Boomers, food and innovation
February 13, 2014
Moments after the stroke of midnight on January 1, the oldest of 75 million baby boomers turned 68, and every day, for the next 18 years, an additional 10,000 Americans will do the same.

While this aEURoesilver tsunamiaEUR? represents the deepest well of life experience in history (no past generation has lived as long, nor been as educated), startling economic realities must be acknowledged and planned for if we are to avoid social and economic upheaval. TodayaEUR(TM)s older adults came up in a time when jobs were plentiful and debt was scrupulously avoided, when you worked and saved to buy and pay off a home, and you never, ever, acknowledged needing help or being poor.

Yet, many in this generation are struggling. Here are sobering statistics from AARP and the Meals on Wheels Foundation. Among Americans currently over 65, 35 percent rely exclusively on Social Security payments to survive. This explains why 34 percent of older Americans run up debt to pay for basic living expenses. Is it any wonder that there has been an 80 percent increase in hunger among older adults in the last 10 years?

Now, consider this aEUR? todayaEUR? right now aEUR? nearly half of American workers between the ages of 46 and 64 have less than $10,000 saved for retirement. Imagine what will happen when they hit their aEURoegolden yearsaEUR?!?!

Given these realities, now is the time for the charitable sector to examine its historical approaches to serving those in need and adapt, so that rather than just aEURoeserve the old,aEUR? it embraces an agenda that empowers, uplifts, strengthens and mobilizes them.

Nutrition and community will be key. The boomers (even those requiring philanthropic support) will likely reject institutional, processed foods and insist on locally sourced, healthy meals that will complement medical regimes and active lifestyles. Furthermore, many will not identify as aEURoeold,aEUR? which means they will likely look for an alternative to the traditional aEURoesenior centersaEUR? for meals and fellowship. These insights give forward-looking groups the ability to reimagine, not only their direct service programs, but the way we think about aging in America.

Picture a generation so famously asked to aEURoeask notaEUR? pouring into communities to stay engaged through volunteerism and service. Imagine them leading inter-generational garden projects or afterschool mentoring programs, where they help local kids grow food, understand math and learn history firsthand, while each gets a healthy snack and a meal (prepared by afterschool cooking clubs) to take home. And what could happen if seniors, AmericaaEUR(TM)s most reliable voters, found common purpose with younger activists and together they worked to influence nutrition policies to ensure that AmericaaEUR(TM)s farms generated healthy, sustainable, affordable food?

These are just a few ideas, but more will come. They must, because we canaEUR(TM)t charity our way out of the times ahead. The boomers will continue to bring seismic change with them. You can count on it, because while many boomers will be hard-pressed to make it on their own, they will also push back at being counted out.

Robert Egger is president and founder of LA Kitchen. This is one in a series of occasional insights from friends of the Institute.


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