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According to George Bernard Shaw, there is no love more sincere than the love of food. Food is a necessity that has often been used as a form of expression, an avenue to experiment, and a medium of exchange. Locally as well as globally, food is associated with legendary historical tales where it has often served as inspiration such as the anecdote of Maratha ruler Shivaji and Khichdi. Many food items have intriguing stories of their invention: the Shepherd’s Pie for instance is thought to have been invented by peasant women in order to use the leftovers from the Sunday roast. Or the decadent Galouti Kebab which is said to have been invented especially for the Nawab of Lucknow who could not chew on the account of weak teeth – hence, a meat preparation that simply melts in the mouth.  Stories and legends about food abound everywhere on the internet as well as in food history documentaries.

Food belief and practice often provide insight into an era’s society and culture. The Bohri thal for instance is a symbol of equality and love among a community as a group as a family eats from the same plate. Similarly, the origin of the Japanese Bento Box can be traced to 5-6th century Japan when certain items such as dried rice were prepared and preserved to be eaten outside the home while farming or hunting. 

Since contemporary Indian food practices are a subject on which entire encyclopedias or docu-series can be and have been created – we limit the scope of this article to a few urban practices prevalent among the youth in what can be termed as ‘youth food culture’. 

Our observation indicates that urban youth in India consumes food in mainly three ways: eating food prepared at home, dining outside, and the latest — ordering food. 

The first: eating food prepared at home is a regular practice that is followed almost every day. One may prepare the food themselves or get it prepared. However, home food is basically the homemaker’s zone and is associated with purity and goodness. The food by default is taken to be nurturing because it is prepared with love. It is not really a part of youth culture though, as all the symbolism is connected with mothers and motherhood or homemaking orientations. 

Eating out or dining outside is usually centred around or dictated by an event or activity. It could be a celebration or a special occasion that people choose to mark by the way of dining out. It could be to meet friends, colleagues, new people, etc. Spatially too, it can be as varied as a fine dining restaurant to a college canteen. The people, space and mood take precedence over food. Here it is the experience along with the overall ambience that counts. 

Eating out can also be a party. A party is very symbolic of youth culture, with its high energy and fun quotient. However, as with other forms of eating out, food is secondary in many ways. Primacy is given to drinking and dancing. The food can almost be an afterthought.

We arrive now at the last and the latest food practice that has developed in India over the past few years - ordering in food, especially through apps such as Zomato and Swiggy. 

The ‘order-in food’ is a field where food by itself and in itself is the protagonist. This particular practice or way of consuming food is inherently associated with today’s youth. To start with, it is readily available food with the minimum level of effort, especially for young professionals living away from home. Both preparation and disposal afterwards are zero-effort processes. 

Talking of young professionals, food is also paradoxically both an essential stimulant and a form of a break amidst or at the end of a work day. Food in cardboard or silver take-out boxes paired with a good show or movie is a routine that many urban millennials have taken to as seen in this ad by Zomato: 

In addition to food ordering being a low-effort process, there are many factors that have enabled the attraction between ordering food and the urban youth. While ordering food for oneself, one opens up to a wide variety of cuisine and dishes. There are no physical or time constraints that are usually part of eating out. A food ordering app allows consumers to place multiple orders. Each one in a group can order what they wish to eat. Hence, ordering-in food supports individuality with all its whims and fancies. The latest Zomato Ad comes close to capturing the sentiment: 

Zomato - Mann kiya, Zomato kiya! 

So are there some changes that have taken place as a result of the growing popularity of order-in food? 

As any food professional or even enthusiast will tell us, plating has not been a big part of traditional Indian food culture except maybe festival food arrangements like the Onam Sadya or the 36 bhog thali. Now, since food apps have to sell what they sell on a 2D interface without presenting the texture or the taste or the smell associated with their product – they focus on visuality. The menu present in these apps shows food plated in a creative manner. The ads too present food in intense shots where food is being prepared or being served or simply being devoured. 

Next, the order-in culture has made food diversity more accessible. While region-specific and cuisine-specific restaurants are not a new phenomenon in India, food apps have not just increased access but also given rise to a sort of food hierarchy – all foods are tasty but some foods are tastier than others! Of course, it is also about which food is more economical. As per the StatEATstics by Swiggy in 2021, Biryani was ordered 115 times every single minute! Similar trends exist for pav bhaji, masala dosa, gulab jamun, etc. Order-in culture has introduced or popularised food in non-traditional regions in an unconventional way. For instance, pav bhaji which is essentially a street food is now popular also as home food. 

Lastly, since the practice of ordering food is most prevalent among youth - the emerging order-in food culture celebrates the youth. Laziness is not something entirely to be ashamed of, it is instead romanticised. Emerging food culture does not lay emphasis on patience and a long list of authentic procedures. Instead, its major focus lies on the ‘easiness’ of the recipe even while preparing food. Most recipe videos on youtube are ‘easy recipes’. For example, Dum Aloo 5-minute recipe by Chef Ranveer Brar: 

Basically, with food one click away, the youth today is aware that neither does one need to sweat away while foraging for food like our ancestors nor do they need to drain themselves physically to crush, boil, and cook food like our mothers. Yes, one may cook for pleasure for as long as they wish to but at the same time, they may also eat with pleasure – with or without the hard work. 

For food brands that target youth, it is worth keeping in mind that ‘order-in-food’ is the type of food that is a metonym for youth culture, viz it is the part that represents the whole.  Anchoring their positioning into ‘out-of-home’ eating or ‘in-home’ eating will place them outside of youth culture as it is and the relevant symbolic space.