes when he’s barely generating enough to stay afloat in those early days?
Let’s go back to that last bullet point. We know why seniors are starting their own businesses—they can’t afford to retire and just sit on the porch—but why the decline in entrepreneurial efforts among young people? I’m thinking it’s because there’s so much red tape and so many roadblocks, which is a crying shame because it seems to me that starting their own business would be an ideal way to get unemployed young men in our urban areas off the streets and into a productive lifestyle. Seems to me big cities with big crime problems, big drug problems, big gang problems and other issues that seem to center around big numbers of idle young males would do well to offer free classes in entrepreneurship then do whatever they can to help these fellas take a shot at running their own business. Seems as good a strategy as anything else and, who knows? Instead of getting swept up into illicit activities due to boredom or desperation, those streetwise, calculating young brains might instead spawn some amazing contributions to society.
If you’re the owner of a small business, take a moment right now to pat yourself on the back for your role in helping to sustain the U.S. economy, because starting and running a business has never been more challenging. If you’re one of the 25% that has hung in there for 15 or more years, you really deserve some applause. Meanwhile, if you work in the corporate world, as you go about your routine for the next few days, think about the many ways small businesses make your life better—from your local grocer and your hair salon to your day care and your vet. It would be a sad world without them, so how about a tip of the hat and a word of appreciation? They’ve earned it.

*SBA’s Office of Advocacy
**“An Analysis of Small Business Patents by Industry and Firm Size,” by Anthony Breitzman and Diana Hicks